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Does Melania’s cold shoulder explain Trump’s Twitter tantrums?

The First Lady has far more influence than her critics realise

Commentators in many mainstream media outlets started criticising Melania Trump’s tenure as first lady as soon as she moved into the White House. No, scratch that—the commentariat began predicting first lady failure as soon as Donald Trump was inaugurated on January 20, 2017, while his wife didn’t move back in with him for nearly five months. “Her choice to remain in the couple’s New York City penthouse until their son, Barron, 11, finished the school year,” a CNN story said, was “unprecedented.” But even after Melania and Barron joined Donald in the White House that June, critics complained she was little seen and, worse, couldn’t be taken seriously on the issue she’d chosen to highlight—cyberbullying.

But it turns out that Melania Trump has had far greater influence in the White House and in cyberspace than anyone realised. At least that’s what I’ve taken from the recent tweetstorms in which Donald Trump has engaged. The president has long been a fan of talking to the people directly through Twitter, but there’s been something different about his use of medium in the last week. Trump sometimes tweets a few times a day, but it’s not that often that he tweets nine times in a single day. That’s what he did on March 28. He topped that just a few days later, with 13 tweets on April 2. He might end up reaching similar numbers on April 3, as I write this.

It’s not just the quantity. His tweets seem slightly more unhinged than usual. There was his dizzying movement on DACA, the Barack Obama law-by-executive-fiat that allowed illegal aliens who were brought to the United States as children to obtain some status here. He first told them that “the Democrats abandoned you (but we will not)!” A few days later, he’d changed his mind, announcing, in all caps, “NO MORE DACA DEAL!” In the meantime, the president had decided to try to intimidate an American businessman and two of the companies he owns. He complained that Amazon.com pays “little or no taxes to state & local governments, use[s] our Postal System as their Delivery Boy (causing tremendous loss to the U.S.), and [is] putting many thousands of retailers out of business!” Later tweets repeated the complaints, adding that the Washington Post, also owned by Amazon founder Jeff Bezos, should register as a lobbyist—presumably because the president doesn’t like the newspaper’s coverage of his administration—and suggesting the president would do something about the delivery rates Amazon had negotiated with the postal service. (That’s apparently a bigger priority for President Trump than nominating an ambassador to South Korea.)

Trump even called his own Department of Justice “the Department of ‘Justice,’” the use of scare quotes indicating he thinks it’s anything but.

This increased Twitter activity and abuse came right after two women gave lengthy interviews—both to Anderson Cooper, who seems to be making a niche for himself—about their alleged affairs with Donald Trump and his attempts to silence them. Former Playboy Playmate Karen McDougal told CNN of her months-long love affair with Trump a decade ago, while porn star Stormy Daniels got even more attention for talking to CBS’s 60 Minutes on March 25 about her single sexual encounter with Trump around the same time.

Both affairs are alleged to have happened right after Melania gave birth to her and Donald’s only child together, and reports in tabloids and beyond have described the first lady as “enraged.” But it’s not the fact of infidelity that seems to have caught the former model off-guard. It’s the revelation of hush-money payments and, more seriously, that both women reported that Donald Trump never used protection during any of their sexual encounters. Melania has since spent time in Florida alone while the president has seen to his duties in Washington. The result—Donald Trump’s crazier-than-usual week on Twitter—suggests to me that a cold shoulder from his wife has a lot to do with the president’s hot temper.

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