“Look,” Ms. Schlapp said, chuckling, “The president punches when he needs to punch.” His daughter has her own story to tell, and her own way of telling it.
Still, a surrogate can stray only so far from a campaign’s dominant message and messenger. Ms. Trump could speak with endless poise about all the important lessons her father instilled (“Find something you’re passionate about, because that’s the path to happiness”). She could focus on suburban parenting concerns such as school choice and education reform, and lament “the loss of social interaction for our kids” during the coronavirus outbreak. She could avoid any talk of immigration, caravans, walls or family separation.
And then, later in the day came a report that the parents of 545 children who had been separated from them at the southern border could not be located.
“On the one hand, a president’s family member can offer a softening and humanizing touch,” said Gil Troy, a presidential historian who has written extensively on first families. In such a polarized and binary environment, he added, Ms. Trump can still offer some measure of reassurance for Republicans who do not like her father but who would be loath to support Mr. Biden. “Ivanka can still be proof that is ‘See, he’s not that bad,’” Mr. Troy said. “She is trying to be some port in the storm.” At a certain point, though the contrast becomes too stark. “It becomes almost a countercampaign rather than a supporting one,” he said.
And while Ms. Trump may avoid the vitriolic language of her father and brothers, she has been connected to policies and actions that critics find just as distasteful or ill-advised. She was, reportedly, a proponent of her father’s march across Lafayette Square last spring during protests against racial injustice, culminating in a Bible-waving photo-op in front of the fire-damaged St. John’s Church. The widely-derided performance stands as one of the most notorious spectacles of Mr. Trump’s presidency.
She has shown a knack for oblivious, tone-deaf gestures: drawing backlash, for instance, after she tweeted a photo of herself cuddling her two-year-old son amid reports of migrant children being forcibly taken from their mothers by border agents. Ms. Trump’s official position at the White House — along with that of her husband, Jared Kushner — has brought a host of criticism over nepotism and potential Hatch Act violations.
As perhaps the president’s most influential aide, his daughter tends to be studiously quiet in public, even over policies she is believed to personally oppose. She inspired a spoof perfume commercial on Saturday Night Live — a fragrance called “Complicit.” (“She’s beautiful. She’s powerful. She’s complicit.”)