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Ivanka Trump, explained

Republican National Convention: Day Three
Donald Trump and Ivanka Trump on Wednesday night.
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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.

If you were going to groom a member of the Trump family for politics, your first instinct wouldn’t necessarily be to pick Donald Trump — a 70-year-old with outrageous wealth and a penchant for saying outrageously racist things.

You might pick Ivanka Trump: his glamorous, accomplished, 34-year-old daughter, who is more disciplined and on-message on her worst day than her father on his best.

So perhaps it shouldn’t be shocking that Ivanka’s political star has quietly been on the rise over the past year. Before Donald Trump selected Indiana Gov. Mike Pence as his running mate, there were suggestions — occasionally serious — that he should pick Ivanka.

Behind the scenes, Ivanka has amassed a surprising amount of influence within the Trump campaign. She was reportedly responsible for the ouster of controversial campaign manager Corey Lewandowski in June. Some sources suggested she was one of the deciding votes in her father’s vice presidential pick. And Trump says she's helping develop his policy proposal on childcare — an issue he hasn't talked about during the campaign, but that she emphasized during her speech at the Republican National Convention in Cleveland.

"She is very, very trusted by me," Trump told the New York Times in April. "She has great real-estate instincts and great political instincts." Trump jumps at the chance to tell interviewers how great and accomplished his daughter is (though this fulsome praise often veers into his cringe-inducing joke that he’d date her if they weren’t, you know, related).

The big question, then, is how Ivanka will wield this outsize influence within the Trump campaign. In some cases, she’s garnered a reputation for trying to push her father to moderate his positions. Yet that doesn’t seem to have succeeded thus far — and in at least a few instances, she’s been unable to shake Donald Trump’s core beliefs.

Ivanka’s role in the campaign began with defending Trump against misogyny charges

Ivanka Trump talking
Ivanka Trump speaks at the Forbes Women’s Summit.
Slaven Vlasic/Getty Images

Ivanka first assumed a public role in her father’s campaign in August 2015, when Trump was facing accusations of misogyny after he said that Fox News’ Megyn Kelly had "blood coming out of her … wherever" during a debate.

Initially, Trump didn’t see his feud with Kelly as a problem at all. It was Ivanka who convinced him that this was a real vulnerability and that he needed to address it. As Trump told Sean Hannity: "She said, 'Dad, you've got to let people know how much you adore women and how you'll take care of them.'"

Since then, Ivanka has taken a leading role in trying to defend her father’s reputation — a difficult task given Trump’s long history of objectifying and denigrating women. She even told London’s Sunday Times that her father was "a feminist."

And it's a big reason I am the woman I am today. He always told me and showed me that I could do anything I set my mind to if I married vision and passion with work ethic. He's also surrounded me with strong female role models who have done just that since I was a little girl… People talk about gender equality… He has lived it, he has employed women at the highest levels of the Trump Organization for decades, so I think it's a great testament to how capable he thinks women are and has shown that his whole life.

While this defense wasn’t entirely convincing, Ivanka was arguably his best messenger here. In addition to being an executive within the Trump Organization, she’s an entrepreneur whose entire pitch is aimed at young women, selling a palatable, popular workplace feminism. Her website, aims to give 20-somethings advice on how to choose an outfit for a summer wedding, write a living will, or ask for billions for your startup idea. Her forthcoming book is called Women Who Work.

Serving as a character witness is the traditional role for a male candidate’s wife or daughter. Ivanka Trump’s argument that her father "adores" women and will "take care of them" is similar to Ann Romney’s role in the 2012 campaign, when she stood up at the Republican National Convention to tell a story about Mitt taking her to a high school dance. "You can trust Mitt," she said. "He will take us to a better place, just as he took me home safely from that dance."

For most wives and daughters, however, that’s the extent of their campaign role. But Ivanka, along with her husband Jared Kushner, has slowly acquired an importance that stretches beyond simply telling heartwarming stories.

Ivanka Trump has also helped make at least two huge campaign decisions

Ivanka Trump with Donald Trump and Mike Pence
Ivanka Trump was reportedly closely involved in her father’s vice-presidential selection process.
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From the beginning, the Trump campaign has featured a power struggle between the people who have worked with Trump the longest and the political operatives who were supposed to help him professionalize his candidacy.

