When we say the Donald Trump campaign has a volatile relationship with “the media,” we’re generally talking about The Washington Post, The New York Times, CNN, Politico and other news agencies that scrutinize his policies and rhetoric. We’re not talking about Cosmopolitan magazine, a publication that describes its focus as “fun, fearless advice on men, love and sex, plus hot style trends and beauty secrets.”
Or at least, we weren’t until this week, when Ivanka Trump, the Republican presidential nominee’s daughter, became irritated with the “negativity” in a Cosmo reporter’s questions and abruptly ended a telephone interview Wednesday.
As we saw at the Republican National Convention, Trump can be one of her father’s most effective surrogates, humanizing the hard-charging billionaire like few others. In her convention speech she told voters: “As president, my father will change the labor laws that were put in place at a time in which women were not a significant part of the workforce, and he will focus on making quality childcare affordable and accessible for all.”
Now that Donald Trump has unveiled a plan to “change the labor laws” - written with help from Ivanka - he is trying to sell it to voters while projecting a compassionate, family-oriented image. The whole point of dispatching his daughter to Cosmo was to promote that image in a popular women’s magazine.
Instead, Ivanka Trump channeled her father’s peevishness, bristling at questions that weren’t even that tough. Here is one exchange between Trump and Cosmo’s Prachi Gupta:
GUPTA: I’m wondering - and this speaks to the maternity leave aspect of the plan - paternity leave is said to be a great factor in creating gender equality. So I’m wondering, why does this policy not include any paternity leave?
TRUMP: This is a giant leap from where we are today, which is sadly, nothing. Both sides of the aisle have been unable to agree on this issue, so I think this takes huge advancement and obviously, for same-sex couples as well, there’s tremendous benefit here to enabling the mother to recover after childbirth. It’s critical for the health of the mother. It’s critical for bonding with the child, and that was a top focus of this plan.
GUPTA: OK, so when it comes to same-sex -
TRUMP: So it’s meant to benefit, whether it’s in same-sex marriages as well, to benefit the mother who has given birth to the child if they have legal married status under the tax code.
GUPTA: Well, what about gay couples where both partners are men?
TRUMP: The policy is fleshed out online, so you can go see all the elements of it. But the original intention of the plan is to help mothers in recovery in the immediate aftermath of childbirth.
GUPTA: So I just want to be clear that, for same-sex adoption, where the two parents are both men, they would not be receiving special leave for that because they don’t need to recover or anything?
TRUMP: Well, those are your words, not mine. [Laughs.] Those are your words. The plan, right now, is focusing on mothers, whether they be in same-sex marriages or not.
Note that Trump is the one who brought up same-sex couples, calling her father’s proposal a “huge advancement” for them. Gupta simply followed up to find out how, exactly, the plan would apply to those couples. The line of questioning was about as basic as it gets, yet Trump grew testy.
The next question really got her going.
GUPTA: In 2004, Donald Trump said that pregnancy is an inconvenient thing for a business. It’s surprising to see this policy from him today. Can you talk a little bit about those comments, and perhaps what has changed?
TRUMP: So I think that you have a lot of negativity in these questions, and I think my father has put forth a very comprehensive and really revolutionary plan to deal with a lot of issues. So I don’t know how useful it is to spend too much time with you on this if you’re going to make a comment like that.
Just to be clear, the “comment” in question was made by Donald Trump, not Gupta. Trump told NBC in 2004 that pregnancy is “a wonderful thing for the woman. It’s a wonderful thing for the husband. It’s certainly an inconvenience for a business. And whether people want to say that or not, the fact is it is an inconvenience for a person that is running a business.”
Citing a candidate’s previous statement on the issue under discussion is, again, pretty basic and well within interview bounds. And the phrasing of Gupta’s question - “what has changed?” - practically invited Ivanka Trump to put a positive spin on things. She could have talked about how times have changed or how her father has become a grandfather since making that remark - how watching his daughter excel as a mother and businesswoman has strengthened his resolve to make sure other women have opportunities to do the same.
She even could have spun the “inconvenience” comment as a reflection of her father’s desire to implement a balanced policy that helps families without over-burdening small businesses that must replace the productivity of mothers on leave.
This was not a particularly difficult question, but Trump turned it into an awkward moment that was decidedly off message. She answered one more question, then ended the interview. “I’m going to jump off,” she said. “I have to run.”
The Cosmo interview capped a run of uncharacteristically unimpressive appearances by Ivanka Trump. Speaking with Fox News Channel’s Megyn Kelly on Tuesday night, Trump claimed falsely that “there’s no policy on Hillary Clinton’s website pertaining to any of these issues — child care, elder care, or maternity leave or paternity leave, for that matter.”
On ABC’s “Good Morning America” Wednesday, Trump made another false claim, saying the Trump Organization offers paid maternity leave to all employees. As the Huffington Post reported afterward, many Trump Organization employees receive only the federally mandated unpaid leave.
Feuding with a women’s magazine and winding up in fact-checkers’ crosshairs is definitely not part of Ivanka Trump’s mission. But it’s no surprise from a campaign that has shown over and over that it is wildly undisciplined when it comes to messaging through the media.