Ivanka Trump: The New Hillary Clinton in the White House?

Nina Burleigh
Ivanka Trump: The New Hillary Clinton in the White House?

Updated | Ever since Ivanka Trump spoke at the Republican National Convention, people have been confused. Looking cool in one of her trademark sheaths (she would soon tweet on how to “get the look”), the daughter of the notoriously sexist billionaire took the stage on a steamy night in Cleveland and talked about working women and their needs. Unease instantly prickled necks on the convention floor, where applause was polite but restrained. The looks on many faces seemed to say: Did I just hear her say “affordable child care?” Who let a feminazi Democrat in here? Lock her up!

The Who Is Ivanka question has trailed her since the beginning of the Trump saga. Is she a Manhattan Democrat bearing the red-state ideological burden just to support her dad? Is she a secret feminist planning to stymie the worst instincts of the notorious sexists in the White House, a secret environmentalist working to save the world from global warming? Does she have her own other agenda, and if so what is it?

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After 100 days of the Trump administration, Ivanka remains a cypher. Sound familiar? She is also a White House power without portfolio, working behind the scenes on any number of issues on any given day, from foreign policy to trade. She is so sure of her own goodness that she is oblivious to ethics challenges. She even started her own foundation, and is soliciting foreign donors.

After 100 days, the answer to Who is Ivanka is clear: Almost everything about her politics and political style is something that we’ve seen before. In fact, very, very recently.

Let’s review her uncanny similarities with Hillary Clinton.

Provides Cover for Sexism. Ivanka is not married to a serial philanderer: You don’t have to lock up your daughters when you see Jared Kushner coming. But like Hillary with philandering Bill, Ivanka serves to make her own—to coin a euphemism—feministically challenged presidential relative more palatable to women. And among a certain segment of the female population who might have been off-put by the Billy Bush tape, the premise and presence of Ivanka signaled that her father can’t possibly have meant he grabs them literally by the pussy.

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White House Power Without Bounds. In the West Wing, Ivanka has quickly become a White House power center. Trump has said his daughter helps him with the women stuff, but her portfolio actually has no limits. In most White Houses, the spouse figures into the management flow chart somewhere, but not until Hillary came along did White House staff have to figure the powerful unelected relative’s interests into every issue. Ivanka might not be at that level yet, but there don’t seem to be any boundaries to the issues she’s dealing with. And she has face time with the president that no one else gets.

Starting on Third Base Thanks to Her Man. Remember when Hillary Rodham Clinton reminded everyone she wasn't standing there by her man baking cookies? She had made it on her own—hence the inclusion of “Rodham,” at least until retrograde Arkansans let it be know at the voting booth that they didn’t like it. The maiden name retention, though, could never obliterate that she was in the White House, in politics at all, thanks to her marriage. Similarly, Ivanka—who certainly isn’t changing her name—has often implied that she earned her business empire and now, political standing, thanks to old-fashioned hard work. She has even built a brand and is writing a book identifying herself with, as she puts it, #womenwhowork.

Helping Poor Women Sell More Baskets. In Germany this week, Ivanka advocated for women's entrepreneurial empowerment worldwide. "The statistics and results prove that when you invest in women and girls, it benefits both developed and developing economies," she said in one interview. "Women are an enormous untapped resource, critical to the growth of all countries.”

Such talk is the cut-and-pasted, Davos-approved, market-based solution to gender inequality that was the signature goal and achievement of Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. She even created an ambassador for women and girls, Melanne Verveer, who spent four years traipsing the planet to push international leaders to invite more women into their economies.

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Hillary promoted economic empowerment in lieu of actually using her podium to speak out against legalized, traditional misogyny in places like Saudi Arabia, where many donors to the Clinton Foundation happened to reside. Likewise, Ivanka has yet to lend her weight to fighting the egregious sexism of Arabs in the Gulf, where she has advanced various Trump projects.

Soliciting Foreign Donations to a Private Fund. While in Germany this week, Ivanka disclosed that she has begun developing a “massive fund” to benefit female entrepreneurs around the world. Like a global Apprentice, the fund will provide seed capital to small- and medium-sized enterprises that qualify. And it’s relying on foreign donors. Canadians, Germans and a few Middle Eastern countries have already made commitments, as have several corporations, a source told Axios, which broke the story.

Apparently a Neocon Hawk. The day after President Trump lobbed 59 Tomahawks at a Syrian air base, Ivanka’s brother Eric told a British newspaper that he was “sure” she had urged their father to attack. “Ivanka is a mother of three kids and she has influence. I'm sure she said: 'Listen, this is horrible stuff,'” he said. At a briefing, White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer did not confirm or deny that idea, but said there was “no question” she weighed in.

Ethically Challenged. Hillary’s ethical lapses, from Whitewater to the Clinton Foundation, were well known, but unraveling those entanglements is amateur hour compared with the “ethical quagmire” Ivanka finds herself in as a senior White House adviser and a woman with a multinational business of her own. Now a federal employee working without a salary, she is maintaining a stake in Trump’s Washington hotel, whose five-star services are viewed by foreign dignitaries and their staffs as the ticket to win Trump’s favor. But, it is a criminal offense for a federal employee to participate substantially in matters in which they have financial interests. It’s not clear how and whether she can separate herself from her Ivanka Trump clothing and jewelry line. Since her company’s regrettable tweet about how to buy the bracelet she wore on TV a few days after the election, she has ceased brazen marketing. But she has sat in on meetings with Chinese and Japanese leaders while her company was arranging trademark and business deals in those countries.

A Cypher. Like Hillary, there is something unknowable and mysterious about Ivanka, maybe because both women are in the contorted position of supporting men whose real behavior with women has been utterly reprehensible at best, illegal at worst. Like Hillary, Ivanka is deeply, perhaps preternaturally guarded. She has written that she developed a hard shell after enduring the humiliation of her parents’ divorce in paparazzi-infested, tabloid-crazed New York. In public, her face is a smooth, still mask, and she’s never photographed with a hair out of place (unlike HRC), or even with her mouth open in mid-speech. And much like Hillary, who relied on unctuous helpings of personal charm and public “listening” to balance out distrust with her self-protective stance, Ivanka uses an Instagram account loaded with shots of her engaged in the duties of mother and wife to occlude the realities of her seriously powerful life. Only time will tell whether, as with Hillary, resisting the inevitable public urge to breach that shield becomes an obsession.

Correction: An earlier version of this story mistakenly said Ivanka Trump tweeted about her bracelet the day after the election. It was her company that tweeted about the bracelet, and it was a few days after the election. 

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