After Donald Trump was swept into the White House on the shoulders of his far-right base, moderate Republicans and centrist Democrats clung to a hope first kindled after Election Day that his daughter would act as a tempering force on issues, a calming presence even on her father’s sometimes erratic personality.
It didn’t happen. And by the end of this week, they know it likely never will.
“I had hope she would make some difference,” lamented Connie Morella, a moderate Republican who represented Maryland in Congress for 15 years. “I know she makes an impression on him but she doesn’t influence his decisions...Maybe she makes some little dents.”
Ivanka Trump pushed her father for weeks to stay in the Paris agreement, a global pact to combat global warming, only to watch him withdraw with fanfare in a Rose Garden ceremony complete with a brass band last month. She speaks out about LGBT rights, but Wednesday she read her father’s tweet announcing his administration would block transgender people from the U.S. military.
“Early on, there was a sliver of hope that she’d be a moderating influence,” said Matt Bennett, who co-founded Third Way, a center-left research center. “But especially after the withdrawal from the Paris Agreement and the endless cascade of insane tweets and humiliating chaos, we gave up the ghost on that.”
Ivanka Trump was the reason some Republicans cast a ballot for Trump, a brash businessman turned reality star with no political experience. She was the reason some members of both parties who opposed Trump made them feel better about the winner.
Vincent Foster, president of the Log Cabin Republicans chapter in Florida, called her a “great added benefit,” to the White House, saying she is “principled, classy, compassionate and business-minded.” In brief, Foster simply says: “I adore her.”
“Donald’s daughter and Svengali, Ivanka, is a smart, smart, smart lady with an extraordinary intellect and influence on her father,” conservative radio host Hugh Hewitt wrote, listing Ivanka as one of six reasons he would vote for Trump despite his reservations.
Hank Sheinkopf, a Democratic consultant in New York, said he heard from Republicans, Democrats and independents after Trump’s stunning victory who were hopeful about Ivanka Trump’s influence.
“They all had wishful thinking,” he said. “It was a nice wish but there appears to be no history for this. When has a first daughter influenced anything? It’s absurd. Americans are hopeful people and very naive...She has no influence.”
Ivanka Trump — wife, mother of three, fashion entrepreneur and a one-time executive in her father’s real estate company — had an unofficial role as adviser and surrogate during her father’s campaign.
After he was inaugurated, she took a job as senior adviser to the president, appearing regularly at the White House to lead her own events, meeting with lawmakers on Capitol Hill and traveling with her father on foreign trips. She even stepped in for him at a recent gathering of world leaders in Germany. Her husband, Jared Kushner, is one of Trump’s most trusted aides, tasked with everything from brokering peace in the Middle East to reforming the federal government.
I think it's abundantly clear that the only one who tells President Trump what to do is President Trump
Gregory T. Angelo, president of the Log Cabin Republicans
“I suspect she gives him counsel. Sometimes he listens to it, sometimes he doesn’t,” Rep. Charlie Dent, R-Pa., co-chair of the moderate Republican Tuesday Group. “But I don’t think it would be fair to blame the children for the decisions and behavior of the father.”
Mark Anthony Jones, the first openly gay chairman of the Jackson County Republican Committee in Missouri, said he believes Trump listens to his daughter but that her lobbying can’t possibly compete with Trump’s responsibilities to the Republican Party, especially at the start of his term.
“People are watching,” he said. “Everyone is watching to see exactly what he is going to do....You have to have accountability to the party.”
Ivanka Trump hasn’t commented publicly about the president’s policy decisions that she is known to oppose. A White House spokesman did not respond to questions about her this week.
“Where I disagree with my father, he knows it, and I express myself with total candor,” she told CBS in an April interview. “Where I agree, I fully lean in and support the agenda and hope that I can be an asset to him and make a positive impact. But I respect the fact that he always listens. It’s how he was in business. It’s how he is as president.”
Ivanka Trump was 9 when her parents split but she wrote in her 2009 memoir, “The Trump Card: Playing to Win in Work and Life,” that she grew closer to her father and began working with him as a teenager. No one disputes they have a close relationship, but some say no one should have expected her to play an outsized role in the presidency in the first place.
“It is clearly pragmatic to believe that family members have unique access to express opinions but it is wrong that any family member should have or expect to have special influence over a decision of an executive elected by the people,” said former North Carolina Republican Gov. Pat McCrory. “Family, staff and public must clearly understand and respect this fine line, especially when there is disagreement.”
But Rep. Carlos Curbelo, a Florida Republican who is one of the few GOP voices to speak out against Trump’s decision to withdraw from the Paris climate agreement, said he still has hope Ivanka Trump and others who think the same will have an impact on Trump.
“We remain hopeful that they will serve as a positive influence on the president and his administration,” he said.
Lesley Clark and William Douglas in Washington contributed.