Decoding Ivanka Trump and Donald Trump's Relationship: Inside an Ironclad Father-Daughter Bond

As the first daughter secures space in the West Wing, a look at the perplexing ties that bind

By Natalie Finn Mar 23, 2017 11:30 AMTags
Donald Trump, Ivanka Trump, White HouseE! Illustration

Among the many unprecedented happenings occurring in Washington these days, add the first daughter scoring an office in the West Wing to the list.

It was announced earlier this week that Ivanka Trump is getting her own work space in the White House, though not as a member of government or a formal employee of her father, President Donald Trump.

Rather, she'll continue on as an unofficial advisor, albeit one with access to classified information and, quite possibly, whatever else her dad feels like telling her.

Just like almost every other move the Trump administration has made since taking office only two months ago, Ivanka's not-exactly-an-appointment made for yet another polarizing headline. Critics bashed the ethical and nepotistic implications, supporters applauded and still others wondered if this means that the mitigating effect Ivanka fans hoped she was going to have on her father's predictable unpredictability might still come to pass. 

Time will tell, but certainly no one is surprised Ivanka's going to be working in the White House.

Ivanka Trump's Best Looks

Ivanka's husband, Jared Kushner, has been employed as a senior advisor to the president since day one, and the couple and their three children had already decamped from New York to Washington, D.C.—a move not even the first lady has made yet to allow 10-year-old Barron Trump to finish the school year in NYC.


Watching the snowfall from the West Wing

A post shared by Ivanka Trump (@ivankatrump) on

And while on the campaign trail even in a limited capacity, Ivanka did make implicit promises, voicing her support for paid family leave and child care—liberal-minded positions that rankled conservatives but proved attractive to women who might have been on the fence about voting for Trump.

Speaking of attractive...

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Trump's obvious (and often archaically objectifying and usually inappropriate-sounding) pride in Ivanka's appearance has tended to overshadow—especially in the comedy world—his other complimentary remarks about her intelligence and success. But you have to be relentlessly obstinate to not see that he thinks of his eldest daughter as one of his crowning achievements.

Just as a dad should.

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While the rest of the country had to take a crash course in Trumpology, Ivanka long ago made peace with who he is, for better or worse. If, in fact, his cruder ways ever bothered her at all. We may never know if she ever reached an actual crossroads, a point where she had to decide between distancing herself or going with the flow, but we know which direction she chose.

"He'll be wonderful, but not as a classic, hands-on, 'Let me take the child for the weekend' type," Ivanka, pregnant with her first child, told Harper's Bazaar back in 2011, when real estate and Celebrity Apprentice were the only family businesses she had to worry about. "He won't be that kind of grandfather."

Trump, in turn, told the magazine, "Ivanka will be an amazing mother. She's totally brilliant. She's got great beauty, but it's really highlighted by the fact that she is a very smart person. It's a combination you don't see very often. [I hope] my granddaughter will be as much like Ivanka as possible."

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Now, if that were a comment taken entirely out of context, stripped of all pretense and attributed to an anonymous guy talking about an anonymous daughter... wouldn't that be considered a nice thing to say?

In reality, of course, it's impossible to consider anything Trump says about Ivanka, or vice versa, in a vacuum now (nor should we), but—for all the perceived flaws in his approach to parenting—his elegant daughter was, and still is, considered one of his biggest strengths for those trying desperately to figure what Trump is really about.

AP Photo/Charles Rex Arbogast

Even before she took up quarters in the White House, Ivanka had private meetings with tech and philanthropy power players Bill GatesMark Zuckerberg's wife, Priscilla Chan; and Intel CEO Brian Krzanich, signs she's already been hard at work trying to smooth any feathers her father might have ruffled. She also managed to look chummy with Angela Merkel after Trump created another headline by dismissing the suggestion of a handshake with the German leader for the cameras.


Pat Benic-Pool/Getty Images

Ivanka has also disappointed a lot of people so far by not pointing the president down a different road when it comes to travel restrictions, the GOP health care plan or proposals to slash funding for the EPA and NEA—or anything else they guessed that Ivanka would be on "their side" about—it couldn't have been more naive of people to think she'd be publicly opposing her father at every turn, or otherwise pulling the strings.

He's her dad, after all—and just as her grandfather helped her dad get started, that's exactly what her dad did for her as well.

Among the many tangled forces at play here is loyalty, and in the Trump world, that's considered more important than anything else. Aside from voters' wishful thinking, there was no indication during the campaign that Ivanka was going to step in on the issues that weren't her own, much less take over. 

"Ivanka is the one person who can speak frankly with her father," R. Couri Hay, a New York public relations executive and former National Enquirer columnist who's known the Trump family for decades, told the Los Angeles Times this week. "And he will listen. But in the end, it is him who makes the decision. Donald rules the roost."

