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Melania Trump Poised To Move From Sidelines To Spotlight

Rob Dobi for NPR

Donald Trump's wife, Melania Trump, may be quiet but she's not invisible.

She spends most of her time at home, raising the couple's 10-year-old son, Barron, and sometimes makes appearances with her husband at rallies. On occasion, she introduces him.

Now, she will address the Republican National Convention, reportedly on Monday night.

At a Milwaukee rally in April, she sounded a bit like her husband, the presumptive GOP nominee.

"He's kind. He has a great heart. He's tough. He's smart. He's a great communicator. He's a great negotiator. He's telling the truth. He's a great leader. He's fair. As you may know by now, when you attack him, he will punch back ten times harder."

In interviews, when questioned on some of her husband's controversial actions and stances, she's been quick to defend him. Asked by CNN interview in February what she thinks of the criticism that Donald Trump is racist, she was quick to defend his rhetoric:

"He's not racist. He's not anti-immigrant. He wants to keep America safe. He wants to have illegal immigrants taken care of, that they will not be in the country, that they don't pay taxes, that they are are criminals, and that they are not good for the America. He was talking about the illegal immigrant not about everybody."

Immigration is personal for Melania Trump. A native of Slovenia, she is an immigrant herself. If Donald Trump becomes president, she would be the first first lady since John Quincy Adams' wife, Louisa, to be born abroad.

There are a lot of other firsts that would come with First Lady Melania Trump: She would be the first First Lady whose native language is not English. She'd be the first first lady who was a supermodel. And she'd be the first first lady who is her husband's third wife.

But it's not so clear exactly what kind of first lady she would be, according to Katherine Jellison, a Professor of History at Ohio University, who studies first families.

"She really hasn't been forthcoming about how she would see herself as a First Lady. So, you know, scholars have nothing to go on there," said Jellison.

But Melania Trump has left some clues.

"If history is any guide, she might be sort of a Jackie Kennedy type, a well dressed woman who will be seen as popular in the women's magazines but largely stays quiet and on the sidelines in terms of her public image."

"I think she will be a quiet first lady. Because that's been her demeanor throughout the campaign — someone who doesn't weigh in on policy issues," Jellison said. "If history is any guide, she might be sort of a Jackie Kennedy type, a well-dressed woman who will be seen as popular in the women's magazines but largely stays quiet and on the sidelines in terms of her public image."

Of course, Jackie Kennedy — in addition to being a fashion plate — had issues that she championed, like historic preservation and American art.

All modern First Ladies, even the ones uncomfortable in the public eye, have found something to focus on. When Barbara Walters asked what cause she might choose, Melania Trump didn't give a definitive answer, but said she would pick something when the time came.

"I'm very involved in charities now. Many, many charities, involving children, involving many different diseases. And if the time comes, I will choose what is dearest to my heart and work on that hundred percent," Melania Trump said.

But despite her preference for the sidelines, Mrs. Trump is, like many politicians' wives, a constant and trusted adviser for her husband.

"I follow the news from A to Z and I know what's going on. I'm on the phone with my husband few times a day. He calls me. I call him. I tell him what's going on. He's on the road. And I give him my opinions," she said.

What might some of those opinions be? Donald Trump disclosed one: "She said you could tone it down a little bit on occasion, which I understand."

She's been even more specific than that. When asked for the one habit she wished he would give up, Melania had a definitive answer.

"Let's see ... Tweeting," she quipped.

That's advice her husband has only occasionally followed.

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Mara Liasson is a national political correspondent for NPR. Her reports can be heard regularly on NPR's award-winning newsmagazine programs Morning Edition and All Things Considered. Liasson provides extensive coverage of politics and policy from Washington, DC — focusing on the White House and Congress — and also reports on political trends beyond the Beltway.