By Kate Bennett, CNN
As Donald Trump publicly mulls his political future, playing a game of “will he-won’t he” in a potential bid for the White House in 2024, all the while flexing influence in primaries for next year’s midterms, there is one key person noticeably quiet. Again.
Melania Trump, perhaps the most private first lady in modern history, has retreated more and more from the spotlight since departing Washington last January. She has been seen publicly just once this summer, spotted in July by photographers leaving Trump Tower in New York City, accompanied by her son. Other than that, with the exception of a few Instagram posts from random people who happened to glimpse her in the dining room at Trump’s Bedminster Golf Club, Trump — ever the enigma — hasn’t purposefully set foot in front of a camera.
Last month she returned from her summer sojourn in New Jersey to Palm Beach, Florida, where friends say she will reside fulltime at Mar-a-Lago while Barron Trump attends a private high school. She’s giving up the Manhattan life she knew pre-White House, a period of time that granted her as much anonymity as possible for being the wife of Donald Trump.
Melania Trump’s disinterest in public political life runs deep enough that she has gone so far as to tell several friends that not only does she not intend to bolster her husband’s inflated political ambitions, she has zero desire for a White House redux, according to several people who spoke with CNN about her mindset. “Being first lady again is not what she wants,” said one of the people, who had a close relationship with Trump during her White House tenure. “For her, it was a chapter — and it’s over, and that’s that.”
She views her husband’s continued impact on the GOP landscape as his job, not hers. “You’re not going to see her at rallies or campaign events, even if he ‘officially’ says he’s running again,” said another person aware of the disinterest Trump has shown in supporting the former President. “Instead it’s going to be Lara (Trump, the wife of Trump’s son, Eric) or (Kimberly) Guilfoyle (the girlfriend of Trump’s eldest son, Don). They have that same urge Trump has to (run) again; Melania absolutely does not.”
The office of Melania Trump did not respond to CNN’s request for comment.
That Trump isn’t going to be a presence on the campaign trail — should there be one — is not unusual, given her track record as a reluctant political spouse. While most presidential candidates barnstorm with their partners, or ask them to do so on their own, oftentimes relying on them to corral female voters, the idea of whipping up a constituency “was never her thing,” said the person who was close with her during the White House years. Appearances on the trail in 2016 were scarce, at best.
In fact, so often was the answer “no” when Trump was asked by then-candidate Donald Trump’s staff to appear at events that eventually, “We just stopped asking altogether,” said a political operative who worked on team Trump in the early days. Notoriously weary of public scrutiny and press coverage, Trump participated in fewer than five on-camera interviews and no print media interviews when she was first lady, an unheard of scarcity.
Melania “says, ‘Hello'”
The absence of Melania Trump by her husband’s side at the handful of rallies and speeches he has given since leaving office — most to talk up a chosen Republican candidate or bash those who have opposed him, while repeating myths he unfairly lost the presidential election — is not something his supporters think about.
“The fact is, his base got used to not having her there,” said a political operative who worked for a time with then-President Trump. And her fans didn’t mind, either. “Instead, she pulled off this idea that her not being there was a good thing. They get defensive about her not being there. It’s pretty incredible when you think about it,” the operative added.
While Laura Bush was a proficient fundraiser and pull for women on a campaign, and Michelle Obama was so skilled at public speaking on her husband’s behalf she was nicknamed “the closer,” Trump is so good at not being there she’s normalized the peculiarity of her absence.
“The Trump voter puts (Melania Trump) on a pedestal. They’re awed by the way she looks or the way she basically doesn’t express ideas or opinions, which they see as stoicism and loyalty. For them, that’s enough for fealty,” the operative said. The person who worked with Trump during the White House years noted the grueling schedule of a campaign, and the hours on end in arenas, waiting while her husband delivers lengthy rally speeches. “If you could not do all that, and people are okay with that, why wouldn’t you?” this person said.
In 90-minute remarks at February’s Conservative Political Action Conference, the former President basically passed along greetings, saying Melania, “(who) says, ‘Hello,’ who loves you as much as I love you.” The audience cheered. In June at a North Carolina rally, Trump again played surrogate, nodding to his wife’s absence when describing the escalator ride at Trump Tower years ago when he announced his candidacy. “Much as I said on that beautiful morning when I came down with our future first lady at the time, Melania,” adding, “who sends her regards.”
Trump’s life now is still private, more so than it could be by the nature of her role in Washington. “That’s how she likes it. The more she can be private and not in the public eye, the better,” said another person who has known Trump socially for more than a decade. “And there’s nothing wrong with that. I mean, if every single person in the world watched your every move for four or five years, and that wasn’t comfortable for you — just imagine how triggering that must have been.”
In February she announced the opening of her office, which three people with knowledge say is currently operating from Palm Beach with a staff of two to three full-time employees, two of whom held jobs in the Trump White House. The introduction of Trump’s official post-White House endeavors came via a February tweet from the office, stating, “Mrs. Melania Trump is announcing the opening of The Office of Melania Trump. Please follow this account for news and updates.”
Since then, the account has been a string of throwbacks and thank you’s, with no announcements on any ongoing initiative objectives, policies, charity events, speeches or public appearances.
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