Why you should care
If the White House is a family business, here’s the next logical step.
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While the world remains distracted by the constant circus surrounding the Trump White House, I sense a different kind of power play, and potential American future, brewing beneath the surface at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue: Ivanka Trump becoming the first female president of the United States.
Whatever you think of the character and presidency of Donald Trump, it’s clear he adores his daughter Ivanka, and cherishes the totemic power of his name. And what better way to ensure his family’s legacy than by setting up his daughter, already installed in the West Wing, to assume the presidency? In our current topsy-turvy political era, stranger things have already happened. Let’s take a look at a few potential Twilight Zone scenarios, which aren’t as unlikely as they once might have seemed.
Nepotism is as much a boon as a barrier to high office in America.
Ivanka’s path starts with the vice presidency. According to Keith E. Whittington, the William Nelson Cromwell professor of politics at Princeton University, the president can nominate whomever he so desires for VP, as long as the nominee fulfills the minimum requirements (natural-born U.S. citizen, at least 35 years old, etc.) for the presidency. So Vladimir Putin is out, but Ivanka is in. “Presumably the most significant constraint on who the president could nominate to fill the VP vacancy would be the need for congressional confirmation,” Whittington says.
Since we’ve already had two Roosevelts (distant cousins), two Adamses, a couple of Harrisons (grandfather and grandson), two Bushes and (almost) a second Clinton serve as president, nepotism is as much a boon as a barrier to high office in America. It also worked for the Kennedys (brother Bobby was JFK’s attorney general) and is being attempted by running mates, and spouses, Frank and Claire Underwood in House of Cards — a fictional political dynasty on television, I know, but one that is looking less far-fetched by the day.
Ivanka lacks political experience, you say, especially of the elected kind. Well, her lack of such a background is already being shored up by her new role as special adviser to the president, and both Ivanka and husband Jared Kushner’s governing credentials will continue to be burnished as Trump hands them even larger portfolios. Remember that Hillary Clinton spun an often controversial stint as first lady into a senatorial career, even though she’d never held elected office prior to her run. It’s not unthinkable that Ivanka — despite bringing a somewhat different skill set to the table — could do something similar.
As “no options for involuntary reaccommodation of the VP by the president” are built into the 25th Amendment, as Whittington points out, Trump could entice Mike Pence to resign by offering him one hell of a cherry, say, a Supreme Court nomination. A recalcitrant Pence could also be forced off the ticket — or perhaps persuaded to quietly step aside — during the next presidential election cycle. Trump could bolster his case for a change by promoting Ivanka’s favorable approval ratings, currently at 46 percent, according to a recent Morning Consult–Politico poll, and also the highest in the administration.
How could Veep Ivanka ascend further? In his book The Twenty-Fifth Amendment, Fordham Law School professor John Feerick notes that “the terms ‘unable’ and ‘inability’ are nowhere defined in the Amendment.” Trump might deem himself “unable” to serve by simply citing how irked the barrage of negative media attention makes him feel, his age, his health (mental or physical) or any number of other excuses. Considering all of the scandals he’s had to endure so far, the thought must have crossed his mind.
If Trump pulled the presidential ejection seat while Ivanka was vice president, the White House would be hers. And even if he yanked the lever before then, Trump could, with some deal-making before he left office, secure Pence’s commitment to nominate Ivanka as his VP — although this path would be riskier. Pence could decide to renege on the deal, depending on how he felt about breaking his word, the value of Ivanka’s continued political presence, and the level of electoral blowback he could expect for giving the former first daughter the boot.
Ivanka’s ability to gracefully deflect criticism leveled against her, her father or her family is a skill that shouldn’t be undervalued. Media narratives often change, and a narrative of a measured, well-spoken daughter surpassing her erratic father could prove extremely captivating. And, if anyone were destined to outshine Donald Trump (at least in his own mind), the only person on the planet I could imagine him voluntarily relinquishing his office to is his favorite child. Eric and Donald Jr. may get the keys to Trump Tower, and the organization housed there, but Ivanka could, given the right circumstances, end up with the keys to a smaller yet far more powerful place of business.