But after allegations her convention speech plagiarized parts of Michelle Obama's 2008 convention speech, the official Republican nominee’s wife, a successful model and fashion businesswoman, has been the talk of the convention.
On the stump, Trump would occasionally call her up to the podium, seemingly on a whim. She would say a few words, repeat a Trumpism or two, and give the podium back to her husband.
The only time she made headlines during the campaign was before the Utah primaries, when a Ted Cruz–supporting group released a photo from a nude photo shoot she had done for GQ in 2000. It came with the caption "Meet Melania Trump. Your Next First Lady. Or you could support Ted Cruz on Tuesday." Trump responded by threatening to "spill the beans" on Cruz’s wife, Heidi.
Those who have profiled Melania are quick to focus on her beauty, her career as a model, her quiet nature, and her symbiotic partnership with her husband: Trump likes to be the center of attention, and Melania saves her political commentary for their private life. She is a family woman, focuses on raising their son Barron Trump, and enjoys her luxury lifestyle out of the public eye. More than once she has been described as a "model American."
Here are five of the most important articles to read to understand the woman behind the Republican nominee, her role in the presidential election, and the Melania Trump way of life:
1) Melania Trump’s influence is private
The world has seen Melania as Trump’s silent partner, standing by her man without opinions or political aspirations of her own. But she says that impression isn’t accurate. In her first press interview this election cycle, with Harper’s Bazaar, Melania made it clear that she has her Trump’s ear when she wants it:
"Because of who my husband is, and our life, and also he is number one in the polls—well, you take that all together, and people are very curious about me," she says in her soft, Slovenian accent, her voice set at the level of an aristocrat who knows she doesn't need to speak loudly to be heard. "I'm choosing not to go political in public because that is my husband's job. I'm very political in private life, and between me and my husband I know everything that is going on. I follow from A to Z," she affirms. "But I chose not to be on the campaign. I made that choice. I have my own mind. I am my own person, and I think my husband likes that about me."
Melania says that the press often mischaracterize her quietness as reticence. "They say I'm shy," she says. "I am not shy. They interview people about me who don't even know me. These people, they want to have 15 minutes of fame in talking about me, and reporters don't check the facts...You can see how they turn around stories and how unfair they can be."
2) Melania thinks the media is unfair to her and her husband
Like her husband, Melania is very skeptical of the media. She likes people to see her life as she has curated it, and holds high regard for her privacy.
When GQ’s Julia Ioffe profiled her, Melania faulted the piece for its negative tone and its intrusion into her private life, calling it "yet another example of the dishonest media and their disingenuous reporting." Melania’s criticism of the article prompted Trump supporters to harass Ioffe. All because Ioffe had uncovered Melania's half-brother:
The existence of Melania’s half brother has never been reported, and although he had never spoken to the media, he told me his story and then gave me permission to retrieve the relevant court documents from the Slovenian archives.
(When I asked Melania about this over the phone, she denied that it was true. Later, after I’d sent her documents from the Slovenian court, she wrote to me claiming she hadn’t understood what I’d asked, explaining, "I’ve known about this for years." She added: "My father is a private individual. Please respect his privacy.")
And questioned the success of her skin care line:
As for passions beyond the familial, there are a few. Melania dabbles in design. Her line of affordable gem-spangled jewelry and watches, launched on QVC, reportedly sold out in 45 minutes during its initial broadcast. (Melania’s caviar-infused anti-aging creams haven’t sold as well, though a federal judge ruled in her favor in a lawsuit she filed against its promoters.)
3) Melania, Trump’s third wife, doesn’t represent the traditional conservative views of marriage
In the New York Times profile "Melania Trump, the Silent Partner," her absence on the campaign trail was presented as a sop to the Republicans' conservative views for traditional marriage. Melania, a Slovene American, is 24 years Trump's junior.
When at the Republican debate in September the moderator Jake Tapper invited the assembled hopefuls to introduce themselves, Senator Rand Paul of Kentucky was quick to note his quarter-century marriage to his wife, Kelly. Following suit, Senator Ted Cruz of Texas then referred to his longtime spouse, Heidi, while Senator Marco Rubio of Florida ticked off the 17 years he’d been married to his wife, and both Ben Carson and Carly Fiorina made references to the individuals they’ve been wed to for decades.
When it came time for Mr. Trump to introduce himself, the New York-based billionaire said nothing of his wife, stating only: "I am Donald Trump. And I wrote ‘The Art of the Deal.’
While it’s difficult to determine the reasons behind the apparent decision for Ivanka Trump to take on a role traditionally assigned to a candidate’s wife (Donald, Melania and Ivanka Trump declined requests for interviews for this article through a campaign spokeswoman), it helps to take a peek into Mr. Trump’s checkered marital history.
4) Melania Trump is sometimes called a "model American"
Melania is an immigrant "with seemingly no affinity for her homeland," Lauren Collins writes for the New Yorker. Rather, she has embraced the lifestyle and ambition of her adopted country — and taken them to a level most Americans will never equal:
Melania Trump, it turns out, is the perfect body on which to hang a brand. If First Ladies have traditionally been public-service announcements, then she is a slickly produced advertorial—we marvelled at Michelle’s arms, because it seemed that they could be ours, if only we were willing to work as hard as she did, but you don’t hear anyone (other than her husband) talking about Melania’s legs. Unlike Teresa Heinz Kerry, who rhapsodized about her childhood in Mozambique, Melania is a foreigner with seemingly no affinity for her homeland. Unlike Carla Bruni-Sarkozy, who entered the Élysée with four decades of high living behind her, she is a model with the past of a nun. Melania stayed away from "the scene," and had "no history of boyfriends," the photographer Antoine Verglas told the Washington Post (recalling Diana Spencer’s uncle, Lord Fermoy, who assured the press, in 1981, that his niece "has never had a lover").
Yet Melania appears to have internalized many aspects of Donald’s culture: his ahistoricism; his unblinking gall; his false dichotomies between murderous scofflaws and deserving citizens, women who ask for nothing and nagging wives. Like Donald, Melania doesn’t drink. She never breaks ranks, not even with a teasing criticism.
5) If Trump is elected, Melania would be a lot of firsts for first lady
Melania is the "unconventional spouse of a most unconventional presidential candidate," the Washington Post’s Mary Jordan wrote in a September profile. Jordan ticks off all the ways Melania Trump would be unlike the first ladies who came before her:
She would be the first first lady born abroad since Louisa Adams, wife of John Quincy Adams, who moved into the White House in 1825. She is Trump’s third wife — another potential first for a first lady. Ronald Reagan, with a single ex-wife when he took office, so far is the only divorced U.S. president.
She might also be the most linguistically gifted first lady, as she speaks four languages, including heavily accented English. And, without doubt, she would be the only first lady to have posed in the buff while lying on a fur blanket handcuffed to a leather briefcase, as she did aboard Trump’s jet for British GQ in 2000.
"She provides great balance" to Trump, said Roger Stone, the candidate’s former political adviser who has known the couple since before they were married. She is smart — "not just an armpiece," Stone said. "She would be the most glamourous first lady since Jackie Kennedy."