AP Photo/John Minchillo

Ivanka's been called everything from Trump's "secret weapon" to "complicit" to...far worse things than complicit. Yet so far, she has done what she has always done for the brand: be the relentlessly classy Trump, the perennially polished Trump, the upbeat Trump and the Trump whose lifestyle is really universally appealing, such as to those who aren't big fans of yellow gold.

And since she's been a public figure for most of her life, first as a child of power couple Donald and Ivana Trump, then as a model and eventually as a face of the Trump organization, a reality-TV star, fashion mogul and sought-after name to speak about women in the business world, she's been adept just as long at putting her best face forward.

At the end of the day, we can only know so much about Ivanka Trump aside from what she has so carefully curated for the world to see. Just like a lot of celebrities—and politicians.

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What we do know is that she's very much her father's daughter—an attribute that's always been evident, if conveniently manipulated to suit a certain narrative over the years.


Mathew Imaging/FilmMagic

"I love my father very much," she told in November 2015. "I attribute so much of the person I am today to the values that he and my mother set for us, and the way they encouraged us every day of our lives to go out and find what we love doing, and to fulfill our potential and really be happy. I mean, that was the key. He actually in some ways discouraged us from entering real estate because he was nervous that if he did the opposite and if he pushed us, we'd do it out of obligation as opposed to out of passion.

"So, you know, it can be very hard [to hear or read mean things said about him], but it's also amazing to see how his message is so loudly and strongly and impactfully resonating with so many people. Since he got in the race, he's been in the No. 1 position running for the highest office in the country, if not the world. So I'm incredibly proud of him."

Ten months later, Ivanka showed her frustration—a rarity in and of itself—with the same site when asked about her support for paid maternity leave in light of her father saying in 2004 that pregnancy was "inconvenient" for employers.

"So 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," she replied. "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."

When the interviewer explained that she was just trying to reasonably follow up on statements a presidential candidate had made, Ivanka said, "Well, you said he made those comments. I don't know that he said those comments."

Chip Somodevilla; Brian Marcus/Fred Marcus Photography via Getty Images

Ivanka even married a man who seems a lot like her dad, a wily businessman and entrepreneur who seems to relish going one way when he's expected to go another and, most notably, who has exhibited some contradictions in his politics in recent years.

Ivanka and Jared, like Trump, contributed to Democrats as well as Republicans in the past, including Hillary Clinton, and have hobnobbed plenty with the "Hollywood elite" that the Trump administration now considers personae non grata.

The question has been asked: What happened to this Ivanka and Jared, the New York (and Jersey) liberals with society at their feet? 

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But mind-boggling inconsistencies aside, the establishment of Ivanka in the White House, just a hop-skip from the room where it happens, is hopefully going to be a positive thing—even if the intention behind it wasn't exactly evolved, the decision perhaps resembling something like, "Ivanka's a woman, so...Ivanka, you're in charge of women's issues."

Judging solely by the words that have come out of Ivanka's mouth to date, Trump could've done worse.

"I will continue to offer my father my candid advice and counsel, as I have for my entire life," she said in a statement Monday about her West Wing office.

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Funny enough, though she was onboard for all intents and purposes, Ivanka actually didn't seem all that thrilled about her father's presidential campaign at first. Sitting down with Fortune in October 2015, when asked if she was happy about her dad running for president, she said, smiling, "That's a complicated question. So...happy is an interesting word. I'm incredibly proud of him. It's a very difficult thing to do and I see now just how difficult it is."

Someone in the family may not have enjoyed riding all the waves her father was making. But interestingly, in 2011, before President Barack Obama was reelected, Ivanka sounded confident—as if she could sound any other way—that her dad was "exactly" what the country needed.

Jeff J Mitchell/Getty Images

"He's the best equipped to deal with the most important issues this nation has, which is ultimately that we're suffering under a massive burden of debt," she told Harper's Bazaar. "We need a very acute financial mind to get us out of this mire.

"America is the largest corporation on the planet. You wouldn't hire a novice to run a similarly sized company in the private markets. My father has created more jobs through his private businesses than certainly any of the candidates. Mitt Romney has executive experience, but it's a different type. He didn't run entrepreneurial businesses." (Ivanka, who said she didn't vote for Obama in 2008 but rooted for his success once he was elected, ended up supporting Romney.)

Trump, meanwhile, already knew his daughter would be involved should his grand designs on the presidency come to pass.

"There's never been anybody like Ivanka in the White House. I think she'd be an amazing addition," he said, adding, "That's so far in the future."

Job site, Apprentice boardroom or West Wing, it's been more than a decade since Trump has fathomed going to work without Ivanka as a trusted advisor, and that dynamic has seemed to suit her just fine. We'll know soon enough if that unbreakable father-daughter bond can really withstand anything.