The Trump campaign’s last-ditch effort to win back the suburban women fleeing the president in the polls has fallen to one person: Ivanka Trump.
In the past six weeks, Trump has made personal appeals for her father at 17 campaign stops, engaging in intimate question-and-answer sessions where she tells stories about the president. She’s made stops at local businesses to pose with children in Halloween costumes. She’s bought cider and doughnuts. She’s rolled out bread for baking.
It’s the traditional politicking that is hard to imagine coming from any other Trump family member, let alone President Donald Trump himself. Her brothers, Donald Trump Jr. and Eric Trump, and her sister-in-law, Lara Trump, are mostly sent out to throw red meat to Trump’s conservative base. So Ivanka Trump has become the de facto head of the eleventh-hour campaign to appeal to swing voters, specifically the white college educated women who helped propel the president’s come-from-behind victory in 2016.
But with polls showing Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden winning that slice of women by 20 percentage points or more, it’s a taxing assignment.
“As a working mother who has dedicated her career to the improvement of women’s lives, Ivanka intrinsically understands the issues facing American families today,” said Mercedes Schlapp, a senior adviser for the Trump campaign. “Ivanka Trump can speak to President Trump’s success from the perspective of both a policy adviser and close family member — a remarkably effective combination on the campaign trail.”
Ivanka Trump has visited 10 battleground states — Pennsylvania, North Carolina, Georgia, Florida, Ohio, Michigan, Minnesota, Wisconsin, Nevada and Arizona — and expects to campaign in Pennsylvania, Florida and North Carolina again before the election, one Trump political aide said.
She’s also headlined half a dozen virtual rallies and is expected to raise $35 million for her father at a total of nine fundraisers since August, including two in California on Monday, a second Trump political aide said.
Aides say Trump was eager to hit the campaign trail to ensure that Americans recognize what's at stake in the election. “She wants to make sure people understand what four more years of Donald Trump means — delivering for and uplifting all Americans," the first aide said.
Still, political analysts are skeptical that a last-minute attempt to soften the president’s coarse politics will have much of an effect.
“The reality is that women voters are looking at the substance of what’s happened,” said Debbie Walsh, director of the Center for American Women and Politics at Rutgers University. “It's kind of late, three weeks out, to try suddenly to be having a different tone and tenor. I don’t think she alone can make up for what these women have been seeing the last four years.”
The president has spent nearly four years pushing policies that have not polled well with the voting blocs his daughter is now trying to win over — everything from his crackdown on immigrants crossing the southern border illegally to his uneven response to the coronavirus pandemic.
“In the end, suburban voters generally and suburban women in particular are paying very close attention to what the president is saying and doing, not just recently, but over four years,” Sen. Bob Casey (D-Pa.) said in an interview. “No surrogate can undo that. They know exactly what he has done and not done.”
Recently, Trump has been pleading with “the suburban housewives of America” in an attempt to win their support, insisting — without evidence — that protests in America’s cities will bring crime and lower property values to the neighborhoods that ring urban centers.
“[C]an I ask you to do me a favor, suburban women?” he asked at a Pennsylvania rally earlier this month. “Will you please like me? Please. Please. I saved your damn neighborhood, OK?”
The Biden campaign said Trump doesn’t deserve these votes.
“Trump has done nothing to earn the respect — much less the votes — of women over the past four years, and his last-ditch attempt at pathetic pleading to win them back won't erase his record,” said campaign spokesperson Rosemary Boeglin, noting job losses during the pandemic have disproportionately affected women, and that child care is also often falling to women when schools remain closed.
Many moderate Republicans had hoped Ivanka Trump — a fashion entrepreneur and real estate executive turned White House senior adviser — would be able to moderate her father on policy issues, including climate change and gay rights, but were disappointed that didn‘t happen.
Trump didn’t have any experience in politics prior to 2016, but ended up campaigning for her political-novice father during his first run for the presidency, speaking at events, cutting radio ads and introducing him at the Republican National Convention.
That year, Donald Trump even considered his daughter as his running mate, former deputy campaign manager Rick Gates wrote in his book.
“I think it should be Ivanka. What about Ivanka as my VP?" the president reportedly asked a group of aides in June 2016. “She’s bright, she’s smart, she’s beautiful and the people would love her!”
At her 2020 campaign events, Trump has spoken personally about her father, often answering questions from either Schlapp or the campaign’s press secretary, Hogan Gidley, in smaller events called “fireside chats” or “conversations.” The events are held both indoors and outdoors, based on state pandemic restrictions. Attendees are offered masks.
Audience members have asked about her three young children, what it’s like to work with her father or to tell them something they don’t know about the president.
At a stop last week in Cincinnati, Trump called her father “the people’s president” and peppered her remarks with stories about her father, mentioning a time she watched him in early 2018 push his economic advisers to be tougher on trade deals. “He was right,” she told the crowd. “If my father didn’t take on these fights, no one would.”
At these sessions, Trump gravitates to the issues she has worked on in the White House — paid leave, child care, school choice, vocational education and human trafficking.
She points to accomplishments on some of her issues, including expanding apprenticeships to more than 750,000 people; pledges by 440 companies and associations to provide training and career opportunities for over 16 million Americans; an executive order creating the first-ever White House position focused solely on combating human trafficking; and the doubling of the child tax credit from $1,000 to $2,000 per child. And she pledges her father would fulfill others in a second term, including providing vocational education for every high school and school choice to every parent.
“She is a working mother. She understands these issues because she herself lives them,” said Amy Kremer, co-founder and chairman of Women for America First, an organization educating women on conservatives policies. “People want to converse with her, hear what she has to say.”
Trump also continues to help her father raise money after the Trump campaign fell behind Biden in the race for cash. Biden started October with nearly three times as much cash on hand as the president, putting the Trump campaign at a deficit without parallel for an incumbent president in the modern era of campaign financing.
Since August, Trump has headlined seven fundraisers for her father — three online and four in person in Wyoming, Texas and Florida, respectively. On Thursday, she will attend a fundraiser with her father before the final presidential debate in Nashville, the second Trump political aide said.