Are women the key to Donald Trump’s run for a second presidency?

Or will it be the jailhouse rather than the White House for Trump in 2024?

In latest Donald Trump news, the race to be the Republican presidential candidate has kicked off in Iowa. And despite the former President’s pending criminal trials, this did not stop him from securing a resounding victory. Trump won 51 per cent of the votes in the midwestern state, securing 20 of a possible 40 delegates, and demolishing his nearest rival, Ron De Santis, who only garnered 21.2 per cent of the vote.

This was the first of a series of primaries or caucuses that will take place before the Republican convention is held in July to pick the candidate the party with take to the November 5 election. A candidate needs 1,215 delegates to win the nomination. Trump’s Iowa win was the largest the state has ever seen, and it sets him up as the clear frontrunner.  

He is currently facing 91 criminal charges across four cases and has been taken off the ballot in Maine and Colorado. Despite this, many pundits are predicting he has the candidacy all but clinched. The next vote will be held in New Hampshire next week. And, in the January 2024 issue of The Weekly we looked at why his fate could lie with the women who surround him…

White House or the jailhouse? The latest Donald Trump news

Even by the standards of the Trump years, the past 12 months have been spectacularly wacky – a political soap opera where the scriptwriters have jumped the shark. In America’s almost 250-year political history, no sitting or former US president has ever been charged with a crime. Yet within the space of six months, Donald J. Trump racked up four criminal indictments and 91 separate felony charges.

The one-time occupant of the White House now faces the possibility of ending up in a very different form of government accommodation: A prison cell. Yet, despite potential prison sentences, he remains the frontrunner in the race for the Republican presidential nomination, and presently stands a strong chance of being re-elected president in this November’s election.

Donald Trump standing at a podium.
Donald Trump’s historic win in Iowa has firmed up his chances of becoming the Republican presidential candidate.

To make a dramatic return to the White House, Trump needs to win back the suburban women who voted for him in 2016 but switched to Joe Biden in 2020.

Women, who outnumber male voters in America, tend to decide presidential elections. Let’s look at the evidence, and the role the women of America could play in his fate.

Prosecutors have assembled quite the rap sheet. In his home state of New York, Trump will face trial in a case involving alleged hush money payments to a former adult film star, Stormy Daniels, who claims she had an extramarital affair with the New York tycoon before he became president. In Miami, he’s been accused of mishandling top-secret documents, some of which he allegedly stored in the ornate bathrooms of his luxury Florida mansion, Mar-a-Lago, where they were piled in cardboard boxes amidst the gold and marble fittings.

In Washington, at a courthouse a short walk from the White House, he was charged with his most serious offence to date: Conspiracy to defraud the United States by knowingly promoting false claims that the 2020 election was rigged. Finally, in Atlanta, he faces trial for racketeering, an alleged “criminal enterprise” to overturn the election result in the key battleground state of Georgia. There, prosecutors claim he broke Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations (RICO) laws, which are usually employed to bring Mafia bosses to justice.

Trump has already lost a high-profile civil sexual assault case brought by E. Jean Carroll, a former New York advice columnist who claimed he raped her in the changing room of the Bergdorf Goodman department store on Fifth Avenue in 1996. Though the jury didn’t find Trump raped her, it awarded her $5 million for sexual abuse and defamation.

Where is Melania Trump?

For the media, Donald Trump news and his court appearances have become a sure-fire ratings winner. Each time he makes the journey from one of his mansions to the courthouses, cameras track his every move. The motorcade to the airport. His private jetliner, with “TRUMP” emblazoned on the side, taxiing along the runway. His arrival at the courthouse. Alas, no pictures have been released showing the former president being fingerprinted, but officials at Fulton County jailhouse in Atlanta did release his mugshot, which looked like a promotional image for his old reality show, The Celebrity Apprentice, with his feather-light wedge of straw-coloured hair coiffed to perfection.

Former president Donald Trump and his wife Melania.
Melania has been conspicuously absent from Trump’s side.

Each time he has appeared in court, Trump has been surrounded by a now familiar entourage: His ‘Praetorian Guard’ of Secret Service agents and his squadron of attorneys. But there has been a noticeable absentee: His wife, Melania. Not once has she accompanied him to court. Nor has she joined her husband on the campaign trail in his bid for re-election. Forbes, the highly respected business magazine, has spoken of her “disappearing act”. Newsweek illustrated its report on Melania’s vanishing act with her picture printed onto a milk carton, alongside the word “Missing”.

