As it turns out the decision for her husband to run for president was one they made together, and her motivation for staying out of the spot light was their nine-year-old son Barron. Despite this, she is always there to support him during the debates.
The choice for Donald to run was a collective one, Melania says, and not easy: “We decided as a family it was something we would do,” she offers. “I explained it to my son a lot. I said, ‘Daddy will run for president,' so he knew about it. I prepared him before school started … his life is as normal as possible.” She tries to be with her husband as often as she can. “Especially at the debates, I am always there to support him,” she says, pulling out her cell phone to show a video of Donald, taken the night before in Tennessee. “Look at those crowds!” she marvels. “He's getting 10, 20, 30,000 people. It's really amazing.”
In person, Melania is incandescently beautiful, her skin a dusty bronze, and her eyes wider and less squinchy-posed than they can appear in red-carpet pictures. She is tall, a lithe and limber five foot eleven, and wears a startling 25-carat diamond ring on her left hand, a gift from Donald for their 10th wedding anniversary. As we walk around her opulent apartment, which was recently parodied on Saturday Night Live as having “the same interior decorator as Saddam Hussein,” Melania smiles when I bring up Cecily Strong's portrayal of her on the show. “It's kind of an honor, actually, to have someone play you like that in a fun way,” she says. “We laugh a lot about that. It's funny to see how people see you.” The Trumps' dining room has a 17-foot ceiling and an immense marble table; in the living room, a child-size Mercedes-Benz with Barron's name on the license plate sits in the corner. Photographs of family and friends line another table near a white piano: Donald and his mother; Donald and Melania on their wedding day; Melania and Barron in Halloween costumes. There's even one of Donald and Hillary Clinton, who attended the Trumps' wedding ceremony (because, Donald maintains, he gave a donation to the Clintons' foundation; former President Bill Clinton joined her for the reception).
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.”
Donald, of course, has had his own bouts with the media, particularly for playing fast and loose with the facts himself. But Melania says his force of will is a big reason his campaign has resonated with so many people. “He is handling everything very well,” she says. “He is not politically correct, and he tells the truth. Everything is not roses and flowers and perfect, because it is not. He wants America to be great again, and he can do that.” I ask Melania why she thinks her husband would make a good president. “He is a great leader—the best leader, an amazing negotiator,” she responds. “America needs that, and he believes in America. He believes in its potential and what it can be, because it is now in big trouble.” What kind of trouble? “I don't want to go into it,” she says. “I just believe he has what it takes to be an amazing president.”
From the outside, it would be easy to imagine that for Melania, one of the more challenging aspects of the campaign might be Donald's ardent anti-immigration stance: In addition to making derogatory remarks about immigrants, he has proposed building a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border and even suggested a ban on Muslims entering the U.S. Melania first arrived in the U.S. from her native Slovenia on a work visa in 1996 and became an American citizen in 2006, the year after she and Donald were married. If her husband is elected, she would become only the second first lady born outside the U.S. (after John Quincy Adams's wife, Louisa, who was born in England). However, Melania believes that her naturalization process—which she says she carefully adhered to—was fair. “I followed the rules,” she explains.
“I came here for my career, and I did so well, I moved here. It never crossed my mind to stay here without papers. That is just the person you are. You follow the rules. You follow the law. Every few months you need to fly back to Europe and stamp your visa. After a few visas, I applied for a green card and got it in 2001. After the green card, I applied for citizenship. And it was a long process.”
Melania deftly sidesteps questions about a possible future in the White House. “If it happens, we could discuss it then, but I take it day by day,” she says. She even dances around questions about first ladies she admires: “I don't want to go there.”
As a potential first lady, Melania could be compared to Nancy Reagan, who also enjoyed a privileged lifestyle and championed the importance of family, or Carla Bruni-Sarkozy, the former supermodel who served as first lady of France from 2008 to 2012. I ask her about Reagan. “You're so cute, Alex,” she responds. What about Bruni-Sarkozy? “She was modern,” Melania offers, “and she was a model.” She also concedes that Jacqueline Kennedy possessed an appealing manner. “She had a very beautiful, elegant, simple but feminine style,” Melania says.
It's been quite some time since the White House was graced with a first lady with a sense of elegance and humility. Should Donald Trump win the election, it'll be nice to be rid of the obnoxious antics of Michelle Obama. Even the nation's children would probably agree with that. They'd get their cafeteria back.