Introducing her father on the final night of the Republican National Convention, Ivanka Trump presented Americans with a picture of a grandfather, a defender of working people and of women — an unconventional “people’s” president.
It was a rousing message, delivered by one of the administration’s most effective surrogates — even if the positive portrait it painted was at odds with many of the president’s public actions.
“Dad, people attack you for being unconventional,” Trump said, “but I love you for being real, and I respect you for being effective.”
The question on Thursday night was not what President Donald Trump would do with a second term. Discussions of future policy, particularly in light of the pandemic, were largely missing from the four-day convention. The omission of the record high unemployment for women and the loss of one in five child care jobs from Ivanka Trump, who pledged to empower working women, was glaring.
Trump’s speech, instead, was the evolution of a careful role the first daughter has been playing since she first introduced her father four years ago at the 2016 convention. Then, she was a measured foil who could woo suburban women. Now, she’s an active adviser, pushing her father to at times support more progressive policies, but a loyal Republican.
In his first term, some of her fights, like her insistence that Trump support the Paris climate agreement, were unsuccessful. Others, like her push for greater child care tax credits, were more fruitful.
On Thursday, with her father as the incumbent, Trump’s case for a second term centered on humanizing her father.
She described seeing the “pain in his eyes” when Trump heard of the lives lost to coronavirus, even though the president’s delayed response likely caused more deaths. Looking on as she spoke from the White House’s South Lawn were more than 1,000 attendees, many without masks, sitting closely together.
Still, Trump’s speech was one of the few during the convention that addressed the pandemic and its victims. The issues plaguing the economy and working families were often treated almost as if they had already passed during the four-day event.
During the convention, Vice President Mike Pence and President Trump touted the return of 9.3 million jobs in the past three months. But both neglected to mention that the figure is just 42 percent of the more than 22 million jobs lost in March and April.
But the president’s daughter argued that her father has fought for America’s workers. And she made an emphatic case for women workers in particular, continuing a theme that has run through a convention that featured numerous female speakers.
“Four years ago in Cleveland, I said President Trump will deliver for women,” she began.
She went on to list the president’s victories, citing specifically his support of the child care industry — the first time the issue came up in earnest during the convention’s prime-time airing.
Child care has long been a priority for Trump, a working mother with three small children, who just came off a year of public work on the subject. In 2019, she held listening sessions with child care experts, visited centers across the country and led a White House summit on child care and paid family leave.
She told USA Today late last year that “it’s a travesty that we are the only country in the developed world without a policy to support parents and families,” framing the importance of child care in the way several Democrats did in the presidential primary: as a key economic driver, not a “women’s” issue.
Trump has expressed frustration over the unwillingness of Congress to set a bipartisan plan for addressing the nation’s child care needs, saying in December 2019 that “whether it’s by choice or by necessity, we need to support this new reality.”
And now it seems that impetus is finally here, brought by a coronavirus pandemic that dismantled the already frail child care system and forced working moms to leave the workforce. But in the months since America’s working women were thrust into the nation’s first female recession, Trump has remained largely silent on the issue.
In July, she visited a child care center in Denver that received a Paycheck Protection Program loan that helped it stay open earlier in the year. There, Trump held a listening session where she touted some of her father’s policies, including an increase of the child care tax credit in his 2017 tax policy that she fiercely championed. The policy has been criticized for failing to help those with the most need.
“Every parent in America, myself included, respects the work of child care providers and educators more than ever before in terms of trying to do it ourselves,” Trump told staff at Bright Beginnings Learning Center.
In a tweet, Trump later said the safe reopening of child care centers was an “essential” step in the country’s economic recovery. But much of her economic work this year hasn’t been focused on working mothers, and rather on skills training for workers who find themselves out of a job and a food program for underserved families.
Thursday’s speech served as an opportunity to return to the principles that have helped make her a potent ally for an administration that will need to emphasize its support of women if it hopes to close a gender gap at the polls. As of this month, President Trump continues to trail Democratic nominee Joe Biden among female voters.
His daughter has a pitch for those women.
“Four years ago I told you I would fight alongside my father,” Trump said shortly before her father took the stage, “and four years later, here I am.”