Melania’s only public response came in a cryptic statement released by her office last April. It spoke of unspecified “assumptions” that the media made “about the former First Lady’s stance on subjects that are personal, professional and political”. Even seasoned Melania watchers were not entirely sure what the statement referred to, although in previous weeks People magazine had reported she was “angry” about her husband’s alleged role in paying hush money to Stormy Daniels and “uncomfortable” that her husband was running again for president.  

Trouble in Trumplandia?

Certainly, the pair have been spending time apart. Throughout the northern summer, Trump based himself at Mar-a-Lago and his golf resort in Bedminster, New Jersey, while the former First Lady preferred their opulent three-storey penthouse at Trump Tower in New York. Page Six in the New York Post, Manhattan’s most widely read gossip column, reported she had renegotiated her marital prenuptial agreement – although this is apparently at least the third time it has been amended and is not thought to be a sign that a divorce is imminent.

Donald Trump has said that his wife is busy raising their 17-year-old son, Barron, who is in the process of applying for university, and that he wanted to shield her from the “nasty and mean” legal and political battle.

“She’s a private person, a great person, a very confident person” who would join him on the campaign trail “pretty soon”, he told the Sunday morning political talk show, Meet the Press.

The 53-year-old former model is indeed a private person, who spends most of her time with her son, her Slovenian-born parents, Viktor and Amalija Knavs (who became US citizens five years ago), and a few close friends. Besides, the former First Couple are accustomed to spending time apart. When Trump became president in 2017, Melania waited almost five months before moving from New York to Washington.

Trump supporters at a rally.
Trump supporters at a rally.

Melania, who became Trump’s third wife in 2005, had never wanted to be a conventional political wife or traditional First Lady. Seemingly the thought of taking up residence again at the White House fills her with woe. Some of her only public comments on his presidential run came during an interview with Fox News last May, which was intended to promote her charitable work.

“He has my support and we look forward to restoring hope for the future and leading America with love and strength,” she said.

Out on the campaign trail, Donald Trump has been mocked for his wife’s invisibility. In September, at an American football game in Iowa – the state which hosts the first popularity contest in the battle for the Republican presidential nomination – a small plane flew overhead trailing a banner reading, “Where’s Melania?” At ground level, flyers were handed out featuring a photograph of Melania and asked, “Have you seen this woman???” and, “Where is our First Lady? Why is Donald Trump hiding her?”

Trump suspected these dirty tricks were orchestrated by Republican rival Governor Ron DeSantis of Florida. But Trump is so far ahead in the race for the Republican nomination, and so beloved by his MAGA (Make America Great Again) faithful, that it will take more than the absence of his wife to dent his popularity. Each time he has been indicted, for example, his support among Republican voters only seems to grow. Court appearances have essentially become campaign events.

Female contenders

So confident is Trump of being his party’s presidential nominee he’s already started thinking about vice-presidential running mates. And there’s a strong possibility that he could pick a woman.

One politician angling for the role is Marjorie Taylor Greene (or MTG), a congresswoman from Georgia with a history of incendiary behaviour. Notorious for spreading QAnon conspiracy theories, Greene suggested in 2018 that wildfires ravaging California could have been started by space lasers controlled by a secretive cabal of prominent Jewish businessmen. She has promoted the false notion that, during the attacks of September 11th, 2001,the Pentagon was not hit by a plane. Bill and Hillary Clinton, she’s claimed, were responsible for the 1999 plane crash that killed John F. Kennedy Jr, the son of JFK, because they supposedly viewed him as a potential political rival.

Marjorie Taylor Greene is one of the contenders to become Trump's running mate.
Marjorie Taylor Greene has attracted attention with her incendiary behaviour.

She also believes the school shootings at Sandy Hook in Connecticut, where 20 children were slaughtered in 2012, and Parkland, Florida, where 17 people were killed in 2018, were “false flag” operations carried out by gun-control advocates determined to ban firearms. Afterwards, Taylor Greene even harassed a survivor of the Parkland shootings, David Hogg, when he appeared on Capitol Hill in Washington to call for tighter gun restrictions. After chasing him down a street, she called him a “coward” who was financed by the Jewish billionaire George Soros.  

