The 2016 Republican National Convention has suffered from a serious anecdote deficit, with even Donald Trump’s nearest and dearest struggling to come up with the kinds of charming, detail-rich personal tales that serve to “humanize” a candidate. Ivanka Trump, apple of her father’s eye and the scion charged with introducing him on Thursday night, might have been expected to fill that gap. In a CNN interview this week, she rehearsed childhood stories of playing with Legos at her father’s knee, and she reminisced about her father’s heroism in an Atlantic City boxing ring in a passage of her 2010 memoir.
And the tried-and-true convention-speech formula of Anecdotes + Platitudes seemed at first to be what Ivanka was striving for in her speech, aside from a curious opening caveat about how, “like many of my fellow millennials,” she does not consider herself “categorically Republican or Democrat.” That’s a strange quirk to point out in the context of this Republican convention, where the cause of GOP unity has largely vanquished Trump skepticism and where on Wednesday night Ted Cruz engineered a fracas that almost ended in fisticuffs over the very question of party loyalty. “ ‘Vote your conscience’ has become a loaded term for Republican delegates over the past week,” as my colleague Jim Newell put it—but not so much for Ivanka, it seems. Her neither/nor admission was the first indication that her speech might veer from the RNC script.
But no one could have predicted that Ivanka would veer so far from that script that she’d end up reading from the DNC platform, on behalf of a candidate who sounded a lot more like Hillary Clinton than her father. “At my father's company,” she told the cheering crowd, “there are more female than male executives. Women are paid equally for the work that we do, and when a woman becomes a mother, she is supported, not shut out.” She recited familiar stats on the gender wage gap, continuing, “As president, my father will change the labor laws that were put in place at a time when women were not a significant portion of the workforce, and he will focus on making quality child care affordable and accessible for all.” She then reiterated her earlier point about the gender wage gap: “Politicians talk about wage equality, but my father has made it a practice at his company throughout his entire career.”
Let’s pause for a moment. Ivanka Trump is talking about a man who once said, “I think that putting a wife to work is a very dangerous thing.” A man whose campaign has been sued for gender discrimination and that, according to an analysis by the Boston Globe, pays its female employees one-third less than its male employees. A man who once called pregnancy “an inconvenience for a business” and who threw a tantrum when a lawyer in a deposition needed to take a preplanned break to pump breast milk for her three-month-old baby, calling her “disgusting.” A man whose campaign manager, Paul Manafort, stated shortly before her speech that Trump can appeal to women because “their husbands can't afford to be paying for the family bills.” This is the man, according to Ivanka Trump, whom we can trust to end pregnancy discrimination, close the gender wage gap, and bring affordable, presumably subsidized childcare to American families, despite no evidence of any of these plans in his performance as an executive, in his campaigning thus far, or in the Republican Party platform.
Admittedly, there was a certain bewildered pleasure to be taken in this red-meat crowd roaring their approval for two of Hillary Clinton’s signature policy positions—it seemed to crystallize the chaotic ideological confusion that has characterized so much of Trump’s rise thus far. But what was Ivanka’s long game here? Was she making these assertions about her father’s policy goals to trap him into at least paying lip service to wage equality and parental leave as president? Is she trying to get Hillary Clinton elected by offering a wholehearted endorsement of big chunks of her platform? Was the speech not really a pitch for her father at all but rather a pitch in disguise for her #WomenWhoWork campaign and her forthcoming book of the same title?
Whatever the answer, we know that Ivanka Trump’s father values blind loyalty over most any other character trait. Perhaps the tenderest act of loyalty Ivanka could perform in this arena was to grossly mischaracterize his positions and beliefs before the biggest audience of their lifetimes.