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The Effortless Sexism of Ivanka Trump’s Softball Interviews

‘Fox & Friends’ handled Ivanka with kid gloves. Time to start treating her like her father’s male surrogates and ask the tough questions.

Ivanka Trump has gone from an emphatic but ineffective presidential adviser to the most important non-president in the White House, if the news reports are to be believed.

Last week, the first daughter was beaming on the cover of Us Weekly, disagreeing with her dad but still doing an amazing job at whatever it is her job is, according to some well-placed anonymous sources that definitely aren’t Ivanka Trump wearing a pair of Groucho Marx prop glasses. This week, she’s on Fox & Friends twice, once fawned over on a couch in New York and fawned over again in the White House. Today her name was all over Labor Secretary Alex Acosta’s fawning lips during a press briefing. And, following the press briefing, a White House press release gushed about what an amazing job Ivanka is doing with promoting workplace development. It’s almost like somebody in the White House is worried about rehabbing the first daughter’s image.

During Monday’s appearance on Fox & Friends, Ivanka was allowed to lay out all of her and her husband Jared Kushner’s alleged White House accomplishments, unchecked. The hosts didn’t ask her about her failure to convince her father to acknowledge Pride Month, or her flop on the Paris climate agreement. They didn’t say a word about Ivanka’s absent activism in all iterations of the Republican Obamacare replacement, or her flimsy parental leave proposal. They didn’t ask why she was spearheading a White House workforce development PR campaign when her brand of clothing was in the past associated with quasi-sweatshops. That’d be awkward. That’d be an actual challenge. Summer in D.C. is heating up, and at this point, it’s increasingly clear the only warm weather game Ivanka will play is softball.

Ivanka added, unironically, that she was surprised by the “viciousness” of Washington. The hosts nodded with empathy, as though at that moment they were having a nice morning chat with a battle-tested political war machine, as though Ivanka has ever once been interviewed by a person who asked her a follow-up question with teeth, as though she’s ever stood behind a podium and answered extemporaneously to questions from a hostile press.

She hasn’t.

The hosts didn’t push Ivanka on the fact that her father led a campaign of historical nastiness, that he called for protesters at his rallies to be kicked out and encouraged violence, that he characterized Mexicans as rapists or took on a gold star family. Ivanka wouldn’t do an interview with anybody who would point out anything like that.

After months of backchanneling her own PR to media outlets, Ivanka ducked out of hiding to sleepwalk through an interview with a trio of Trump cheerleaders in a transparent attempt to repair her own shredded image. Brian Kilmeade looked bored as Ivanka whisper-droned sweet nothings about all the non-binding verbal deals she was able to reach with CEOs, as if setting up meetings with CEOs was a difficult task for a high-level White House official during any administration, as if coming up with an idea for a program somebody else had already come up with was some sort of accomplishment.

Ivanka did not suddenly become a tough and effective surrogate for her father, nor did she become an effective and inventive policy genius.

Ivanka Trump, senior adviser and surrogate for the president, a woman of importance whose brand is #success, has never in her short post-shoe saleswoman life had to endure the sort of grilling other White House denizens have. She’s never faced an exasperated Jake Tapper or a skeptical Chuck Todd or a gimlet-eyed Andrea Mitchell. She hasn’t exactly succeeded as a softener of her father’s policies; all of her stated pet issues from climate to LGBTQ rights have been ignored by her father. Nor has Ivanka been an effective spokesperson for the administration; she can only seem to handle the gentlest of interviews.

The only way the first daughter is succeeding in her current position is if the bar she’s expected to clear is significantly lower than the one set for her executive branch peers. Ivanka’s reputation depends on the soft sexism that allows a 35-year-old woman to be treated like she’s a precocious middle schooler on a permanent Take Your Daughter To Work Day.

But Ivanka Trump is not a child. She’s a high-level official serving at the right hand of the most powerful man in the world.  

If a man in the White House were bad at both advising on policy and serving as a surrogate, he’d be rightfully mocked. When the president refuses to answer questions from non-chummy journalists, he’s criticized. If Reince Priebus hid behind Donald’s enormous pants every time he might get a follow up question, he’d be fired. If a man served as the public face of a program that was a rebrand of a program championed by the preceding administration, he’d be ridiculed.

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Every White House official must be held, in every interview and with every policy they champion, to the same standards. Even if they’re new at this. Even if they’re Ivanka. To hold her to anything less is, quite frankly, sexist.