By MARSHA MERCER
In the olden days before he let loose on Twitter, Donald J. Trump called Howard Stern’s radio show and let loose.
In June 1999, Trump confided on air that his daughter Ivanka, then 17, had made him swear he wouldn’t date anyone younger than she was.
“As she grows older, the field is getting very limited,” the twice-married billionaire joked.
A few months later, Trump, 53, was dating a beautiful Slovenian model named
Melania Knauss, 26, less than half his age but old enough to meet his daughter’s rule, and he reportedly was “exploring” a White House bid.
Bad boy Stern had Trump and Knauss by phone on his program and asked her what she was wearing.
“Not much,” she replied. The conversation went downhill from there. Trump bragged about their sex life.
Asked soon afterwards about her boyfriend’s comments on their relationship, Knauss told feature writer Joyce Wadler of The New York Times: “It’s the man thing, that’s how the man talks.” Sound familiar?
The prescient Wadler wrote:
“Is Mr. Trump a lucky billionaire or what? He’s got a woman who does not simply stand by her man but over him. (Five feet 10 ½ inches, but over six feet in her spiky Manolo Blahniks)...she has done Vogue covers in Europe. She also speaks four languages.
“Who she is, beyond that, is difficult to say, for speaking with Ms. Knauss is like speaking with a huge, shimmering bubble. She’s light, she’s fun, she’s exceptionally wonderful to look at; two hours later you walk away and the conversation disappears into the air. Pop! If anything substantial was said, it is difficult to recall. She might, in other words, be the perfect political spouse.”
The frothy story ended with what newspapers called a kicker – a surprise revelation. In this case, it was a preposterous question: What would Melania’s role be as first lady if she and her boyfriend ever did end up in the White House?
Knauss didn’t laugh or blow it off.
“I would be very traditional. Like Betty Ford or Jackie Kennedy,” she said. “I would support him.”
Trump married his third wife in 2005, and their son Barron was born in 2006, the same year she became a United States citizen.
Most Americans trace Trump’s political debut to his escalator ride in June 2015 and fail to consider his long game, that he was turning over the possibility of the presidency, even as a lark, in 1999.
The Trump family will be White House-bound in less than a month. Well, he will be. Melania Trump and Barron are staying in New York until the end of the school year. Her full-time job is as mom, she says.
Daughter Ivanka Trump, now 36, and her husband Jared Kushner, parents of three, are house-hunting in Washington. She may have an office in the East Wing and may stand in as first lady on social occasions.
By any measure, the Trump presidency will be unlike others.
But Melania Trump and all first ladies must cope with one immutable truth: The presidency is hard on families.
“The next family that comes in here -- every person in that family, every child, every grandchild – their lives will be turned upside down in a way that no American really understands,” first lady Michelle Obama told Oprah Winfrey this week on CBS.
President President Barack Obama and Michelle were fierce warriors for Hillary Clinton, but they have shown extreme grace since the election, vowing to help the Trumps however they can. Donald Trump, rarely generous toward Obama, has praised the president and first lady for their kindness.
So, it was jarring to see Michelle Obama tell Winfrey: “Now we are feeling what not having hope feels like.”
That comment from an advance clip was newsworthy because she was speaking for millions of disappointed voters. When the full program aired later, however, it was clear that the current first lady has compassion for the next.
“You really don’t know what you don’t know until you’re here,” Obama said she told Melania Trump. “My door is open.”
As Democrats and Republicans criticize President Trump for his personnel and policies – that’s the American way -- it’s worth remembering that a first family gets dragged into the spotlight.
Michelle Obama said of first families: “It’s not for us to complain about it. So you don’t hear complaints. But it is a – a truth, an actuality, that there is a weight to it.”
©2016 Marsha Mercer. All rights reserved.