As Donald Trump publicly mulls his political future, playing a “will he-won’t he” game in a potential bid for the White House in 2024, all while flexing influence in primaries for next year’s midterm elections, there is one key person who is noticeably quiet. Again.
Melania Trump, perhaps the most private first lady in modern history, has stepped away from the spotlight more and more since leaving Washington last January. She has only been seen publicly once this summer, when she was photographed leaving Trump Tower in New York City with her son in July. Aside from that, Trump, ever the enigma, hasn’t purposefully set foot in front of a camera, with the exception of a few Instagram posts from random people who happened to see her in the dining room at Trump’s Bedminster Golf Club.
She returned to Palm Beach, Florida, last month after spending the summer in New Jersey, where friends say she will live full-time at Mar-a-Lago while Barron Trump attends a private high school. She’s leaving the Manhattan life she knew before the White House, a time when she had as much anonymity as possible for being Donald Trump’s wife. Melania Trump’s disinterest in public political life is so strong that she has gone so far as to tell several friends that she not only does not intend to bolster her husband’s inflated political ambitions, but she also has no desire for a White House redux, according to several people who have spoken to her about it.
Given her history as a reluctant political spouse, Trump’s absence from the campaign trail – if there is one – is not surprising. While most presidential candidates barnstorm with their partners or ask them to do so on their own, often relying on them to corral female voters, whipping up a constituency “was never her thing,” according to a person close to her during her White House tenure. Appearances on the trail in 2016 were, at best, sparse.
In fact, when then-candidate Donald Trump’s staff asked Trump to appear at events, the answer was so frequently “no” that eventually, “We just stopped asking,” said a political operative who worked on Team Trump early on. Trump, who is notoriously weary of public scrutiny and press coverage, gave fewer than five on-camera interviews and no print media interviews while she was first lady, an unprecedented rarity.
The absence of Melania Trump by her husband’s side at the handful of rallies and speeches he has given since leaving office, most of which have been to promote a chosen Republican candidate or bash those who have opposed him, while repeating myths that he was unfairly defeated in the presidential election, is not something his supporters consider.
While Laura Bush was a skilled fundraiser and campaign puller for women, and Michelle Obama was so skilled at public speaking on her husband’s behalf that she was dubbed “the closer,” Trump is so good at not being there that the oddity of her absence has become normalized.
During his 90-minute speech at the Conservative Political Action Conference in February, the former President essentially passed along greetings, saying Melania is “(who) says, ‘Hello,’ who loves you as much as I love you.” The audience applauded. Trump played surrogate again in June at a North Carolina rally, nodding to his wife’s absence when describing the escalator ride at Trump Tower when he announced his candidacy years ago. “Much like I said on that beautiful morning when I came down with our future first lady at the time, Melania,” he continued, adding, “who sends her regards.”
In February, she announced the opening of her office, which three sources say is currently based in Palm Beach and employs two to three full-time employees, two of whom previously worked in the Trump White House. The announcement of Trump’s official post-White House endeavors came in the form of a February tweet from the office, which stated, “Mrs. Melania Trump has announced the opening of The Melania Trump Office. Please keep an eye on this account for news and updates.”
Since then, the account has been a series of thank you’s and throwbacks, with no announcements on any ongoing initiative objectives, policies, charity events, speeches, or public appearances.