Ivanka Trump appeared to have just returned from the office, her coat still wrapped around her frame and her black clutch tucked in her arm. She was standing before her two young sons, one sitting in a high chair and one teetering uneasily at her side. Music came on, and the two began to dance.
This modern Rockwell scene, captured on video, was shared on her Instagram on Thursday morning. “Little moments matter, especially for working moms!!” She captioned the post. “#TBT to an after-work dance party with my boys. @WorkingMother magazine outlined 10 additional things I have to say about motherhood in my #WomenWhoWorkBook.”
Women Who Work was released on May 2. It’s a pseudo-feminist, extremely capitalist rumination on the plight of the working mother (tip: it’s easier to have it all when you have a “team”), an extension of the lifestyle brand Ivanka Trump created prior to her father’s formal political career. The book itself was written before the presidential election, and before Ivanka joined the administration as an unpaid adviser (her husband, Jared Kushner, occupies an even more senior advisory position). But Ivanka’s new role has, well, complicated both her brand and her ability to promote it.
On the eve of her book’s release, a letter from the Office of Government Ethics was made public, explaining that she would need to comply with regular financial disclosures and rules regarding conflicts of interest. Ethics rules stipulate, for instance, that federal employees can’t use their positions “for private profit.” Most recently, this rule got Kellyanne Conway in a bit of trouble after she suggested, on TV, that people ought to go buy things from Ivanka’s clothing line.
“It’s a hard distinction,” Richard Painter, a White House ethics lawyer under George W. Bush, told me — meaning a hard distinction to make, given the weirdly multiple roles being played by everyone inside the White House at all times. “If Kellyanne Conway had been in a personal capacity and said, ‘I’m not gonna talk about the White House, I’m gonna talk about my clothes and my kids,’ she would’ve been fine.”
But where does that leave Ivanka? Where does Ivanka Trump the Woman Who Works end and Ivanka Trump the Public Servant Who Works (For You!) begin?
Probably to try and steer clear of these questions, the White House has insisted that Ivanka will not and has not been promoting her book. Yet she has been unusually visible during the last week: quoted on the record in a New York Times profile; sitting down with the hosts of CBS This Morning in the East Room; and appearing onstage with Linda McMahon, the head of the Small Business Administration, to discuss the challenges of being a mother and transitioning to life in a presidential administration.
The White House claims that this is just coincidence, however, and this week has in fact been no busier or more high-profile than any other week since she arrived in Washington.
“Given that she could not ensure that interviewers would not ask her about her official role, she decided not to do media interviews for the book to avoid the appearance that she was using her official role to promote the book,” Jamie Gorelick, her counsel, said in a statement provided to me by the White House.
“Recent interviews had nothing to do with her book,” Hope Hicks, the White House director of strategic communications, added via email. “The timing was not driven by her schedule, and she has not spoken about her book in a media interview, period.”
Okay, that may be technically true. But while she didn’t speak specifically about her book in those TV and newspaper interviews, she nevertheless achieved a kind of synergy. What Ivanka is selling is her own busy, high-impact lifestyle, so necessarily any chatter about that busy, high-impact lifestyle is an ad of sorts for her products. She’s photographed by paparazzi nearly every day, leaving or arriving at her Kalorama home in between official government business, and inevitably the tabloids note that she’s wearing something from her “eponymous clothing line.” She is, then, a strutting ethical gray area.
Not to mention that her primary policy interests are the ones that she writes about: She told the Times she wants to help women economically by creating a federal paid-maternity-leave program (in Women Who Work, she advises women to “negotiate” for leave and flex hours, an option very few American women have), helping to make child care more affordable (she notes in the book that although child care is often considered a women’s issue, it affects everyone. “We need to fight for change,” she writes), and starting an initiative to help women entrepreneurs around the globe.
In other contexts, she hasn’t been quite as circumspect. She has repeatedly posted about the book on her social-media accounts, although those accounts — her primary means of communicating with the public she now serves — claim to be “personal.” But how can you separate the personal from the political when the person in question is only in their political role not because of any particular expertise or skills but because of their, well, personal life? It’s confusing, and not just to Ivanka herself; on Wednesday the State Department committed an ethics violation of its own by retweeting something Ivanka had posted promoting her book, apparently in her nonofficial capacity.
On Instagram, the other Trump and Trump-adjacent women promoted the book more directly by posing for photos — Tiffany on a balcony in leather pants, Lara resting on a couch with Central Park behind her, and even Marla Maples, puckering at the book in the Atlanta airport.
In reply, Ivanka thanked her “beautiful sisters” (not Marla) for their support.