The year in Melania

Melania Trump ...

Posted: Jan 19, 2018 2:40 PM
Updated: Jan 19, 2018 2:40 PM

Melania Trump is perhaps a unique first lady in modern history, an immigrant, a fashion model, a third wife and, by her own account, a notoriously private woman.

After delaying her official move into America's most famous residence until June, the first lady has worked the past several months to make the unfamiliar place a comfortable home.

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"She is clearly not comfortable revealing too much of herself," said Kate Andersen Brower, author of "First Women: The Grace and Power of America's Modern First Ladies" and a CNN contributor.

"And while we should respect her privacy, it makes it difficult to relate to her, or to feel like we know her at all," she added.

One year in

Trump has settled into the role to a degree that appears to please her supporters but still not quite satisfy her critics. Though she outlined a nascent platform in September -- helping children -- she has yet to deliver a refined agenda for just how she will accomplish this, or which specific areas of "help" require her full attention. Her communications director, Stephanie Grisham, told CNN to expect a "formal" unveiling of the first lady's agenda "in coming months."

"I think she will continue to focus on the apolitical issue of helping children," Brower said. "But because her husband is so divisive, almost anything she touches, including cyberbullying, is radioactive."

Trump appears to be forging ahead, however, starting 2018 with a staff expansion, adding a communications aide, a new director of advance and operations and, most telling, a director of policy, signaling there is in fact policy to be had.

"She's likely to roll out an initiative, or set of initiatives," said Anita McBride, who served as first lady Laura Bush's chief of staff. "At least now there's a structure around her staff. You also have to remember in this role, it's important to be prepared for the things you can't plan for."

McBride recalled how quickly Bush's team had to pivot in the wake of 9/11, and she is hopeful that Trump's staff of now 12 full-time employees is cognizant of the first lady's needs, no matter how new to the role she is.

To an extent, it should be expected that a former model with zero experience in politics, social work and public speaking would take more time than most to find her voice, not to mention her footing.

"Any person thrown into the role of first lady that doesn't have public ambitions is in a tough spot," said Barbara Perry, a professor and director of presidential studies at the University of Virginia's Miller Center. "To be honest, they're all thrown in, especially in the modern media age -- it's a very difficult position. Then layer upon that not being a native English speaker and being more introverted as a person."

Meeting Melania

The world was introduced to Trump's penchant for privacy when she kicked off her tenure as America's most-recognized woman by virtually disappearing to New York, opting to finish out her son's school year from the family's gilded Manhattan penthouse rather than immediately move in to the White House.

Brower believes that decision might have made Trump's first year a more difficult road to acceptance.

"I think Melania set the tone when she refused to follow protocol and immediately move into the White House, as every other first lady has done -- with the exception of Anna Harrison, who didn't move in because her husband, William Henry Harrison, died after one month in office," Brower said.

Since June, when she and Barron moved to Washington, Trump has expanded her presence, both at events and through travel.

In September, she ventured solo to Canada to represent the United States at the Invictus Games opening ceremonies; she also made trips by herself to West Virginia, Michigan and Texas, spreading messages of helping children and families with everything from the opioid crisis to middle school bullying and hurricane recovery.

In November, she accompanied the President on his lengthy visit to Asia, setting aside time for her own outings, chatting with schoolchildren in Japan, even taking a quiet tour of the Great Wall of China by herself.

Highs and lows

"She was a rock star on the foreign stage in the Middle East and Europe on that first trip in May," said McBride. "She immediately showed our country and the world that she was comfortable traveling abroad."

Foreign press dubbed Trump the best-dressed first lady in decades, showering her with sartorial praise. Trump's savvy overseas wardrobe reminds Perry of another first lady with good taste, Jackie Kennedy.

"They are these young, very attractive, fashion plate kind of women, so they draw attention to themselves with good looks and style," Perry said of the similarities between Trump's bright moments and Kennedy's. "Both are also not completely comfortable with being in the public eye. If it were up to them, Mrs. Kennedy and Mrs. Trump would probably live out of the spotlight and protect their children."

McBride also gives Trump high points for the events she has hosted at the White House, even pre-June, when she wasn't living there full time.

"They've all gone off without a hitch -- the Easter Egg Roll, Mother's Day, the Governors Ball, the White House Historical Association dinner, the holiday parties -- every one was an A+ event and she presided over them," said McBride.

Brower said she would give a "B-" to Trump for her first year in office, citing a lack of a public persona as the first lady's main challenge. Being slow to completely roll out her agenda is also a concern for Brower.

