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Can Ivanka Trump sell workplace feminism while defending her dad on sexual harassment?

Ivanka Trump surrounded by male Trump supporters
Ivanka Trump could be an asset to her father's campaign. But she risks hurting her own brand.
John Moore/Getty Images
Libby Nelson is Vox's policy editor, leading coverage of how government action and inaction shape American life. Libby has more than a decade of policy journalism experience, including at Inside Higher Ed and Politico. She joined Vox in 2014.

Every time Ivanka Trump speaks on behalf of her father, Donald Trump, pundits agree that she's the perfect surrogate for his campaign: a polished, ambitious, self-proclaimed feminist with a key role in his company.

The problem for Ivanka Trump is how she can promote her father's brand without damaging her own.

An interview with CBS's This Morning, which started with questions about the New York Times article on Donald Trump's treatment of women and expanded to Ivanka Trump's career, shows what a delicate balance that is.

Ivanka Trump was brought onto the program to defend her father, whose long record of misogynistic comments about women is getting more attention.

And she did: "He's not a groper," she said, saying she was "bothered" by the Times article collecting accounts from women of Trump's behavior in private. "He has total respect for women. He was promoting women in development and construction at a time when it was unheard of."

But that was about as far as she'd go. In two five-minute segments on the show, Ivanka Trump emphasized repeatedly that politics is not her domain. Was it appropriate for Donald Trump to bring up Bill Clinton's infidelity? "You would have to ask my father that." How can Donald Trump change his approval ratings among women? "You would have to ask him."

Trotting out wives and daughters as surrogates for male candidates is nothing new. But Ivanka Trump is clearly drawing a firm line. And given her own business, that makes sense.

While she's probably best known for her eponymous shoes and handbags, Ivanka Trump's brand now is all about being a confident, stylish woman in the workplace. It's not exactly militant feminism, but it is feminism of a sort, represented by her own website — which resembles a beautiful, pinky-beige vision board assembled by someone who's taken Sheryl Sandberg's Lean In to heart: "5 tips for making big career decisions," one post on reads.

"For me, one of my life's missions is to disrupt these dated concepts of what it really looks like and means to be a working woman," Ivanka Trump said on CBS.

Sexual harassment in the workplace isn't part of the Ivanka Trump brand. (Literally — although her website has articles on "How to launch a truly disruptive startup" and "5 ways to avoid drama at the office," a search for the phrase turns up no results.)

But women are Ivanka Trump's key audience. And Donald Trump, as you may have heard, has a big problem with women: 70 percent have an unfavorable view, according to a Gallup poll from late March. So while Ivanka Trump's presence on the campaign trail could reflect well on her father, the reverse could easily happen to her. Her caution in interviews suggests she's well aware of that risk.

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