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Is It Time To Root For Ivanka Trump?

Problematic as she is, writes Joanna Weiss, Ivanka Trump is a bridge between a weird, wild White House and the daily needs of more than half the nation. Pictured: President Donald Trump, accompanied by his daughter Ivanka, waves as they walk to board Marine One on the South Lawn of the White House in Washington, Wednesday, Feb. 1, 2017. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)MoreCloseclosemore
Problematic as she is, writes Joanna Weiss, Ivanka Trump is a bridge between a weird, wild White House and the daily needs of more than half the nation. Pictured: President Donald Trump, accompanied by his daughter Ivanka, waves as they walk to board Marine One on the South Lawn of the White House in Washington, Wednesday, Feb. 1, 2017. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)
COMMENTARY

It might be time to root for Ivanka Trump.

Not because Nordstrom dropped her shoe line, or Neiman’s dropped her jewelry, or TJ Maxx demoted her clothing from the most prominent racks. Ivanka will survive these retail tragedies.

It’s the tawdriness that will be harder to overcome.

First, Donald Trump attacked Nordstrom in a tweet for being “Terrible!” to his daughter. Then Trump advisor Kellyanne Conway declared, on Fox News, that Americans should “go buy Ivanka’s stuff.” And suddenly, it was harder for Ivanka to maintain her delicate balancing act she’s managed since this odd political experiment began: Supporting her father while protecting her personal brand.

That she managed for so long is no small accomplishment. Just look at the supporters and surrogates whose images have changed irrevocably over the last two years: Conway, Sean Spicer, Rudy Giuliani, Chris Christie.

But once your eyes stop rolling, you can marvel at the way Ivanka Trump has managed to merge several goals at once: selling consumer products, Gwyneth Paltrow-esque lifestyle pablum, and a policy program that could actually make a difference.

Granted, Ivanka is Trumpian by birth, not choice, so it’s hard to blame her for family loyalty.

Still, during the election and for some time after — even as she set up residence in D.C., watched her husband installed in a key White House post, and showed up on the fringes of important meetings — she has managed largely to float above the fray. Her brothers are Trump to the core, blustery businessman prototypes with slicked-back hair. But Ivanka carries herself like an elegant visitor from a distant planet, or perhaps a gilded bunker.  She acts unfazed by protestors or angry men on JetBlue flights. Faced with a reporter’s tough questioning, she simply hangs up the phone.

And she mostly communicates through social media. If Twitter is Donald Trump’s medium, Instagram is Ivanka’s, a platform where you can lay out your life for public consumption, as if you’re composing a magazine spread. Her feed is artful and deliberate: here a picture of her at work, there an inspirational quote, plus an endless stream of family photos with mom impeccably made up and coiffed. She makes missteps, like the photo she posted the night her father announced his travel ban: Ivanka smiling in a silver lamé gown, which Twitter swiftly juxtaposed with a picture of a refugee girl in a silver emergency blanket with the caption, "Who wore it better?"

Still, I’ve been marveling at one recent shot of Ivanka sitting in a White House colonnade, stilettos on feet and baby in lap, taking what appears to be an important phone call. (We’re meant to assume she’s not calling CVS for an amoxicillin prescription.) The message is clear: This is how you do it, ladies, combining power and femininity, and pay no attention to the household staff that must be picking up the slack and taking the family candids.

Not everyone is buying it. The comments on her Instagram feed are a messy pit of love and hate.

A worker cleans the windows of the Ivanka Trump Collection in the lobby of Trump Tower in New York, Tuesday, Jan. 17, 2017. (Andrew Harnik/AP)
A worker cleans the windows of the Ivanka Trump Collection in the lobby of Trump Tower in New York, Tuesday, Jan. 17, 2017. (Andrew Harnik/AP)

But once your eyes stop rolling, you can marvel at the way Ivanka Trump has managed to merge several goals at once: selling consumer products, Gwyneth Paltrow-esque lifestyle pablum, and a policy program that could actually make a difference. Her corporate website is more of the same. With the hashtag #womenwhowork, she hawks sheath dresses and the need for more expansive childcare policies.

You can read a lot of pop psychology into why packaging a message in standard blonde, thin beauty works political wonders, with women and men alike. But like it or not, Ivanka is in a position of influence — with the D.C. glitterati and the leader of the free world. The policies she’s pitching so far won’t solve every problem, by a long shot. Still, she’s calling attention to parental leave, childcare and workforce parity, which haven’t been top of mind in Republican politics. Other leaked stories suggest she’s quietly steered her father toward uncharacteristic positions on LGBT issues.

...if [Ivanka Trump] shrinks further into the background — leaving policy to the men in the family and doubling down on bangles and ballgowns — that would be a shame.

The #GrabYourWallet campaign, a grass-roots effort to boycott Trump products, hasn’t given Ivanka a pass, on the grounds that her campaigning helped her father win. Now, the president and his staff are dragging her further into the fray, tarnishing her delicate brand, creating ethics scandals, reminding the world that she’s part of a coarser enterprise.

That means left-wing advocacy groups will be empowered to hate her more, rather than using her as an unlikely ally. And if she shrinks further into the background — leaving policy to the men in the family and doubling down on bangles and ballgowns — that would be a shame.

Problematic as she is, Ivanka is a bridge between a weird, wild White House and the daily needs of more than half the nation. You don’t have to internalize her glib, I’ve-got-it-figured-out message – or feel the need to buy her $160 shoes — to want to use her as a force for good.

You just have to remember that there are some things she can sell better than her father can.

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Joanna Weiss Twitter Cognoscenti contributor
Joanna Weiss is a former reporter and columnist for the Boston Globe.

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