The Trumps are set to leave Washington tomorrow, and the outgoing first lady is likely to tread a very different path from predecessors like Michelle Obama and Hillary Clinton
The prospect of the Trump family’s future raises all kinds of intriguing questions. Will the twice-impeached president be convicted by the Senate? Can he ever find another social media platform he loves as much as Twitter? Will daughter Ivanka realise her cherished political ambitions and run for Florida governor?
If Donald Trump’s four-year tenure with its ignominious departure has taught us anything, it’s to expect the unexpected when it comes to this clan.
This is true, most of all, for Melania Trump (50), who has retained an element of mystique throughout her White House residency.
The outgoing first lady is the first foreign-born FLOTUS in 195 years. Back in 2017, which saw the emergence of the #freemelania hash tag, it was posited that she had joined her husband in the White House under duress and that the Slovenia-born model and business woman would be high-tailing it to the divorce lawyers as soon as Trump left office.
But Melania, let’s not forget, has sparked her own share of controversy over the past four years.
This is the first lady who wore a Zara jacket emblazoned with the words ‘I really don’t care, do you’ when she visited immigrant children detained and separated from their parents at the US-Mexican border.
More recently, she famously asked, “Who gives a f*ck about Christmas” in a secretly recorded conversation and in 2018 she claimed to be the “most bullied person in the world”.
And in the wake of the recent attacks on the Capitol, she remained silent for five days. When she finally issued a statement on January 6, she used portions of an older speech, condemning the violence and calling for unity, while at the same time, seeking to paint herself as a victim.
“I find it shameful that surrounding these tragic events there has been salacious gossip, unwarranted personal attacks, and false misleading accusations on me — from people who are looking to be relevant and have an agenda,” said Melania, who had been overseeing a photoshoot of rugs in the White House while the riots took place.
According to a CNN poll, she departs Washington with the lowest favourability rating since she became first lady but at this stage, she may be beyond caring. Reportedly she has just wanted to “go home” since early December when her husband was still furiously contesting the election results.
The Trumps are said to be planning to leave the White House and live at their Mar-a-Lago club in Florida — although neighbours do not want them there and have filed a grievance claiming that Trump has no legal right to permanently reside on the property. Melania has also been seen in the area scouting out a school for their 14-year-old son, Barron.
All of this seems to indicate that whatever Melania’s long-term future ambitions are, she plans to remain Mrs Trump and that her role as a mother will remain of paramount importance to her.
She is said to be extremely protective of Barron; according to Mary Jordan, author of The Art of Her Deal: The Untold Story of Melania Trump, the model renegotiated her prenup to ensure that her son got a greater share of the family business.
Another possibility is that she will make a return to modelling. Her White House bio is fulsome in its praise of her “highly successful modeling career, appearing in many high profile ad campaigns and working with some of the best photographers in the fashion industry”.
But that career, surprisingly, hasn’t translated into any magazine covers since Trump came to office. Unlike her predecessor, Michelle Obama, who graced 12 magazine covers during her two terms as first lady, Melania has been bypassed and this exclusion is said to have enraged Donald Trump, who retweeted a post that said “elitist snobs in the fashion press” were ostracising the “most elegant first lady in American history”.
Reflecting her keen interest in design, one of the projects she is said to be working on is a coffee table style book about the decorative objects she’s amassed during her time in the White House, which would be a poor substitute for the juicy, tell-all memoir it had been previously rumoured she was penning.
A recent Tweet called attention to the White House’s “many restoration projects —ensuring the history and beauty is preserved for generations to come.”
With a number of previous business projects under her belt, another option is that Melania will dip her toes into those waters again. In 2010, five years after marrying Trump, she launched an eponymous jewellery line which was sold on the QVC shopping channel, where she presented her designs.
She had also previously worked on a caviar skincare line in the early 2000s, which never really took off, but given the slew of celebrities who have recently entered the skincare market, including Rihanna, model Emily Ratajkowski and Jennifer Lopez, the time might be right for the soon-to-be-former FLOTUS to revisit this venture.
Whatever Melania’s future might look like, it seems certain that it will be radically different from other American first ladies, who enjoyed varying careers and took different pathways once their husbands had left office.
Many of these women stayed active in the political sphere, such as Barbara Bush, who died in 2018. She helped her son George W campaign and was one of only two women in the history of the United States to be both the wife of a president and mother of a president.
Hillary Clinton, meanwhile, who served as first lady from 1993-2001, famously pursued her own political career and was secretary for state from 2009–2013 before running for president in 2016, in which she was the first woman to win the popular vote in an American presidential election. Ultimately she lost to Trump.
Educator Laura Bush, wife of George W, wrote a memoir and a children’s book and moved to Dallas with her husband after the 2008 election to work on the George W Bush Presidential Library.
Despite endorsing Hillary Clinton and heavily criticising Trump, Michelle Obama has said that she has no passion for politics and would not run for president. She remains enormously popular and her memoir, Becoming, became the highest-selling book published in the US in 2018 while The Michelle Obama Podcast, featuring conversations with friends and family, including her husband Barack, has proved to be hugely successful.
Of any of the former first ladies, the one with whom perhaps Melania shares the most in common is Pat Nixon, who was known for keeping her opinions to herself, disliking political life and supporting her husband throughout Watergate.
Nixon’s story may serve as a cautionary tale to Melania: after Nixon’s resignation, they retired to his Californian estate where their subsequent years were difficult because of legal and financial issues.
At this point in time, only Melania knows what she’s going to do next. But one thing is for certain; she will have plenty of time to ponder her legacy and her future in her luxurious Palm Beach surrounds after leaving the White House tomorrow.