On the eve of Donald Trump’s departure from the White House, his daughter, Ivanka, released a statement light on praise for her father and heavy on praise for herself. “I came to Washington to fight for American families and I leave feeling I’ve done that,” she said.
The next day, hours before Biden’s inauguration, the 39-year-old “first daughter” waved the outgoing president off as he took a final trip on Air Force One to Mar-a-Lago, his Palm Beach resort where he will spend his post-presidency.
Many expect Ivanka and her husband, Jared Kushner, to follow. In true Trumpian fashion, Ivanka’s next steps are hinted at in her real estate decisions, and the Sunshine State looks set to be the HQ from which they plot Ivanka’s political future — a return to Washington in her own right.
She and Jared, who is also the scion of a New York property developer, recently spent $30 million on a parcel of land in Indian Creek Village, a private island in Miami nicknamed the Billionaire Bunker.
Like her father, Ivanka appears to see no conflict between public office and a taste for the finer things in life, but there’s political logic to it too. “For the Trumps, Florida is home base,” says Jorge Luis Lopez, a Miami-based Republican strategist. “Ivanka and Jared will absolutely be welcome here.”
The state voted for Trump twice, in part thanks to a surge in support in south Florida’s large Cuban community, and because her father switched his residency from New York to Florida in 2019. The governor, Ron DeSantis, is a loyal Trump ally. “If she chooses, she is the future of the Republican Party,” says Lopez. Elected office in Florida would be a natural next step — and sets up the contentious possibility of a 2022 primary run against sitting Florida senator Marco Rubio, whom her father beat to win the Republican presidential nomination in 2016.
There might be more to the Florida move than real estate and eyes on a Republican prize. After the turbulence of the last four years, there’s no way that Jarvanka could return to their former lives in Manhattan, sliding right back into the rarefied circles they occupied before her father descended Trump Tower’s golden escalator and announced his candidacy. Where they were once a fixture, hopping from philanthropic galas to Park Avenue parties, they are now personae non gratae.
The city stands with her sister-in-law, the Vogue cover girl Karlie Kloss, who is married to Jared’s brother Josh and has watched the Trump administration unfold with well-documented horror. On January 6, as the pro-Trump mob ransacked the Capitol, Ivanka was reportedly watching with her father in the White House, urging him to quell the violence. Her own attempt to do so backfired.
In a quickly deleted tweet she referred to the rioters as “American patriots” — Kloss tweeted: “Accepting the results of a legitimate democratic election is patriotic. Refusing to do so and inciting violence is anti-American.” When one person commented, “Tell your sister-in-law and brother-in-law”, she replied: “I’ve tried.”
Sources close to the couple say they aren’t interested in rebuilding her Manhattan life. “I don’t think she will try to get back into New York society,” says Marissa Velez, who worked with Ivanka on her fashion label for three years. “She’s not just going to walk away from the White House and say ‘Cool, that was a great four years, I learned a lot’.” She adds: “Fashion was just another way for Ivanka to get her family into a more powerful position. Ultimately, power for her family was all she wanted. Which is why I think she’ll one day run for president.”
That’s the subject of much speculation — in part because of the wide range of outcomes. Her unstinting loyalty to her father could make her America’s first female president — or lead to a criminal conviction. Insofar as there are plans for a Trump political dynasty, Ivanka has always been the heir presumptive. Donald Trump Jr, who also harbours political ambitions, may be more popular among the ex-president’s die-hard supporters, but Trump’s second born is his favourite.
“She is everything her father desperately wanted to be,” says Nina Burleigh, author of The Trump Women: Part of the Deal. “To the manor born, soigné, prep-school educated and ‘classy’.” And certainly, for four years, Ivanka acted as “first daughter”, introducing her father at both the 2016 and 2020 Republican national conventions, taking charge of pet policy initiatives and often stepping into the shoes of her stepmother and reluctant First Lady, Melania.
Still, the biggest cloud over any future candidacy for Ivanka will likely be the dark final days of her father’s presidency. Throughout the turbulent Trump years, Ivanka has been a rare fixed point at her father’s side, and the ugly denouement of her father’s two-month refusal to accept the election results — and inciting violence in the Capitol — has undermined Ivanka’s effort to cast the Trump presidency in a moderate light.
Restrained and poised where her father has been militant and volatile, her work in the White House focussed on issues like parental leave, STEM education and retraining workers. Now her father will be remembered as the president whose election lie undermined American democracy. If a bitter civil war is about to break out in the GOP, will Ivanka find herself caught between the two sides or could she be the party’s unifying figure?
“The Trump brand is tainted,” says Burleigh. “But time will dilute the shock and the donors will get behind her if she has the numbers.” According to Lopez, Ivanka is the “perfect pivot” for the Republican party. “Shut your eyes and imagine a softer, gentler conservative,” he says. “What do you see? Ivanka. The mother, the highly-educated businesswoman. It’s almost a perfect fit.”
Still, Washington won’t be in a hurry to welcome them back. At the weekend, when vans were spotted outside their swanky 7,000sq ft DC townhouse, most of Ivanka and Jared’s neighbours couldn’t wait to see the back of them. “Our dogs get on but that’s about it,” says Rhona Friedman, who lives next door. “When you see how many Biden-Harris signs are in the windows, it’s pretty easy to tell which side my neighbourhood is on.”
Moreover, whatever Ivanka’s electoral potential, her future is threatened by legal concerns. If her father is convicted in his imminent Senate impeachment trial, the Trump name would further lose its lustre in Republican circles. Last month, she was deposed in an investigation into the misuse of funds by Trump’s presidential inaugural committee — just one of the several criminal investigations the family faces.
Velez, who parted ways with Ivanka over politics, says her willingness to do absolutely anything for her family is “what I admired her for, but it is also the worst thing about her”.
“She will do anything for them, whether right or wrong,” she says. “Anything to get the family more power. In that sense, she is a clone of her father.” In Born Rich, a 2003 documentary about American heirs and heiresses, a much younger Ivanka says, “No matter what I hear about my parents, about my family, no matter what I read, the fact is I’m absolutely proud to be a Trump.”
Today, her father isn’t just a real estate developer and Apprentice star. He’s also a twice-impeached, one-term president. But Ivanka is as proud as ever.
Oliver Wiseman is the US editor of The Critic