OPINIONS LAST UPDATED : 09 JULY 2018
PR expert Kelly O’Hanlon discusses Donald Trump’s upcoming UK trip and perceptions of the First Lady.
When you’re in the public eye, your every move, facial expression and choice is scrutinised. When you’re the First Lady, this applies ten-fold but in the case of the Trump’s, it seems to be even more amplified. Why? Because they’re quite hard to fathom out.
Trump is a larger than life character. His business magnate background and past television persona, coupled with his trigger-happy fingers on Twitter, have made the President a character – and with his perma-tanned appearance, unusual hairstyle and unique gesturing, he is the perfect subject for satire.
Step in Melania, the former fashion model, who is quite striking in contrast to Donald, physically and in her manner. At first, the First Lady seemed to be quite passive and separated away from the day job of her husband – something the public weren’t used to with the Obama’s, where over time, they came across very much as a team and as two people on the same page.
Due to the seemingly unusual pairing of the beauty and the ‘pussy-grabbing’ beast, the public and media have been eager to find out more about the two and, whenever they are together, their demeanour and behaviour towards each other is critiqued by body language experts and political commentators alike. We often only get to see the PR friendly image that figureheads want us to see, but the Trump’s have given us a great deal more to talk about because they don’t seem to stick to any PR rule book we’ve been used to.
Whatever is unclear, what isn’t in doubt is Melania’s popularity over her husband, particularly with women and Democrats. In a poll conducted by SSRS in May, 57% said they have a favourable impression of Melania, up from 47% in January and higher than any favourability rating earned by President Donald Trump in CNN polling history going back to 1999. However, 27% of respondents have an unfavourable view of the First Lady and her recent ill-chosen jacket on the way to a Mexican immigration centre has no doubt derailed the popularity spike she was riding upon.
As the First Lady, you are held to standards that may not reflect your own personal views, but rather those of your husband – and with Donald being such a divisive figure, this is a real challenge for Melania. As a woman, her physical presentation is really put under the microscope. Her choice of dress for the recent 4th July celebrations was heralded by many as a return to the form expected of her, and as making some amends for the fashion faux pas last month. The patriotic colours were a wise choice and weighted with much significance for the American public, and a visible step-change from the Melania image of late.
Whether this will help influence the image of Melania overseas here in the UK when the president touches down this week, is yet to be seen. It’s one thing to present oneself in a public-appeasing manner, and to be heard to say the right things, but the impact of her husband’s words and actions have not been well received by the British public and as a nation, we may remain stoic in our reception of the Trump’s. There is a sense of hostility on our side of the ocean, with expected mass demonstrations from those opposed to his controversial and inflammatory rhetoric. So a nice dress and beautiful beaming smile is unlikely to be enough to negate the negative connotations that surround the President. Not least when the memory of those crying migrant children and her poor choice of jacket remain fresh in our minds.
Kelly O’Hanlon is a senior lecturer in PR at Birmingham City University’s School of Media.