Melania Trump isn’t the typical candidate spouse. As a Slovenian immigrant, former supermodel and third wife of presumptive Republican nominee Donald TrumpDonald TrumpFormer defense secretary Esper sues Pentagon in memoir dispute Biden celebrates start of Hanukkah Fauci says lies, threats are 'noise' MORE, she hardly fits the traditional mold of first lady.
And while the spouses of presidential candidates often become the campaign’s most active and helpful surrogates, Melania Trump has been virtually silent during the primary season, offering few interviews with the media and rarely appearing alongside her husband at his rallies.
But as the convention arrives and the general election heats up, political observers expect her to take a more prominent role in the campaign.
Her test run will be the Republican National Convention, where she will deliver prepared remarks in one of her first campaign appearances thus far.
“I would certainly expect her to [become more active] and, in a way, the convention provides sort of a pre-season for her. ... We’ll see how comfortable she is and how she performs and what she will talk about,” said Susan MacManus, a professor at the University of South Florida and a co-author of a study about the impacts of spouses as campaign surrogates.
Melania Trump is expected to take on a surrogate role in the general election campaign, primarily focusing on the billionaire businessman’s life as a father and husband while mostly steering clear of politics and policy.
Her reluctance to wade into politics has been apparent. In her first stump speech for the campaign in April in Wisconsin, her remarks ran barely more than a minute and she stuck to personal themes when talking about her husband. “He’s hard worker, he’s kind. He has a great heart,” she said.
Serving as a character witness is one of the most important tasks performed by a candidate’s spouse, said GOP strategist Matt Mackowiak.
“If you meet their spouse and they seem reasonably well-adjusted and happy in the marriage, it serves as a validation of who that person is. If there’s one person out there that can stand to be married to that candidate, it says a lot.”
Ann Romney took on a similar role for her husband’s campaign in 2012, mostly talking on the trail about Mitt Romney as a father and husband. She gave an emotional speech at the 2012 Republican National Convention, describing how her husband helped her through multiple sclerosis and breast cancer.
“The Ann Romney model is the kind of model Melania should look to,” said Mackowiak, who also writes for The Hill’s Contributors blog.
Melania Trump appears to be taking that route; in her few media appearances, she has described Donald Trump as the family’s rock and talked about their 10-year-old son, Barron.
“I chose not to go into politics and policy,” she said in an interview with GQ magazine earlier this year. “Those policies are my husband’s job.”
But she won’t be able to avoid politics entirely, particularly when it comes to the issue of immigration.
Political experts say Melania Trump, a Slovenian immigrant who became a U.S. citizen in 2006, could help soften her husband’s rhetoric by discussing the benefits of legal immigration. It’s a topic she has shown a willingness to discuss, as in February when she said on MSNBC that she “followed the law” and “never thought to stay [in the U.S.] without papers.”
“She would be effective in saying you can go through a normal procedure to become a regular citizen,” MacManus said.
Another unique skill she brings to the campaign is her ability to speak four foreign languages: Slovenian, French, Serbian and German.
“There might be some opportunities for her to reach some ethnic voters in enclaves where there are sizable communities that are often ignored but filled with voters,” said MacManus. “That’s something we haven’t had a first lady be able to do in a very long time, is be able to speak multiple languages.”
Melania Trump would be one of the most unique first ladies the White House has ever seen. She would be the first third wife of a president, the first immigrant in recent history to hold the position and the first supermodel.
Melania said in 1999, six years before she and Donald Trump were married, that she could be a “very traditional” first lady.
“Like Betty Ford or Jackie Kennedy,” she said.
But she may draw closer parallels to Pat Nixon, who was known for stalwartly defending her husband, Richard Nixon.
“She stood by her man in the same way that Melania does with Donald Trump,” said Kate Andersen Brower, the author of “First Women,” which looks at White House’s first ladies over the years.
“That sense of being a good wife. I think that’s something that Pat Nixon embodied ... I think Melania Trump is someone likely to model herself in the same way.”
One challenge Melania Trump could have on the campaign trail is connecting with voters, experts say.
“I think she’s not relatable to a lot of women. I think that’s going to be tough being a supermodel, being married to a wealthy man, the first first lady to be a third wife,” Brower said.
Melania Trump once said in an interview she doesn’t drink Starbucks and questioned whether the home goods giant Crate and Barrel still existed.
“People want to know the president and first lady know what the price of milk is, that they’re aware of the economy. I would find it hard to believe that Melania Trump, who was in this gilded tower, has a sense of what things cost. I think that is a problem for them,” Andersen said.