"People are going to expect her to come up with an issue, like Michelle Obama did with 'Let's Move' in the second year, but again, I don't think it's an easy road for her," she said.

McBride said her least favorite "Melania moment" of 2017 happened in October, when Trump opted to respond to some comments from Ivana Trump. The President's first wife suggested that Melania Trump might be "jealous" of her own relationship with the President, while jokingly referring to herself as the first lady.

Trump released a biting statement in response.

"Mrs. Trump has made the White House a home for Barron and the President. She loves living in Washington and is honored by her role as first lady of the United States. She plans to use her title and role to help children, not sell books. There is clearly no substance to this statement from an ex, this is unfortunately only attention-seeking and self-serving noise," Grisham told CNN at the time.

What to expect

Brower said first ladies are at their best when they reveal their "humanity" -- a skill that would indeed help warm Trump to her critics, or those who aren't sure about her just yet. But the complex divisiveness that her husband's presidency has churned up could make this tactic a tricky one.

Revealing moments -- when Trump reminded with a gentle nudge that the President should put his hand over his heart during the National Anthem at the Easter Egg Roll, or even when she swatted his hand away on that infamous tarmac walk in Israel last spring -- certainly cultivate a more realistic persona for a first lady who for many conjures an image of an unsmiling face behind big, dark sunglasses.

Ironically, in Trump's case, channeling her charisma has been most successful when she isn't near the President. Her visits with children, in the United States and overseas, are clearly the best chances to see Trump's smile, or witness her dropping to her knees to look a child in the eyes and have a hug, or hear her laugh at a joke or snap a selfie.

Mississippi Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Cases: 314710

Reported Deaths: 7254
CountyCasesDeaths
DeSoto21646260
Hinds20369416
Harrison17949309
Rankin13643278
Jackson13450246
Madison10113217
Lee9986174
Jones8384163
Forrest7689152
Lauderdale7198240
Lowndes6403148
Lamar623686
Lafayette6203119
Washington5341134
Bolivar4802132
Oktibbeha462998
Panola4596107
Pearl River4519146
Marshall4450103
Warren4393121
Pontotoc420872
Monroe4115133
Union411176
Neshoba4031176
Lincoln3969110
Hancock379586
Leflore3498125
Sunflower336290
Tate334784
Pike3327105
Scott316274
Alcorn313368
Yazoo311770
Itawamba300577
Copiah297465
Coahoma295579
Simpson295388
Tippah288768
Adams286982
Prentiss280060
Marion269380
Leake268473
Wayne262841
Grenada261587
Covington259881
George248148
Newton246862
Winston227581
Tishomingo227067
Jasper221148
Attala214473
Chickasaw208057
Holmes189174
Clay185554
Stone182833
Tallahatchie178941
Clarke178080
Calhoun170932
Yalobusha164638
Smith162534
Walthall134245
Greene130633
Lawrence128724
Montgomery127142
Noxubee126734
Perry126338
Amite123142
Carroll121829
Webster114532
Jefferson Davis107133
Tunica105726
Claiborne102430
Benton100025
Humphreys96733
Kemper95828
Franklin83923
Quitman81116
Choctaw76418
Wilkinson67531
Jefferson65728
Sharkey50217
Issaquena1686
Unassigned00

Alabama Coronavirus Cases

Cases: 539829

Reported Deaths: 11038
CountyCasesDeaths
Jefferson798271529
Mobile41261809
Madison35132506
Tuscaloosa25915455
Shelby25294249
Montgomery24705593
Baldwin21392310
Lee15987172
Calhoun14569319
Morgan14422280
Etowah13918353
Marshall12275225
Houston10641282
Elmore10147206
Limestone10065151
St. Clair9946245
Cullman9761194
Lauderdale9457243
DeKalb8865188
Talladega8339176
Walker7260278
Autauga7001108
Jackson6836112
Blount6771139
Colbert6320135
Coffee5578118
Dale4876113
Russell445138
Chilton4369113
Franklin426282
Covington4138118
Tallapoosa4044153
Escambia394777
Chambers3590123
Dallas3568153
Clarke351461
Marion3137101
Pike311977
Lawrence302698
Winston275773
Bibb264564
Geneva254078
Marengo249665
Pickens234862
Barbour232056
Hale223978
Butler219069
Fayette212662
Henry189643
Cherokee184645
Randolph182442
Monroe178141
Washington167739
Macon161150
Clay157157
Crenshaw153557
Cleburne149641
Lamar143236
Lowndes140553
Wilcox127430
Bullock123242
Conecuh110829
Coosa109228
Perry107826
Sumter104932
Greene92634
Choctaw61024
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