While America has never had a first lady who was a former super model, it’s a far better alternative than what we have now or having Bill Clinton as the first, umm, ‘gentleman’?
Melania Trump gazes out of her living room window over the gold tapestry of New York’s Central Park. It’s late November, and from her spacious apartment, which occupies the top three floors of the 68-story Trump Tower, in Midtown Manhattan, the 843 acres nestled among the gray sea of buildings below seem small, like a wet towel left on the bathroom floor by a teenager.
Melania, 45, dressed in a pink cap-sleeved Antonio Berardi sheath dress and matching Louboutin heels, nods over her shoulder grimly. “That building,” she says, gesturing toward another skyscraper under construction at the corner of 57th Street and Park Avenue, two blocks to the east. At almost 1,400 feet, the structure in question already soars some 20 stories over the Trumps’ apartment, making it the tallest residential building in the Western Hemisphere. “It is too high, and it looks almost dangerous,” she exclaims with a soft sigh. “It is too…much.”
The question of what constitutes “too much” is not an unfamiliar one to Melania. Her husband, the billionaire real estate magnate turned Republican presidential contender Donald Trump, has often been regarded as the embodiment of the term, from his gilded buildings and bombastic proclamations to his brash displays of wealth. The couple’s penthouse, which they share with their nine-year-old son, Barron, even features a Versailles-style hall of mirrors, a white marble fountain, and ceilings hand-painted with cherubs. Excess is, in many ways, the Trump brand.
True to form, Donald’s over-the-top campaign for the GOP nomination has been one of wild and unprecedented extremes. His blustery breed of radical populism has activated a large voter base and ignited an uncomfortable mix of rage, passion, and concern on both sides of the aisle. And yet, despite his inflammatory remarks about women, immigrants, Mexicans, Muslims, his political competitors, and a host of other constituencies too long to list here, he has continued to surge in the polls. Whatever the fate of Donald’s run, he has changed the tone of the race, bringing the same showmanship he displayed during his stretch on the NBC reality show The Apprentice to the arena of presidential politics, and emerged as a disruptive force in the 2016 elections.
For her own part, Melania has remained largely in the shadows of her husband’s campaign. Even when she has joined him on the trail—or for interviews, like the couple’s sit-down with Barbara Walters in November—she has been conspicuously quiet. That, Melania tells me, is all by design. “Because of who my husband is, and our life, and also he is number one in the polls—well, you take that all together, and people are very curious about me,” she says in her soft, Slovenian accent, her voice set at the level of an aristocrat who knows she doesn’t need to speak loudly to be heard. “I’m choosing not to go political in public because that is my husband’s job. I’m very political in private life, and between me and my husband I know everything that is going on. I follow from A to Z,” she affirms. “But I chose not to be on the campaign. I made that choice. I have my own mind. I am my own person, and I think my husband likes that about me.”
The choice for Donald to run was a collective one, Melania says, and not easy: “We decided as a family it was something we would do,” she offers. “I explained it to my son a lot. I said, ‘Daddy will run for president,’ so he knew about it. I prepared him before school started … his life is as normal as possible.” She tries to be with her husband as often as she can. “Especially at the debates, I am always there to support him,” she says, pulling out her cell phone to show a video of Donald, taken the night before in Tennessee. “Look at those crowds!” she marvels. “He’s getting 10, 20, 30,000 people. It’s really amazing.”
“I give him my opinions, and sometimes he takes them in, and sometimes he does not. Do I agree with him all the time? No.”
In person, Melania is incandescently beautiful, her skin a dusty bronze, and her eyes wider and less squinchy-posed than they can appear in red-carpet pictures. She is tall, a lithe and limber five foot eleven, and wears a startling 25-carat diamond ring on her left hand, a gift from Donald for their 10th wedding anniversary. As we walk around her opulent apartment, which was recently parodied on Saturday Night Live as having “the same interior decorator as Saddam Hussein,” Melania smiles when I bring up Cecily Strong’s portrayal of her on the show. “It’s kind of an honor, actually, to have someone play you like that in a fun way,” she says. “We laugh a lot about that. It’s funny to see how people see you.” The Trumps’ dining room has a 17-foot ceiling and an immense marble table; in the living room, a child-size Mercedes-Benz with Barron’s name on the license plate sits in the corner. Photographs of family and friends line another table near a white piano: Donald and his mother; Donald and Melania on their wedding day; Melania and Barron in Halloween costumes. There’s even one of Donald and Hillary Clinton, who attended the Trumps’ wedding ceremony (because, Donald maintains, he gave a donation to the Clintons’ foundation; former President Bill Clinton joined her for the reception).
Melania says that the press often mischaracterize her quietness as reticence. “They say I’m shy,” she says. “I am not shy. They interview people about me who don’t even know me. These people, they want to have 15 minutes of fame in talking about me, and reporters don’t check the facts…You can see how they turn around stories and how unfair they can be.”
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