Ivanka Trump is one of the most powerful millennial women in the United States, and she is unlike any first daughter that America has ever seen. In the modern era of presidential politics, no first daughter has come close to the power and influence that Ivanka seems to enjoy as part President Donald Trump’s inner circle. Officially, she has no specific role within the White House (though her husband Jared Kushner is a White House senior advisor). Unofficially, she has been one of her father’s closest advisors since the early days of his presidential campaign.
Prior to President Trump’s inauguration, Ivanka stated that her most important role would be that of a supportive daughter, though her value as a strategic asset to the Trump administration goes beyond simple familial ties. On policy issues, she has been outspoken about the concerns of working mothers, advocating for better childcare options and equal pay. She and Kushner were influential in nixing a draft executive order that would have overturned LGBTQ rights in the workplace adopted by the Obama administration.
During the recent White House visit by Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, Ivanka convened the United States-Canada Council for Advancement of Women Entrepreneurs and Business Leaders to promote women’s empowerment as related to economic growth and job creation. And just this week, she led the Trump administration’s condemnation of anti-Semitic threats against Jewish community centers via Twitter, beating her father’s statement on the same topic by nearly a full day.
As she did during the campaign, Ivanka continues to play an influential role in the administration’s outreach to millennials. She is on record as being politically independent, having supported candidates and causes from both parties. With more than three million followers on Twitter, she has a less combative presence on social media than her father, using the platform to highlight how she juggles her roles as wife, mother, daughter, and sister within one of the most scrutinized families in the world. As a former model, star of her father’s reality TV show, and entrepreneur, Ivanka was already a recognizable brand and presence prior to her father’s campaign. Her clothing and jewelry lines, as well as potential conflicts of interest from her business dealings, continue to make headlines.
As with all things Trump, she is equally loved and loathed by the public, and attacks on social media have been at times brutal. Yet her comfort with the spotlight has made her an effective spokesperson for her father. Whether during her speech at the Republican National Convention last summer or in interviews, she speaks with confidence and grace. For Trump’s critics, she is also not easy to categorize or stereotype. She is a successful and independent woman in her own right, and just as women are not a monolithic voting bloc, there is also no single definition for what it means to be a powerful woman who can serve as a role model. Whether Ivanka is such a role model often depends largely on one’s view of her father.
Since George Washington’s administration, presidential wives, children, and other relatives have been considered exemplars and public symbols as extensions of the president himself. First daughters have most often made news through their social lives—who they are dating, engaged to, or plan to marry. While first family members have no constitutional role in government, wives or children can often humanize a president and soften his image. This may be one of the most important public roles that Ivanka will continue to play for her father. However, her greatest role within the administration may be as part of President Trump’s inner circle. Presidents can operate in an insular bubble where advisors are not always comfortable bringing up dissenting opinions, but Ivanka can speak candidly to her father without fear of recrimination or being fired for disagreeing with “the boss.”
Ivanka is clearly shattering previous expectations and stereotypes about the role of a first daughter. Ironically, she is not the powerful woman in the White House that many Americans, and especially Democrats, expected from the 2016 election. Yet, like her or not, Ivanka Trump is a political force to be reckoned with.
Lori Cox Han is a professor of political science at Chapman University and the author of In It to Win: Electing Madam President and Presidents and the American Presidency.