An Atypical Political Spouse, Melania Trump Steps Into The Campaign Spotlight

Apr 13, 2016
Originally published on May 4, 2016 4:11 pm

Donald Trump is no typical politician — and his wife Melania is not a typical political spouse.

Melania Trump says she's spending most of her time at home, caring for the couple's 10-year-old son, Barron. But lately, the former model and native of Slovenia has been more visible on the campaign trail for the Republican front-runner.

At a campaign rally in Milwaukee this month, Trump introduced his wife as "an incredible woman ... an incredible mother."

In turn, she praised her husband as a "great leader."

"He's fair," Melania Trump said. "As you may know by now, when you attack him, he will punch back 10 times harder. No matter who you are, a man or a woman, he treats everyone equal."

That appearance followed a raft of news stories about Trump's poor favorability ratings with women.

In a CNN town hall with the Trump family on Tuesday, Melania Trump talked about her husband's decision to run.

"I gave him my support, and I said to him, you cannot just talk, you need to go and run, and people will take you serious — and if you run you will win."

But that support doesn't mean hitting the campaign trail solo, like many traditional political spouses. She has explained her low-profile role during multiple TV appearances. On MSNBC in February, she said, "I'm a full-time mom and I love it, so I decided not to be in the campaign so much, but I support my husband 100 percent."

Melania Trump's biography is also unusual for a prospective first lady. She was born in 1970 in what is now Slovenia, where she studied architecture and design before becoming a model in Paris and Milan.

In recent years, she's been designing jewelry, which she sometimes hawks on the QVC home shopping network. In 2012, she reflected on that career during a cover shoot for Jet Set magazine — which markets itself as the "Best of Luxury Living."

"I traveled around the world modeling, and I had a great career, so when I come back a day like this, it's really fun," she said between camera poses.

Modeling led her to New York City and eventually to her future husband. They met in 1998, at a fashion industry party. She told the story to ABC's Barbara Walters last year:

"He was very charming, and we had a great sparkle. He came with a date. So he asked me for the number, and I said, 'I will not give you my number,'" she said.

But Donald Trump gave Melania his number, and she called him. They married in 2005 — Melania's first marriage and his third, following divorces from Ivana Trump, also a model, and actress Marla Maples.

A few months after their wedding, in an interview with Larry King on CNN, Melania Trump talked about what it's like to be married to Donald Trump:

"We are very equal in the relationship and that's very important," she said. "To marry a man like Donald ... you need to know who you are."

Trump's wife recently became a focus in the campaign, after an anti-Trump superPAC put out an online ad featuring a revealing photo from her modeling days. Donald Trump then went after rival Ted Cruz's wife, Heidi Cruz, on Twitter, and retweeted an unflattering photo of her alongside a picture of Melania. He later acknowledged that was a "mistake."

Throughout the campaign, Melania Trump says she has told her husband to tone down his language.

"I'm my own person; I tell him what I think. I'm standing very strong on the ground on my two feet," she told CNN in February.

Standing strong may be important, given how unpredictable and chaotic her husband's run has been.

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ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:

Donald Trump is no typical politician. And his wife, Melania, is not a typical political spouse. Lately, the former model and native of Slovenia has been more visible on the campaign trail. NPR's Sarah McCammon has this profile.

SARAH MCCAMMON, BYLINE: Donald Trump often sings the praises of Donald Trump. But this month in Milwaukee, he raved about his wife, Melania.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

DONALD TRUMP: She's an incredible woman. She's an incredible mother.

MCCAMMON: And Melania returned the favor.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

MELANIA TRUMP: He's a great leader.

(APPLAUSE)

M. TRUMP: He's fair. As you may know by now, when you attack him, he will punch back 10 times harder.

MCCAMMON: That appearance followed a raft of news stories about Trump's poor favorability ratings with women, but Melania Trump makes no apologies for her husband.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

M. TRUMP: No matter who you are - a man or woman - he treats everyone equal.

MCCAMMON: Last night, Melania again appeared with Trump at a CNN town hall, where she talked about his decision to run.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

M. TRUMP: I said to him, you know, you cannot just talk. You need to go and run, and people will take it serious. And if you run, you will win.

MCCAMMON: But unlike most traditional political spouses, she hasn't campaigned on her own. When she does speak, she's on message. In multiple TV interviews, she's explained her decision to spend most of her time at home with the Trumps' 10-year-old son, Barron.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

M. TRUMP: Well, it's my choice not to be there. I support my husband 100 percent. I'm a full-time mom, and I love it, so I decided not to be in the campaign so much, but I support my husband 100 percent. And I said, I will be there when I can be there and support him 100 percent every day, all the time.

MCCAMMON: Melania Trump's biography is also unusual for a prospective first lady. She was born in 1970 in what is now Slovenia, where she studied architecture and design before becoming a model in Paris and Milan.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

MCCAMMON: In 2012, she reflected on that career during a shoot for Jet-Set magazine, which markets itself as the best of luxury living.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

M. TRUMP: It was my life years ago. And I travel around the world modeling and had a great career. So when I come back, a day like this - it's really fun.

MCCAMMON: Modeling led Melania to New York City and, eventually, to her future husband. They met in 1998 at a fashion industry party. She told the story to ABC's Barbara Walters last year.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

M. TRUMP: He was very charming, and we had a great sparkle. He came with a date, so he asked me for the number. And I said, I will not give you my number.

MCCAMMON: But Donald Trump gave Melania his number, and she called him. They married in 2005 - Melania's first marriage and his third, following divorces from Ivana Trump - also a model - and actress Marla Maples. A few months after their wedding, in an interview with Larry King on CNN, Melania talked about what it's like to be married to Donald Trump.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

M. TRUMP: We are very equal in the relationship, and that's very important.

MCCAMMON: Melania Trump recently became a focus in the champion after an anti-Trump super PAC put out an online ad featuring a revealing photo from her modeling days. Donald Trump then went after rival Ted Cruz's wife, Heidi, on Twitter and re-tweeted an unflattering photo of her alongside a picture of Melania. He later acknowledged that was a mistake. Throughout the campaign, Melania Trump says she's told her husband to tone down his language. Here she is on CNN in February.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

M. TRUMP: I'm my own person. I tell him what I think. I'm standing very strong on the ground on my two feet.

MCCAMMON: And standing strong may be important, given how unpredictable and chaotic her husband's run has been. Sarah McCammon, NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.