Melania Trump has always been an enigma. While she spent four years in the White House, we think it’s safe to say we know as much about her now as we did when her husband first took the oath of office in 2017.
In spite of her effort to stay out of the spotlight, a CNN poll shows Melania Trump is exiting the White House with a favorability rating lower than that seen by her immediate predecessors, Michelle Obama and Laura Bush, with just 42 percent viewing her as being favorable, 47 percent ranking her as “unfavorable,” and 12 percent saying they were unsure about the way they felt about outgoing first lady. Contrast that with Michelle Obama and Laura Bush, who received 69 percent and 67 percent respectively, when they left office. Even her husband’s political opponent, Hillary Clinton, received a favorable number of 56 percent when she exited the White House at the end of her husband’s term.
Melania Trump didn't enter the White House as a popular first lady
From the start, Melania Trump entered the White House with a head-turning lack of popularity. In January 2017, at the start of her husband’s term, just 36 percent of Americans said they had a favorable impression of her — and this was long before the coronavirus pandemic and before she carried out a series of unpopular White House renovations (via The Washington Post). Before his inauguration and during Donald Trump’s campaign, the HuffPost ran with an analysis indicating that the public was more negative than they were positive about the enigmatic Mrs. Trump. The reason, it said, was because the public didn’t have particularly favorable views of her husband.
That shifted in 2018, when Americans showed more support for the first lady, even though they still liked her less than they did her predecessors Michelle Obama and Laura Bush. The Post said the public might have been driven to feel some sympathy for Melania, and because the respondents felt she didn’t really want to be in the spotlight. Ironically, her complete absence from the public eye made her less appealing.
Melania Trump has always drawn controversy
It didn’t help that Melania Trump didn’t seemed to be able to get some things right. After Donald Trump moved to the White House in early 2017, Melania chose to stay in New York with their son Barron for three months, and her flight bills on Air Force jets came to an eye-watering $676,635 (via The Wall Street Journal). Plus, her security detail came in at $100,000 a day, a bill which was charged to taxpayers (via Business Insider).
Likely because of sphinx-like silence, her clothes drew both close scrutiny and criticism; during a trip to visit to sites devastated by Hurricane Harvey that same year, she showed up to board the flight in stilettos — she changed to tennis shoes afterwards (via Vanity Fair). And who can forget the jacket with “I really don’t care, do u?” written on the back, which she wore en route to visit immigrant children who were detained at the border. Later she said the look was a jab at the media (via Esquire). She later told ABC in a sit-down interview that The Jacket not only didn’t have a hidden message, but that “I would prefer that they focus on what I do and my initiatives than what I wear.”
Melania Trump's initiatives attracted criticism
As it turns out, her initiatives were lightning rods, too. Refurbishments involving the iconic White House, including its Rose Garden and the White House Tennis Pavilion during the height of the 2020 coronavirus pandemic drew online comparisons to French queen Marie Antoinette. As one social media user angrily pointed out in December 2020, “We are a week away from passing 300,000 Americans killed by COVID and Melania Antoinette over here updated the tennis court as her act of civic service this year” (via Twitter).
During the closing days of her husband’s administration, and as she wrapped up her “Be Best” campaign, Donald Trump was ousted from most major social media platforms, including his beloved Twitter. The platform thought her husband’s messages could incite his followers to commit more acts of violence after the January 6 riots in the U.S. Capitol (via The New York Times).
After all that was said and done, Melania Trump may be leaving the White House as an unpopular first lady, but it’s too early to talk about a legacy at this time. She can say she is more favorable to Americans than her husband the president — or other outgoing senior figure in the Trump administration for that matter (via CNN).
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