BY LAUREN JOHNSTON
President Trump’s track record with women includes the infamous Access Hollywood tape recording of vulgar comments about women, 13 separate allegations of sexual assault, support for alleged pedophile Roy Moore, and Trump’s tweeted lamentation for people – like Rob Porter, the White House staff secretary who recently resigned after accusations of domestic abuse surfaced – whose “lives are being shattered and destroyed by a mere allegation.”
It is worth asking: who are the women in power in Trump’s world? How do they manage to thrive under the patronage of Spanky?
With the exception of the Press Secretary, no women in Trump’s cabinet have previous experience in politics. Most only have experience as political pundits, reality TV stars, models, or have worked in public relations and business. More than demonstrating commitment to a political cause, however, these women demonstrate personal loyalty to the president, whatever the cost (as well as an overall commitment to looking good because “Trump doesn’t like frump”).
Some of the women in Trump’s inner circle are already well known. Kellyanne Conway first served as Trump’s campaign manager, where she infamously avoided interview questions by deftly shifting attention from questions asked to questions more advantageous for Trump’s platform. She now works as Counselor to the President, where she enjoys closer access to Trump than most, Secret Service protection, and walk-in privilege, meaning she can enter the Oval Office whenever she likes.
Sarah Huckabee Sanders is another famous female face on the Trump team. She started working as White House press secretary in July 2017, after Sean Spicer resigned seven months into his own difficult tenure. Like Conway, Sanders performs a type of interpretative gymnastics to fit whatever the president has said, or not said, into the administration’s stated policy preferences. She is an important buffer between a volatile president and a hostile media.
Then there is Ivanka Trump, the president’s daughter, bereft of any former political experience. She serves as Special Advisor to the President, thanks to nepotism, and works the same type of wizardry as Conway and Sanders: re-phrasing the president’s message in such a way to minimize political damage and maximize Trump’s palatability.
Other women in Trump’s cabinet have not lasted so long. Omarosa Manigault was contentiously forced from her position as Director of Communications at the White House Office of Public Liaison. Like Conway, she enjoyed walk-in privileges, causing a spat between her and Chief of Staff John Kelly because she could bypass the regular chain of command. She enjoyed a close personal friendship with the president despite differing policy preferences. She originally backed Hillary Clinton prior to Trump’s run for office, and reportedly disagreed with the president over his handling of white nationalist protests in Charlottesville and his support for Roy Moore.
White House Communications Director Hope Hicks – the fifth person designated to the job under Trump – recently resigned, leaving many to wonder who will fill her role. Like other women on Trump’s team, Hicks enjoyed especially close access to the president. Hicks also demonstrated varying soft skills during her tenure: she was a gatekeeper for different media outlets’ access to the president and was one of few people who was purportedly able to temper Trump’s positions on different issues. Her special confidence with the Trump earned her the title “the Trump whisperer,” but she resigned just a day after testifying to the House Committee that she had told white lies while in office.
The fact that Omarosa Manigault and Hope Hicks have already resigned is perhaps a foreboding sign for the administration. It may be that the job these women are asked to perform, which involves bending the truth into unfathomable dimensions to protect the image of their boss, has an expiration date.
Overall, it appears that indefatigable defense of the president is an absolute prerequisite for the women who work for him. The ability to translate Trumpian diatribes and Twitter torrents into passes for cogent policy proposals is one of their greatest skills.
But it is a dangerous skill to have.
As Trump’s women help to soften the exterior of the Trump presidency, they make it appear less chaotic and volatile than it truly is. They blur the line between what is and what is not permissible for a president to say and do.
Who knows where Trump will find himself when he does not have the tact of these women to depend on?