AILSA CHANG, HOST:
First daughter and senior adviser to the president Ivanka Trump is in Africa today, pushing her message of women's empowerment. Before she left, Trump reminded people to take advantage of an expanded child tax credit, another Trump administration policy she has supported.
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IVANKA TRUMP: Through tax reform, we fought hard for the American working family. In 2019, as you fill out your taxes and you check the box for the child tax credit, you will have a doubled child tax credit. And...
CHANG: Empowering women and helping working families are a big part of the personal brand Ivanka Trump built for herself before her father entered politics. That personal brand gave rise to what Atlantic writer Elaina Plott describes as the founding myth of Ivanka Trump.
ELAINA PLOTT: I consider the founding myth to be this notion that not only Ivanka Trump but also her husband, Jared Kushner, would come into the White House and be moderating influences of sorts. Throughout the campaign, we saw Trump advocating for things such as a border wall, other controversial immigration policies. And there was always this sense that he would never actually follow through on those things because somebody like Ivanka would ensure that he never did.
AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:
The president did act on those campaign promises, including pulling out of the Paris climate accord, something his daughter lobbied against. That move put to rest the idea that his daughter and her husband would be a moderating influence. And it made it harder for his daughter to find her footing in his administration. Elaina Plott has written about all that in her new piece, "Inside Ivanka's Dreamworld" (ph). She and I spoke about this earlier today.
When I think about "SNL" making fun of her with their skit - I think it was a perfume company called Complicit...
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UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR: (As narrator) A scent made just for her. Because she's beautiful. She's powerful. She's Complicit.
CORNISH: But I also think of the fact that, like, my mom sent me a copy of her book, you know, a few years back. Can you talk about the shift in public perception of her more broadly and how she's reacted to that?
PLOTT: Definitely. Back before her father announced that he was running for president, she was somebody who was really well liked by a lot of women across America. I note in the piece that I was one of them. I followed her on Instagram, like many of my girlfriends. We saw her as somebody who was empowering women, who kind of had it all, as it were. She was a mother. She ran this multi-million-dollar company. Because of that, I think that is where the founding myth of a moderating force took place - because a lot of people were so kind of taken aback by Trump's presidency and what it could mean for this country, that because that favorable impression of Ivanka lingered, people were willing to project onto her what maybe they wanted her father to do.
And that's why I think something like the "SNL" ad, you know, came to light. It's not necessarily that Ivanka is complicit. It's that that fact was surprising to people, that she might not, in fact, disagree with her father. So I remember in that "SNL" skit, at one point - it's Scarlett Johansson - and she said, for the woman who could stop all of this, but won't.
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UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR: (As narrator) Complicit, the fragrance for the woman who could stop all of this, but won't.
PLOTT: And I think that Americans have to take a critical look at themselves and ask, why did I think she ever would stop it?
CORNISH: Although, your article seems to have the thesis that she can't.
PLOTT: I think that's right. I think that her father treasures her opinion very much. But he's also somebody who is really infatuated with his own opinion on issues. And even though I do think that he takes his daughter's thoughts into consideration in a way that he wouldn't any other senior adviser, ultimately he's going to do precisely what he wants to do.
CORNISH: So now she is here in Washington, working in the White House. And she has not been able to separate her brand, so to speak, from his. Here she is responding to questions about sexual assault allegations against her father. It's in an interview with Peter Alexander. It was on NBC. This was back in February of 2018.
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PETER ALEXANDER: Do you believe your father's accusers?
TRUMP: I think it's a pretty inappropriate question to ask a daughter if she believes the accusers of her father when he's affirmatively stated that there's no truth to it. I don't think that's a question you would ask many other daughters. I believe my father. I know my father. So I - I think I have that right, as a daughter, to believe my father.
CORNISH: Can you talk about how this reflects the difficulty maybe she's had as she's been confronted with questions about her father's either behavior or policy?
PLOTT: I'm so glad you played that clip because, you know, one of the reasons that in the past people were willing to ascribe Ivanka the benefit of the doubt is she was not - she was not working for her father, necessarily. She was in The Trump Organization. But she was most known for her lifestyle brand. But when she started to become a senior adviser to her father in the White House, she was no longer just a daughter. She was somebody who implicitly, by virtue of her employment status, endorsed what was going on in this White House and would necessarily have to confront questions that a senior adviser has to expect to be asked about.
CORNISH: There is a perception of what does this woman do all day - right? - from the general public. Is that something you heard from people in the White House as well? What's the response?
PLOTT: Their impression is that she kind of shows up some days just to be seen. At the same time, I do think that a lot of those perceptions are unfair. Whatever you think about what Ivanka does or doesn't believe, she - she does work during the day. She shows up at senior staff meetings at 7 to 8 a.m. and is usually there throughout the day. She travels often to meet with workers as part of her workforce development initiative. But again, she's not somebody like her husband, even, who, when there is kind of a momentous debate taking place, she is not putting herself in the room and asserting herself anymore.
CORNISH: She is not asserting herself anymore. What do you think has changed? When did that shift happen?
PLOTT: The Paris climate accord - I cannot emphasize enough how pivotal that was for Ivanka Trump in terms of realizing the limits of her influence in these key policy debates. You know, she lobbied so ardently for the United States to stay in that accord.
CORNISH: Directly to the president.
PLOTT: Exactly, and personally encouraged people like Apple's CEO, Tim Cook, to call her father and urge him to stay in because that, to her, was so emblematic of what her crowd back in New York wanted. And when it failed, her response was to kind of look out for No. 1, retreat and say, what are things that I feel I could actually get my hands around and be judged by in a more favorable light.
CORNISH: In the end, why does it matter? Why do you think that this particular figure - there have been lots of White House children, so to speak, right? And they've been kind of off-limits, in a way. What's significant about her and her role?
PLOTT: What I think is significant about Ivanka Trump is that I see her as somebody who will want to be part of the national political conversation well after this White House is over. I see her as somebody who would have her eye on something like the World Bank or the United Nations. She is seen as somebody who doesn't necessarily view her father's presidency as a one-off but could maybe see her father as the catalyst for a Trump political dynasty. And so if she wants that to happen, it's incumbent, I think, on the public to understand as much as we can about who she is and what she stands for.
CORNISH: Elaina Plott, she covers the White House for The Atlantic. Thank you for sharing your reporting with us.
PLOTT: Thank you, Audie. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.