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Ivanka Trump’s Political Brand Is Dead

Either she never cared about issues like climate change, or she’s a massive failure as a White House adviser.

Jeff J. Mitchell/Getty Images

Ivanka Trump, the president’s eldest daughter and an adviser to him, has only made a few of her political views explicit. The policy objective most closely associated with her is subsidizing childcare costs for affluent-rather-than-poor families. She has also spearheaded a global fund to support female entrepreneurs that—goals aside—has all the trappings of a pay-to-play scam of the sort that her father pretended to be offended by on the campaign trail, and that would make the founders of the Clinton Foundation blush.

But we’re otherwise encouraged to infer Ivanka’s political beliefs from branding exercises like her new book, Women Who Work, or through anonymous White House leaks to friendly journalists.

So without putting anything on the line for the environment in any symbolic or material way, she reaps reputational benefits from reports claiming she “wants to make climate change … one of her signature issues.” Without publicly denouncing her father’s plan to undo Obama-era LGBT protections, anonymous sources credit her with changing his mind. And without committing outright to the cause of gender equality, she derives the assumption that someone who supports Women Who Work™ must also support readily available contraception, so that fewer women see their careers derailed by unplanned pregnancies.

To those who say her support for her father’s bigoted political career makes her “complicit” in his wrongdoing, and belies a transparent, image-oriented, profit-seeking ruse, Ivanka Trump pleads for leniency.

“I would say not to conflate lack of public denouncement with silence. I think there are multiple ways to have your voice heard. In some cases, it’s through protest and it’s through going on the nightly news and talking about or denouncing every issue on which you disagree with,” she told CBS’ Gayle King in April. “Other times, it is quietly and directly and candidly. So where I disagree with my father, he knows it. And I express myself with total candor. 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.”

Now that Ivanka’s father has announced he will withdraw the United States from the Paris climate agreement, and has taken steps toward allowing all employers to deny contraceptive coverage for their female employees, my unfounded hope is that she will either realize that the jig is up, and stop pretending she ever cared about these issues; or acknowledge that she’s a massive, world historical failure in public life, and stop trying to convince people otherwise.

Either of these outcomes would at least spare people the constant indignity of having their intelligence insulted. But the truth of the matter is clear, and explains why Ivanka’s not going to stop, and why credulous stories about her private struggle will appear every time her father’s administration offends the world: Ivanka isn’t a failure, but a swindler of global proportions who has supplemented her preposterous fortune by pretending—in a not particularly convincing way—to play an inside game she really has no interest in.

Here’s something reporters who get leaks from Ivanka, or from friends of her, ought to consider: We have been told, quite credibly over the years, that Ivanka Trump has always craved her father’s admiration.

“It’s not unusual for a 6-year-old child to see her father as perfect, the measure of a man,” Caitlin Flanagan observed recently in New York magazine. “What is unusual is for those sentiments to withstand adolescence, young adulthood, independence, and the beginning of married and family life…. What we have in this embattled, increasingly embittered, and endlessly resourceful First Daughter is someone who made a pact with herself long ago that she would never, ever, lose her father’s attention.”

Ivanka has succeeded in this endeavor by accepting, consciously or subconsciously, that her father is a narcissist, and then striving to excel at all the things that Donald Trump thinks he’s good at, so that he sees her as his truest reflection.

Against that backdrop, which interpretation of Ivanka Trump’s performance in public life seems more plausible: that she tried very hard to negotiate with her father on climate change—to use The Art of the Deal on him as it were—and failed miserably, or that she’s cynically severed any connection between her image and reality in order to maximize profit?

There’s a practice called greenwashing, whereby polluting companies devote relatively minor resources to environmental causes to reap public relations windfalls. The Trump game, applied to public service, is even more disingenuous than greenwashing because Ivanka has literally sacrificed nothing, not even a modest sum.

It may be Ivanka’s tragic circumstance that she was born to an ethically vacant parent, and that forging a bond with him required making herself in his self-image. But it is our tragic circumstance that the man in question is a moral obscenity, a mental flyspeck, a fraud, and president of the United States. In the context of his presidency, her commitment to their relationship requires her to piss down our backs and tell us it’s raining.

Even if I’m wrong about that, the best we can say about her brief tenure as a political operative is that she’s awful at it, the kind of source whom reporters would normally take pride in disdaining, except that she’s the president’s wealthy, glamorous daughter. But every political reporter will at some point find that such “well-placed” anonymous sources aren’t necessarily sources worth listening to. They lie, or they bullshit, or they think they know more than they do, or they self-deal one news clip at a time. Or some combination thereof. That’s Ivanka. If she weren’t her father’s daughter, he’d call her a loser. For the press to give her more credit than that is an abdication of their professional responsibility to the public.