Caught between these dueling camps, it’s not surprising that Trump has ultimately turned to his children as trusted arbiters. In October, Politico described Ivanka as the "quiet power behind the Trump throne." The candidate reportedly huddled with his daughter during the debates. Meanwhile, the New York Times has described Ivanka’s husband Jared Kushner as is the "quiet fixer" in the campaign.

Over time, this influence has grown. In June, the Washington Post reported that Ivanka and Kushner, as well as Trump’s other grown children, Eric Trump and Donald Trump Jr., now play such a big role within the campaign that they’re frequently in touch with officials from the Republican National Committee — jobs usually reserved for paid staff.

Ivanka and her siblings reportedly played a key role in Trump’s pick for vice president. Time’s Zeke Miller and Alex Altman quoted a campaign adviser who called the vice-presidential pick "a family decision." When Trump began seriously considering Mike Pence as a running mate, Ivanka, Eric, Donald Jr., and Kushner joined him at a meeting with the Indiana governor.

Ivanka was also heavily involved when Trump finally decided to oust his trusted campaign manager Corey Lewandowski earlier this year. Trump had been fiercely loyal to his aide throughout the campaign — even standing by Lewandowski when the latter was charged with battery for violently grabbing a reporter from Breitbart News. To many observers, it looked like Lewandowski would be a permanent fixture on the campaign no matter what he did.

Until, that is, he made an enemy of Ivanka.

According to New York magazine’s Gabriel Sherman, Ivanka and her brother Eric were instrumental in convincing their father to fire Lewandowski. They ambushed the aide at a meeting and embarrassed him with questions about how badly the campaign was going. "They went through the punch list," one source told Sherman. "'Where are we with staffing? Where are we with getting the infrastructure built?’"

It’s unclear what Lewandowski had done, exactly, to earn Ivanka’s wrath. One rumor had it that he’d been trying to plant negative stories about Kushner, his rival for Trump’s ear, in the press. But it didn’t matter. Ivanka reportedly gave her father an ultimatum — either fire Lewandowski or she would quit the campaign. Trump decided to fire Lewandowski.

But Ivanka Trump can’t always get her father to change his mind

Donald Trump with hand on Ivanka Trump's shoulder
Donald Trump with Ivanka Trump on the night of the New Hampshire primary.
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Donald Trump clearly trusts his daughter’s instincts when it comes to tactical campaign decisions. But she’s had far less success in talking him down from some of his extreme political stances.

It’s hard to know what Ivanka’s political beliefs are, though many suspect they are more liberal than her father’s; she criticized President Barack Obama in 2012, but she also helped fundraise for New Jersey Democrat Cory Booker.

Ivanka Trump was reportedly upset by Trump’s statement that Mexico was sending "rapists" to the United States during his initial campaign speech and, according to New York magazine, drafted several statements that would walk them back. But her father ignored her. Rather than retreat, he doubled down, making his promise to build a wall along the US-Mexico border the center of his quest for the nomination.

Similarly, Ivanka reportedly tried to soften Trump’s attacks on Planned Parenthood — with extremely limited success. During a rambling primary victory speech, Trump did praise the organization’s "very good work for millions of women." It was the first time a prominent Republican candidate had said a good word about Planned Parenthood in years. And he credited Ivanka for that.

But ultimately, Ivanka didn’t really sway any of Trump’s substantive stances on this issue. He still promises to strip federal funding from the organization because it performs abortion services. And he picked Pence, the GOP’s most prominent anti-Planned Parenthood warrior, as his running mate. Ivanka’s influence appears much more likely to be cosmetic than policy-based.

"Ivanka is so much into that whole issue of women's health and women, and she's my guide on that whole subject," Trump told Hannity in August. "But," he added, "she understands how I feel about it."

For her part, Ivanka rarely defends her father’s specific positions — she just reiterates that he’s a good-hearted person and that people like it when he speaks his mind. "He’s my father and I love him and I fully support him," she told Town and Country this year, proving that Trump’s unquestioning loyalty to his children might not be misplaced.