The future of Melania Trump: divorce, leadership, anonymity?
Melania Trump has accompanied her husband in a stormy end to his mandate: an assault on the Capitol, impeachment, and criticism from both adversaries and allies. On January 20, she left the White House together with the president in a sober goodbye.
On that same day, coming out of the plane in sunny Florida, Melania and Donald Trump had one more photo op waiting for them. In a video that has gone viral and reached at least 5 million viewers, we can see Melania snubbing the photographers as if she is completely tired of them. "Melania when it's 12:01 and her shift ended at 12:00," Twitter account Michal Cohen joked.
All jokes aside, there are various speculations about Melania Trump's future outside the White House. They include a possible marital breakdown, a move to the political front line, a return to anonymity, a withdrawal from the public sphere... But what is the truth?
At the moment there are no signs of a divorce. Melania Trump appears to stand firm with her husband when it comes to his politics. While still in her role as the First Lady, she launched a statement condemning the violence in Washington D.C. while also putting herself in the role of a victim of the whole situation.
In addition to the deadly riot, Melania's response on social media referred to "salacious gossip, unwarranted personal attacks, and false misleading accusations on me – from people who are looking to be relevant and have an agenda." Her statement was considered ambiguous and unenthusiastic, more in keeping with Donald Trump's tone than with the exquisite neutrality that she had portrayed in her years so far as First Lady.
Several reports suggest that Melania Trump never wanted her husband to win the election. In his book 'Fire & Fury: Inside the Trump White House' journalist Michael Wolf tells how Melania Trump burst into tears when she heard that her husband had won the election. "And they were not tears of joy," Wolf wrote.
Not even Donald Trump himself expected victory, but once he got the presidency, they had to move into the White House. Numerous voices close to Melania Trump assure that she agreed to play the role of First Lady only for the sake of her son Barron, a teenager whom she protects at all costs.
As Washington Post reporter Mary Jordan writes in 'The Art of her Deal: The Untold Story of Melania Trump', the First Lady renegotiated her prenuptial agreement when Donald Trump won the election and secured her son's rights before agreeing to accompany him into the White House.
From the first moment there was a certain kind of sympathy for Melania Trump even among those who hated her husband as president. The hashtag #FreeMelania suggested that Melania was under some sort of oppression by Donald Trump.
While it is true that cameras have caught the president making authoritarian gestures towards his wife at times, she has always stood firm in her refusal to obey him - a response that caught the attention of the media as well. She has consistently shown a certain autonomy in her role of First Lady.
An example of Melania Trump going her own way is that during the pandemic she did show up in public wearing a mask, even though her husband refused to use it. In the fall of 2020, Donald Trump was infected with COVID-19 and Melania was not.
During Trump's presidency, there was speculation of a possible divorce in the White House. It was even the subject of an episode in the series 'The Good Fight'. It never actually happened, though.
People who know both Melania and Donald Trump say that a break between the two would be extremely unlikely and difficult. As President and First Lady, they had reasons of power, money, and personal affairs that kept them from separating.
Could Melania Trump play a political role on the conservative side and become a leader in the future? That's very unlikely. She's well-positioned within the Trump clan and she can use her husband's influence to get ahead, but Melania appears to have no interest in politics at all.
Melania Trump has not been a First Lady like Hillary Clinton (who pushed for political reform in health care, among others) or Michelle Obama (who is an environmental and children's rights activist). Her role has been more traditional and ceremonial.
In addition, there are analysts who suggest that Melania is more politically outspoken (in favor of her husband and conservatism) than she lets on in public. Not only did she manage to succeed in the crazy setting that Trump created in the White House, but she also had a hand in picking Mike Pence as Vice Presidential candidate, and she supported Trump's false claim that Barack Obama had not been born in the U.S.
It is likely that Melania Trump wants to return to a certain anonymity and go back to her life before the White House. She has been very close with her parents and her son Barron. Where would the extended Trump family live after the president retires from politics?
Reportedly, Trump does not want to return to his luxurious New York apartment in the Trump Tower. He resents the progressive city where people vote mostly Democrats and where demonstrations against Trump have been held regularly in front of his building. Instead, he is looking at his Florida mansion for the future.
Trump has a huge mansion in Mar-a-Lago, an exclusive area of Palm Beach. However, some residents there have petitioned the local government that Trump should not move here. They believe it could cause them security problems and ruin the peace in their neighborhood.
The neighbors may have found a way to prevent Trump from moving to Mar-a-Lago. Its mansion was legally declared a club during one of Trump's bankruptcies, in order to protect the property. If a building is officially a club rather than a house, no one can legally reside there more than 21 days a year.
Wherever she is, in New York or Florida, CNN sums up Melania Trump's alleged state of mind in one sentence: "Just wants to go home". Reporters from the network heard this from a close family member. Just go home and get away from the hurricane that is politics in the United States.
In fact, according to various media reports, Melania Trump is among many in his inner circle who have tried to convince her husband to concede the election. But Trump is a character who is not very good at taking advice, and he is "not a good loser" either, his ex-wife says.
There are reports of Melania Trump returning to her modeling career once she leaves the White House. With her name and face known around the world, this would seem a logical career move. It would also help her regain a completely autonomous role from her husband.
The truth is that an opportunity is opening up for Melania Trump to reinvent herself. As a consequence, while her past and present have been enigmatic, we may get to know Melania Trump for real after she leaves the White House.