Ten years ago, before Trump appeared on the political scene, such views would have disqualified this 49-year-old former gym owner from office. But now she is one of the most prominent Republicans in the country.

“This is no shrinking violet,” the former Trump advisor and far right political provocateur, Steve Bannon, commented on his podcast, Bannon’s War Room. “She’s not shy about that, and nor should she be … when MTG looks in the mirror she sees a potential president smiling back.”

The “Veepstakes”

Another right-wing firebrand thought to be on Trump’s vice-presidential shortlist is Kari Lake, who achieved fame as a TV news anchor in Arizona where, over the course of a 25-year career, she became a fixture in viewers’ lounge rooms.

Though a lifelong Republican, she donated money to Barack Obama’s presidential campaign in 2008, partly because she was angered by the Bush administration’s “war on terror” and the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan. But in 2015, when Donald descended the golden escalator in Trump Tower to announce his presidential run, she was impressed by his outspoken attack on Mexican immigrants: “They’re bringing drugs,” he said. “They’re bringing crime. They’re rapists.”

As Kari told Time magazine in 2022, Trump was “speaking the language of a lot of American people”. It was political love at first sight. During a trip to Washington in June 2019 she interviewed Trump and became an even more effusive fan. Then, when the coronavirus pandemic hit, her personal politics lurched further to the right as she railed against lockdowns and vaccine mandates.

A woman in red speaking at a convention.
Kari Lake left journalism to pursue a political career.

During newsroom meetings she grew increasingly frustrated that colleagues shot down stories she suggested on COVID-19 remedies backed by Trump, such as the use of Ivermectin, a drug mainly used on animals. She was starting to look upon her fellow journalists as purveyors of “fake news”.

In 2021 she quit her job and explained her decision in a video posted on social media. “In the last few years, I haven’t felt proud to be a member of the media,” she revealed, which was music to the ears of the MAGA faithful. 

The video went viral almost instantly, fuelling demands for her to enter politics. In 2022 she ran for the governorship of Arizona and refused to accept the result when she was narrowly defeated by her Democratic opponent. Like Trump, she claimed fraud. Like Trump, she has not been able to cite any shreds of evidence. As Trump’s legal troubles have mounted, Kari, a mother of two, has also positioned herself as one of his fiercest defenders.

“If you want to get to President Trump,” she warned last June, “you’re going to have to go through me, and you’re going to have to go through 75 million Americans just like me. And I’m going to tell you, most of us are card-carrying members of the NRA [National Rifle Association]. That’s not a threat. That’s a public service announcement.”

Late last year Kari announced that she was running for a seat in the US Senate, although if Trump asked her to be his running mate, it would be a hard invitation to resist. MTG and Kari Lake are said to loathe each other, and the magazine Rolling Stone reckons they are in a “death race” to be vice-presidential candidates in what are often called the ‘Veepstakes’. The former TV anchor has even taken to hanging out with Melania in the hope of ingratiating herself with the former First Family.  

Support cast

There are also other women in the frame. Elise Stefanik, a Republican congresswoman from New York, is thought to be pushing herself as a ‘safe’ vice-presidential pick, coming without the baggage of either MTG or Kari. The Arkansas governor, Sarah Huckabee Sanders, who served for two years as Trump’s White House press secretary, is another possibility.

President Donald Trump stands with former press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders.

Then there is Kristi Noem, the governor of South Dakota, a right-wing conservative fiercely opposed to abortion and same-sex marriage. Given the premium Trump places on the physical appearance of women in his orbit, the fact that Noem is seen as so telegenic may, alas, be a factor.

The most sensible pick would be Nikki Haley, who in 2010 was elected South Carolina’s first female governor and who served during the Trump administration as the US Ambassador to the United Nations.

But despite being a one-time favourite of Trump, this Indian-American politician has become a critic of the former president, and is presently campaigning against him for the Republican presidential nomination. Besides, sensible just does not cut it in Trumplandia.

Don’t expect to see much of Melania making the case for her husband during this extraordinary election year, either on the campaign trail or in court. But so strange have become the plotlines in America’s political melodrama that Kari Lake or even Marjorie Taylor Greene could well be at his side.

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