The riddle of Melania Trump: How much can she put up with from a husband who has betrayed and humiliated her?

How much can the former first lady put up with from a husband who betrayed and humiliated her?

Outside my office, there is a picture of the Slovenian Sphinx visiting the Egyptian Sphinx, taken during a 2018 photo shoot in Giza nine months after Melania Trump was blindsided by the steamy news about her husband and Stormy Daniels.

The pairing evokes the riddle of Melania: How much can she put up with from a husband who betrayed and humiliated her in the basest possible ways?

As Donald Trump’s hush-money trial begins, we’ll be reminded of what a heel he is. And like Hillary before her, Melania will have to hold her head high as she stands by her Lothario. Melania will also put political and personal prospects above mere resentment. (She doesn’t want Donald broke and in jail.)

As her White House press secretary Stephanie Grisham wrote in her memoir, Melania wanted no Hillary Clinton comparisons. When the Other Women stories broke, Melania told Grisham she wanted to drive to Air Force One ahead of Trump.


“I do not want to be like Hillary Clinton, do you understand what I mean?” Melania said, according to Grisham. “She walked to Marine One holding the hands with her husband after Monica news and it did not look good.”

Hillary was able to use her husband’s infidelities to redefine herself with a more sympathetic aura and slingshot to a Senate seat.

This trial may help cement Melania’s image as a Trump, a loyal citizen of Trumplandia who thinks the system is rigged against her husband, and who will stand with Donald as he tries to regain the Oval Office – no matter his perfidies toward her and others.

As Katie Rogers wrote in the New York Times, Melania shares Donald’s view that the trial is unfair and the prosecution is a disgrace, engaging in a proceeding that is, itself, tantamount to election interference.

When the Stormy story broke, Grisham thought Melania would storm.

But the presence of anger was conveyed by absence. Melania, who rarely visited her East Wing office anyhow, holed up in her suite and at the spa in Mar-a-Lago, a satiny confinement. This most elusive of first ladies became even more elusive, skipping dinners with her husband on the patio; striking references to him and avoiding the word “wife” in tweets; dropping her plan to accompany Donald to Davos, Switzerland; posting a photo of herself on the arm of a handsome military aide; taking a separate car to her husband’s first State of the Union address.

Melania must have grit her perfect teeth through Stormy’s “Make America Horny Again” strip tour, her tell-all in In Touch magazine saying she could describe Donald’s anatomy, and a cringey 60 Minutes interview.

Stormy, a star of Sexbots: Programmed for Pleasure and the director of Lust on the Prairie, told Anderson Cooper that she had asked about Melania during her liaison at a celebrity golf tournament at Lake Tahoe in 2006: “And he brushed it aside, said: ‘Oh, yeah, yeah, you know, don’t worry about that. We don’t even –. We have separate rooms and stuff.’”


So far, Melania has not deigned to play Maureen Dean (wife of John Dean, who served as White House Counsel for Richard Nixon), sitting behind her man in court every day for support. (Ivanka Trump has shunned the courtroom, too.) Melania has long called Stormy “Donald’s problem,” noting to Grisham: “He got himself into this mess. He can fix it by himself.”

She is, by all accounts, angry that she has to be dragged through this X-rated circus again, especially while she is still mourning the death of her mother.

What could be more absurd and hypocritical than the putative Republican nominee selling Bibles and promoting an America with draconian abortion laws during his trial over a $130,000 payment to keep a porn star from telling voters about their dalliance?

Melania surely recoils from the prospect of testifying, which Justice Juan Merchan suggested may happen. He has also ruled that jurors may hear about Trump’s affair with Karen McDougal, but not about how it continued while Melania was pregnant.

The former first lady, who is helping her son prepare for college, perhaps at New York University, does not want Barron’s name thrown around in a New York court. Trump made Barron an issue, asking for a day off for his son’s high school graduation.

Signalling that she will be part of the campaign, Melania was headlining a Log Cabin Republican event at Mar-a-Lago this weekend. In an interview with Fox News Digital previewing her remarks before that LGBT group, Melania said America “must unite”. It’s not the first time her message has been at odds with her husband’s behaviour.

As first lady, Melania clearly styled herself after Jackie Kennedy, wearing high-fashion clothes that seemed to be not only art but also armour and maintaining poise through a parade of indignities.

“Like Jackie, Melania foregrounded her role as mother, and that enabled her to keep a degree of distance,” Dawn Tripp, the author of the upcoming novel Jackie, told me. “Both had that guarded, sphinxlike quality. But Jackie used that quality to maintain her independence from her husband’s administration and used her power in public and private ways. Melania often simply seems complicit in Trump’s irresponsibility.”

Complicit, to borrow from the Saturday Night Live skit about Ivanka, the perfume of Trump women.

This article originally appeared in The New York Times.