First lady Melania Trump returns from a trip to Arizona, at Joint Base Andrews, Md., June 28, 2018. The first lady plans to revive "Be Best," her child-focused platform as she accompanies her husband on a weeklong trip through Europe.
Photo: DOUG MILLS/NYT
Photo: DOUG MILLS/NYT

Melania Trump’s task in Europe? Show another side of White House

The trip, with diplomatic-and-golf-focused hops planned between Belgium, England, Scotland and Finland, will be a high-profile re-entry into the spotlight for Melania Trump, who has not done much with Be Best since starting it days before she was hospitalized for a kidney condition in May. She sat out the president’s visit to Quebec for the Group of 7 summit and a later meeting in Singapore with Kim Jong Un, the North Korean leader, in June. In recent weeks she has instead focused on visits with immigrant children detained at the southwestern border. 

Melania Trump will participate in at least two events in Europe, including one in London where she is expected to reference Be Best, said Stephanie Grisham, Trump’s communications director. Trump will also meet with Philip May, the husband of Prime Minister Theresa May of Britain, while President Donald Trump meets with May. 

“He’s looking forward to meeting Melania,” Theresa May told The Sunday Times of London about her husband’s preparation for the visit. “He has been out and bought a new suit.” 

Overall, Melania Trump’s task is to try to present a more open side of an administration that has increasingly isolated itself from its closest allies and embraced dictators and authoritarian rulers. The trip will include a NATO meeting in Brussels as well as a meeting in Helsinki between Donald Trump and President Vladimir Putin of Russia. 

“It is important to her that she represents our country in a positive way,” Grisham said, “while paying respect to the host countries we are visiting.” 

Not all of Melania Trump’s public relations efforts have gone smoothly. In June she created headlines around the world after boarding a plane to visit migrant children in Texas wearing a jacket with the phrase “I Really Don’t Care, Do U?” printed on the back. Trump’s office has declined to explain the reason she wore it, except to say it was a decision the first lady made on her own. 

But she has had some success. On Donald Trump’s first trip abroad last year, the conservative Saudi press praised the first lady’s manner and style of dress. She had a lighthearted exchange with Pope Francis over the president’s diet, in contrast with a somber-looking group photo taken minutes later. Her fashion choices — Trump is a former model — have been pored over by journalists and Instagram fans around the world. 

The White House staff has also used her, not always successfully, to distract the president. In July, when Donald Trump and Putin spent more than two hours in a meeting that went far longer than planned, the first lady was sent in to try to end it. 

“People were sticking their heads in the door,” Rex Tillerson, the former secretary of state who was in the meeting, said at the time. Officials “sent the first lady at one point to see if they could get us out of there.” 

“But it didn’t work,” he said. 

Katherine Jellison, a professor at Ohio University who studies first ladies, said Trump had her work cut out for her on the trip. 

“This first lady probably has some challenges in that her husband is not a favorite among Europeans and European leaders,” Jellison said in an interview. “I suspect that she will try to be particularly charming and win over locals on these side events where she goes out by herself.”