Melania Trump disengaged from her husband's second impeachment trial and bitter over Jill Biden's publicity
Posted February 12, 2021 6:07 a.m. EST
CNN — While former President Donald Trump watches his second impeachment trial unfold, Melania Trump spends most of her time post-White House relaxing at the spa and staying out of the fray.
Though she has been checking in on the trial, says one source familiar with her interest level, the former first lady has mentally all but left Washington behind, unlike her husband.
According to multiple people who spoke to CNN about Trump's life in the weeks since she departed the nation's capital, her daily schedule has nothing to do with politics, Congress, trials or stymied social media accounts.
"She goes to the spa, has lunch, goes to the spa (again) and has dinner with Donald on the patio," said one person familiar with Melania Trump's schedule at Mar-a-Lago, her home in Palm Beach, Florida. "Rinse and repeat. Every day."
Another person familiar with her daily routine confirms Trump's affinity for the private club's spa facilities, noting it is not unusual for her to spend several hours a day there, enjoying the benefits at her disposal, often going twice in a 24-hour period, for massages, nail care, facial treatments or other items on the menu.
"She almost always does dinner," said a third person who has seen Trump outside of the spa. She spends her evenings on the outdoor patio of Mar-a-Lago, where she prefers fish for an entrée, according to the source, and is often joined at the table by her parents, Viktor and Amalija Knavs, who reside in a private suite of rooms at Mar-a-Lago for much of the year.
Though she is now a former first lady of the United States, her daily routine has not seen a significant change.
"It's pretty much the same as it was before (she was first lady) or even when she would come down during vacations," said the source familiar with Trump's schedule, noting there is not much evidence to delineate pre- and post-White House activities or work.
Melania Trump's office did not immediately respond to a CNN request for comment.
Trump is in the midst of setting up an official office and has hired three former employees from her East Wing staff in the hopes of resurrecting her Be Best campaign of helping children, continuing her "work," as she calls it to friends.
Moments of bitterness
Yet there have been moments of bitterness and regret, say several people with knowledge of Trump's conversations of late, most notably since Joe Biden's inauguration and with respect to the activities of her successor, Jill Biden.
When Trump left Washington, she had the worst favorability ratings of any modern first lady upon departure from the White House, according to polling conducted by SSRS for CNN.
At one time, early in her tenure, that wasn't the case -- Melania Trump was the most-liked member of the Trump family and the broader administration. But it's possible that Donald Trump's incendiary style, even though not necessarily something his wife condoned, had the residual effect of chipping away at the first lady's popularity. After the January 6 attack on the Capitol, Melania Trump did not make a statement denouncing the violence for five days.
"She could see how it was going to go for her," said one former White House official who spoke to CNN, noting that Trump felt she was in a lose-lose predicament whether she spoke publicly or not. If she condemned the violence, her husband and his base would be angered and it would create a stir about her breaking with the President. And by staying silent, she was implying support for what happened.
"Once (the insurrection) happened, she knew there was nothing to gain for her by speaking out or doing something -- so she didn't do anything," the former White House official said.
Two members of the first lady's staff resigned shortly after the deadly insurrection in protest of the administration's seeming acquiescence.
Trump, according to a person familiar with her schedule, had planned on going to Biden's inauguration and learned she would not be attending when he husband tweeted he would not go.
Disappointed by the way she left Washington, she has been "bitter and chilly" at times toward her husband, upset that her image became collateral damage in his quest to denounce the election and procure a peaceful transfer of power, two of the people familiar with her thinking of late note.
But Trump's most fervent ire has come from watching Jill Biden kick off her East Wing tenure on nearly the antithesis of the path Trump took. Biden moved into the White House right away, for starters, and had a staff hired and fleshed out within two weeks of the inauguration. Trump, meanwhile, remained in New York for the first five months of the administration, ostensibly to let son Barron finish up the school year; she never had more than 12 people on her White House staff, at times there were as few as seven. (Jill Biden already has nearly a dozen full-time staff members and is expected to add more.)
Though Melania Trump reportedly left a note of welcome for Biden in the Executive Residence, she has still not spoken to her, eschewing a long-held tradition of first ladies.
Trump has also taken note of the publicity her successor has garnered.
Within weeks of becoming first lady, Biden has done an interview with People magazine, gracing the cover with her husband, the new President, and was featured in Parents magazine, where she discussed her empathy for families dealing with homeschooling their children during the pandemic. The Bidens also appeared in a televised message that aired prior to last Sunday's Super Bowl.
Jill Biden has held at least seven events or speaking engagements since becoming first lady, on topics including military families, cancer prevention, health care, community college education and support for teachers. Prior to leaving Washington on January 20, Melania Trump had not been seen publicly for three weeks and had not held a solo public event for six weeks -- a schedule not entirely uncommon for the former first lady, who opted to maintain a less robust calendar, her staff said, to provide more focus on being a wife and mother.
The attention Biden has been getting has not gone unnoticed by Trump, say those who know her. Though she is lamenting the media focus on her successor, Trump turned down several similar offers from national publications throughout her time as first lady, according to two people who worked closely with her. When presented with offers and asks for participation, it was Trump who would not want to do them.
In four years, she never did an interview with a national publication.
"Donald was more upset about Melania not getting magazine covers than Melania was," said Stephanie Winston Wolkoff, who served as Trump's senior adviser during her first several months as first lady before the relationship went south.
On Christmas Day, then-President Trump retweeted a conservative media outlet's tweet pointing out the lack of magazine covers, citing "elitist snobs in the fashion press." Trump called his wife, "The greatest of all time."
Laura Bush was featured on at least six magazines during her two terms as first lady and Michelle Obama more than twice that.
Wolkoff told CNN it was not that the country wasn't interested in reading about Trump, it was that the fiercely private first lady was not interested in allowing the public to get to know her.
"Melania intentionally didn't do press as a defense mechanism," said Wolkoff, who wrote about her experiences with Trump in her book, "Melania & Me: The Rise and Fall of My Friendship with the First Lady." "She and I would always discuss this reasoning and that's why everything was choreographed or emailed, or be 'approved' quotes or statements that I would often write."
The lack of interest in sitting for an interview, out of privacy and concern for what might be asked and require an answer, was for Trump a paramount strategy, according to Wolkoff. Now Trump, according to multiple people familiar with her thinking, is second-guessing that tactic.
But the former first lady is not blaming herself in hindsight, she's blaming others -- former staff members, magazine editors, and corporations and foundations that opted not to work with her because of the former President's political rhetoric. Trump has recently been noting to acquaintances that she thinks she could have participated in more media opportunities and policy events had her staff been more accommodating to her needs.
"That seems unfair, but typical to blame everyone else," said someone familiar with Trump's thinking during her White House years. "Everyone knows Melania Trump does what she wants when she wants, and not one staffer on her team could have done anything to change that."