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The Keys to Melania Trump's Success

After much anticipation, Melania Trump has finally given the world a glimpse of her platform. But what does it take to be effective as first lady?

Article by Natalie Gonnella-Platts May 10, 2018 //   4 minute read
Mrs. Trump participates in a listening session with middle school students on April 9, 2018. (photo credit: Official White House Photo by Andrea Harkins)

Like those before her, Melania Trump is keen to make a difference in her own unique way. Speaking in the Rose Garden, she officially launched Be Best, which tackles three key pillars: well-being, social media, and opioid abuse. 

But what does it take to be effective as first lady, especially amid an ever moving spectrum of expectations, responsibility, and public opinion?

Communications Director Stephanie Grisham recently stated that most first ladies have focused on a single issue. In fact, several presidential spouses in the last century have taken on multiple causes, and Mrs. Trump can look to them for guidance. To be successful, here are three recommendations from the Bush Institute’s report A Role Without a Rulebook that Mrs. Trump should consider implementing.

Develop a Strategic Vision

As first lady, Mrs. Trump is uniquely positioned to be a compassionate listener and supportive facilitator. As she develops this platform, she should clearly define actionable goals that engage citizens at local and national levels.

She can look to her peer, Laura Bush, who launched Ready to Read, Ready to Learn with two clear objectives in mind: to ensure young children are prepared when they enter their first classroom, and once there have well-trained, qualified teachers. She also addressed how these goals would be achieved. By outlining a clear mission alongside defined actions, Mrs. Bush was able to make progress on these goals during her time as first lady.

Engage with Citizens and Peers

In a polarized political climate, Mrs. Trump must embrace the opportunity to transcend boundaries. Unelected but official, she is able to build bridges between government and civil society. For example, one of our most prominent first ladies, Eleanor Roosevelt, championed causes including racial equality, labor rights, women’s rights, and was the first presidential spouse to testify before a Congressional committee. Central to her efforts: Community and stakeholder outreach. 

Engagement with predecessors and peers can also aid Mrs. Trump’s efforts. For example, longstanding advocates for mental health and those battling addictive diseases, Rosalynn Carter and Betty Ford joined forces to advance policy and increase support for services. Reflecting on their collaboration, Mrs. Carter said: “[Betty and I] could be a stronger force if we worked as partners, and we did for many years.”

Encourage Collaboration

Mrs. Trump has the opportunity to leverage the power of partnership. As apolitical influences, first ladies can reach across industries and ideologies to unite diverse viewpoints and mobilize action. For example, Michelle Obama and Second Lady Jill Biden launched Joining Forces, working with the public and private sectors to improve outcomes for service members, veterans, and their families by providing the tools needed to succeed throughout their lives.

While the role of first lady is one without a rulebook, these are proven actions that can aid Mrs. Trump’s efforts across a variety of platforms. When used effectively, a first lady’s podium serves as a force for change. To make a lasting impact with Be Best, Mrs. Trump must define a strategic vision, connect with the public and peers, and leverage the power of partnerships.