It was hard to know quite what to expect from Tiffany Trump’s speech at the Republican National Convention — but we certainly didn’t see this coming. In a strangely cold address, President Donald Trump’s fourth child droned on about how the media keeps people “mentally enslaved,” sounding 1,000% more like a QAnon-following presidential aide than a loving, supportive First Daughter. By many accounts, Tiffany has an awkward, distant relationship with her father; unlike her older half-siblings, who were raised on the East Coast, she mostly grew up in California with her mother, the actress Marla Maples, who was Trump’s second wife. But back during the 2016 RNC, Tiffany at least attempted a warm, personal pitch for her father, praising him for his love and saying he always helped her “be the best version of myself.” She even recalled him taking an interest in her report cards, dating back to kindergarten.
Last night, all of that familiarity disappeared. The most intimate thing Tiffany disclosed about her dad? “My father built a thriving economy once and, believe me, he will do it again.” Aww(??). And also: “My father is the only person to challenge the establishment, the entrenched bureaucracy, big pharma, and media monopolies, to ensure that Americans’ constitutional freedoms are upheld and that justice and truth prevail.” Heartwarming stuff. Surely they could have gotten somebody else — perhaps a politician or an expert of some sort — to talk about the economy and big pharma?
In these types of speeches, the role of the children — even when they are adults, and even when they work as advocates in some capacity — has typically been to emphasize the familial relationship and “humanize” the candidate. In 2016, Chelsea Clinton, who acted as a surrogate for her mother Hillary Clinton on the campaign trail, started her DNC speech by talking about how her daughter Charlotte “loves FaceTiming with Grandma.” But Trump’s family clearly sees themselves as an exception. Tiffany wasn’t the only member of the clan to recite talking points that felt unnatural coming from somebody who is not part of the administration. Eric Trump also spoke last night, and talked about his father’s “fight” for the American people (which apparently includes sending us to Mars). And, on Monday, Donald Trump Jr.’s speech focused on cancel culture and other far-right talking points, and he also only referred to his father in the context of his policies.
In these types of speeches, the role of the children has typically been to emphasize the familial relationship and 'humanize' the candidate. Trump's kids did not do that.
First Lady Melania Trump’s speech, delivered from a newly bleak Rose Garden, was also absent of personal connection. Melania, who reportedly doesn’t share a bedroom with her husband, entered the Rose Garden alone, unlike Second Lady Karen Pence who was escorted into the garden by Vice President Mike Pence. Her address felt, at best, like a laundry list of pageant-friendly topics: Protecting families and children, urging for peace in the Middle East, taking care of those suffering from disease. But when it came to why her husband was the best man for the job of president? Nope. “Donald is a husband who supports me in all that I do,” was the kindest sentiment uttered. Instead of expanding on just how he has supported her, she followed this tepid line with the downright romantic, “He has built an administration with an unprecedented number of women in leadership roles and has fostered an environment where the American people are always the priority.” She concluded, “We will be honored to serve this incredible country for four more years.” A very normal thing that a wife would say about her husband! After the speech, a CNN commentator remarked that Melania “humanized” her husband by calling him by his first name, which is really all you need to know about how low the bar is.
These speeches from Trump’s family are a far departure from the authentic intimacy the Obama family revealed (think Michelle talking about Barack’s morning breath). They also felt different from the extremely specific stories Joe Biden’s family told about him at the DNC last week, like when Biden’s granddaughters appeared in a video where they said Biden is always secretly eating ice cream by the freezer and that he calls them every day. Or, when Dr. Jill Biden told a story about how the former VP proposed to her five times. Sure, these made-for-TV family moments aren’t exactly spontaneous, but they do create an emotional mythology around first families that serve to endear a potential president to voters. Many people are moved by them, because the origin story from which they’re manufactured actually exists. The Trump family leaves you cold because there are no stories (at least ones appropriate for network television). It feels like his family doesn’t really know him.
Or maybe they do. Maybe knowing Trump means knowing that he’s not a family man. His first loves are money, power, and fame. By extension, his familial relationships feel transactional and toxic, because money and fame are all he has to offer. It’s no wonder that his children, with the exception of his favorite daughter Ivanka, eternally sound like they're interviewing to work for him, and that in their speeches they recite classic Trump talking points rather than speaking about their father in the way well-known offspring usually publicly talk about their parents. Take Eric’s closing line: “I’d like to speak directly to my father: I miss working alongside you every single day, but I’m damn proud to be on the front lines of this fight.” I. Miss. Working. Alongside. You.
The exception to this pattern might be Ivanka, who has yet to speak. The only Trump offspring who works in the White House, she is also the closest to her father, the savviest public speaker, and the most likely to offer details about him as a person, not just a boss. And if she doesn’t? It’s hard to read into it as anything but an authentic glimpse into his humanity, or lack thereof.