Ivanka Trump is used to gentle treatment from women’s magazines. When she was just a vice president in her father’s company and a career guru for young women, she got softball questions and flattering headlines from Vogue, Elle Decor, and People.
But now that she’s a political surrogate, the gloves are off, as her most recent interview, with Cosmopolitan’s Prachi Gupta, on Donald Trump’s new plan for maternity leave makes clear.
Trump’s policy would allow mothers who work for companies that don’t offer maternity leave to receive unemployment benefits for six weeks after their child is born and before they return to their jobs. It offers nothing for men.
Gupta says paternity leave has been pointed to as helping to level the playing field between men and women in the workplace, but Ivanka Trump responded that paternity leave is a “giant leap” from where we are now, saying there’s currently “nothing.” (The federal government currently requires job protection for 12 weeks of unpaid family leave.)
When Gupta pressed Trump on her father’s lack of inclusion for men, asking about same-sex couples, Trump interrupts her to point out that the policy would work fine for two women married to each other. But what if two men are married and adopt a child? “The original intention of the plan is to help mothers in recovery in the immediate aftermath of childbirth,” Trump responded.
When Gupta asked Trump to talk about her father’s change of heart, pointing out that in 2004 he’d called pregnancy an inconvenience for businesses, she said:
I think that you have a lot of negativity in these questions, and I think my father has put forth a very comprehensive and really revolutionary plan to deal with a lot of issues. So I don't know how useful it is to spend too much time with you on this if you're going to make a comment like that.
For the rest of the interview, she’s combative: “You said he made those comments,” she says to Gupta. “I don't know that he said those comments.” When Gupta reiterates that, yes, Donald Trump said pregnancy was an inconvenience, Trump responds, “There's plenty of time for you to editorialize around this, but I think he put forth a really incredible plan.”
Gupta’s questions aren’t any tougher than policy questions usually are for candidates and their surrogates — but it’s clear that Trump isn’t used to this kind of treatment. As she plays a larger role in the campaign, her impeccable mask is starting to slip a bit.
Ivanka Trump has had a really bad news cycle
Since she started appearing on her father’s behalf in spring 2016, Ivanka Trump has drawn firm boundaries around her own brand as separate from parts of the Trump campaign. She’s chosen what issues to speak out on, emphasizing women’s issues in the workplace. She’s sidestepped her father’s controversies around race, immigration, and Islam.
But Trump is increasingly acknowledged as a serious policy adviser playing a big role in her father’s campaign. She’s being treated more like a political surrogate. And she’s starting to get caught in controversies that, until now, she’s mostly been able to avoid.
On Wednesday alone, besides giving the interview, Ivanka Trump got caught in a bizarre lie about Hillary Clinton, saying the Democratic nominee had no child care or family leave policies on her website. (Clinton’s website is basically nothing but policy proposals, and she’s emphasized those issues since the start of the campaign.) Then she tried to claim that Trump hotels offer paid maternity leave to their workers. (They don’t.)
This wouldn’t be noteworthy for her father — Donald Trump is so loose with the truth that cable news has had to invent a new chyron style to point out that he’s lying onscreen — but Ivanka Trump has mostly been able to avoid this kind of misstep. She has her own brand to protect, and the educated young women who are her core audience are not exactly a bastion of Donald Trump support.
But being a campaign surrogate rather than a lifestyle guru has consequences, and one is that the media is less willing to give you the benefit of the doubt. Ivanka Trump’s remarkably gaffe-free run seems to have ended.