Ivanka Trump holds rather more sway in the White House than a First Daughter should — that much is well-established. Yet this week we see that it is her step-mother, Melania, who calls the shots in her husband’s administration. Mrs T is the real force behind the throne, as Mira Ricardel has discovered to her cost. Palace intrigue doesn’t get more intriguing.
Ms Ricardel, a close ally of National Security Adviser John Bolton, made the mistake of clashing with Melania over her ‘Be Best’ trip to Africa. Ricardel allegedly insisted a member of the security council should accompany Mrs Trump as she posed her way around Ghana, Malawi and Kenya in a pith helmet, cream jacket and trousers, and black-neck tie. Melania disagreed.
There appears to have been some kind of internal tussle in the following weeks, in which Bolton sought to intervene. Mrs T took the nuclear option. She issued a press statement calling for Ricardel’s removal. ‘It is the position of the Office of the First Lady that she no longer deserves the honor of serving in this White House,’ said her spokeslady Stephanie Grisham. A day later, Ricardel has gone, or at least been moved to another department where she cannot cross the First Lady’s path again.
It appears that John Bolton’s gruff charms were no match for Melania’s steely will.
So Fedora hats off to Melania; she appears to be in charge now. She has shattered the glass ceiling which Hillary Clinton could not, though Melania has used the more traditional female tactic of exerting her power through her husband. There are now whispers of East Wing vs West Wing civil war in the White House, and Melania is coming out on top.
Clearly, that epically rigid, model pout is more than just a pose. It’s an outward and visible sign of her inward and spiritual grit. She is the Iron First Lady.
You’d have to be tough as tungsten to be married to Mr Trump, no doubt. Melania appears to be both strong and ruthless, as Ricardel removal shows, and she has an almost terrifying hold over the most powerful man in the world. When discussing how to handle the Stormy Daniels business, we’re told, Trump was much more concerned about managing his marital relations than any political fall out. ‘Happy wife, happy life,’ is said to be one of his favorite aphorisms, and he seems to have adopted that as part of his governing philosophy, too.
We can be sure that Melania has not always been happy. The rumors can’t all be fake news; and the endless memes about the Trumps’ bad chemistry are not all necessarily wrong.
She seems to have loathed the first phase of her husband’s presidency. On Inauguration Day, in 2017, Nigel Farage, the British UKIP leader and Trump ally, told me that he knew a dysfunctional marriage when he saw one, and the Trumps didn’t appear to be working as a couple at all.
But Melania has played the long game. Her power has grown as the 45th presidency goes on, and she is not afraid to use it: one insider called her a ‘knife-fighter’ this week. She didn’t like Steve Bannon. He went, too.
Who will next encounter her sharp side? In an interview during that trip to Africa, Melania said there were people she didn’t trust in the White House. That might include Chief of Staff John F. Kelly, who is said to have got in Mrs Trump’s way on numerous occasions. Melania is popular among White House staffers. The same can’t be said for Mr Kelly or Mr Bolton. They should watch their backs.