- - Tuesday, May 8, 2018

The mainstream media’s characterization of Melania Trump is that she is a spineless and brainless appendage to her husband. But like the media’s portrayal of Donald Trump as a racist, a fool and a danger to humanity, the caricatures are wrong.

Melania Trump speaks six languages — English, French, Italian, German, Slovenian and Serbo-Croatian — and has tremendous influence on the president and his staff. As revealed in my book “The Trump White House: Changing the Rules of the Game,” she sits in on key meetings, summarizes the points others make and has always given sage advice on strategy, according to insiders.

In fact, contrary to a report in Vogue that she did not want to be first lady, Mr. Trump has credited her with urging him to declare his candidacy rather than vacillate about whether to run for president. Otherwise, she said, the polls would not reflect his support because people would not believe that he was serious about running. And she said to him, “If you run, you’re going to win.”

After he and Melania descended the escalator at Trump Tower to announce on June 16, 2015, that he would make America great again, his campaign took off. A week later, a Suffolk University poll had him in second place in New Hampshire among the large 2016 Republican primary field.

For all the turmoil and internal feuding in the White House, Mr. Trump’s aides agree on one thing: Melania Trump has impeccable judgment.

“Melania’s a good influence at keeping things focused on the main thing and not being in the weeds over a lot of small stuff,” former Chief of Staff Reince Priebus tells me. “She has good political sense and comes down the right way on what the focus and agenda needs to be.”

“She is a very powerful behind-the-scenes force,” former Press Secretary Sean Spicer says. “I don’t think people fully recognize how influential she is and what a grounded political sense she has on her own.” Mr. Spicer says, “There are times when you’re in the room and see it, and she’ll weigh in on a decision, and it’s not just a yes or no. Instead, it’s, look, based on this scenario, here’s what makes sense. She always seems to have the pulse on the right move and the right person at the right time. When she weighs in, it’s always spot on. She knows where he is, where he should be, and how we could move an issue.”

Whether in the Oval Office, on Air Force One, or in the residence, “When she’s around and she feels strongly about an issue or an event or whatever it is, she’ll make her position known,” Mr. Spicer says. “The thing is she really thinks about his positioning. Melania knows how to sort of read him and read the situation. She will say, ‘This is not good for you. This is not consistent with what you said.’ She really has his best interests at heart. She knows when to pick her battles, and she’s always entirely right.”

Melania reads widely, both publications and articles on the internet. She gives Mr. Trump both positive and negative articles that she thinks he should read. She also tips him off to people who come off well on TV in support of him.

While Melania often agrees with the advice of aides, “Sometimes she’d be the first one to weigh in with a point,” Mr. Spicer says. In some cases, she will let an aide know that she is on his or her side when that person is under attack from her husband and presumably will let Mr. Trump know how she feels as well.

The first lady lets Mr. Trump know when her intuition tells her an unsavory character is trying to gain access or take advantage of him.

“Melania knows who the bulls … artists are,” former Chief Strategist Steve Bannon says. “She knows the promoters, the guys looking out for themselves and not Trump, and she lets him know it.” He adds, “You could write something negative about the president. If it had justification, she’ll show it to him.”

Nor is Melania hesitant about disagreeing with her husband. One Saturday at Mar-a-Lago, Martha Stewart showed up and asked if she could take a tour. Anthony P. Senecal, Mr. Trump’s Mar-a-Lago butler, set it up for 3 p.m. the next day. He told Mr. Trump, who said fine. But later in the day, Mr. Senecal went to the private quarters to see if the future president needed anything.

Mr. Trump lit into the butler, screaming at him and calling him a “dumb a..” for scheduling the tour at 3 p.m. when workers would be shifting furniture around. Mr. Trump yelled that Mr. Senecal instead should have scheduled the tour for noon, when well-heeled club members would be on hand to impress and be impressed by Martha Stewart.

As her husband was tearing into Mr. Senecal, Melania entered the hall.

“I don’t think you should talk to Tony in that tone,” Melania said to Mr. Trump in her usual soft voice.

Mr. Trump never said another word about it. But the next morning when he and Mr. Senecal were in the mansion’s living room, Mr. Trump, without explanation, handed him $2,000.

Mr. Senecal says Melania’s quiet comment and her husband’s later remorse are typical of her influence. Almost always, Melania delivers her advice in private, but occasionally, Mr. Senecal would pick up on their exchanges.

“Melania rules the roost,” Mr. Senecal says.

Melania has confided to aides that she tries to get Mr. Trump to cool it when he feels he is under attack and a counterattack will only make things worse, calling more attention to the problem. A prime example of his self-destructive tendencies was Mr. Trump’s threat to bring pointless legal action to stop the publication of Michael Wolff’s book “Fire and Fury.” The threat only served to hype sales of the largely fictional book.

The one piece of advice Mr. Trump has never followed from Melania is her constant suggestion that he stop sending tweets to his 51 million followers.

“She would tell him that he shouldn’t tweet so much, put the Twitter away, just do not tweet,” Mr. Priebus says. “No tweeting. Stop tweeting. Slow down on tweeting.”

“That might be one area where she won’t win,” Mr. Spicer says. “But that’s probably the only one.”

Despite reports of Mr. Trump’s alleged dalliances from more than a decade ago, when you see Melania and Mr. Trump together — as I last did at Mar-a-Lago before interviewing the president for the book — you can tell that this marriage will last. They engage in intense discussions and tease and laugh.

“Those of us who have the privilege to know her and work with her also acknowledge and appreciate how brilliant she is,” counselor Kellyanne Conway says of Melania. “She has amazing instincts, political and otherwise. She reads people exceedingly well. Her own story as an immigrant who heard about this wonderful place called America is inspiring. She was a little girl in Slovenia and came to this country to pursue her dreams. She is a successful entrepreneur in her own right, and is a devoted wife and mother.”

Ronald Kessler, a former Washington Post and Wall Street Journal investigative reporter, is the author of “The Trump White House: Changing the Rules of the Game” (Crown Forum).

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