The appearance marks Trump stepping into a more traditional former first lady role, as she joined current first lady Jill Biden and former first ladies Michelle Obama, Laura Bush and Hillary Clinton to pay tribute to Carter. It is common for sitting and former first ladies to attend the funerals of former first ladies.
During the service Melania Trump sat at the end of the aisle in the front row next to Michelle Obama, who had Laura Bush placed on her other side.
Melania Trump has largely avoided the public eye since leaving Washington in January 2021, even as her husband pursues another campaign to return to the White House. A source close to the former first lady told CNN most of her focus remains on their son, Barron, who is expected to graduate high school in Florida next year.
While Trump attended her husband’s presidential announcement last November, she has not joined him for any other public campaign events or his multiple court appearances. Still, sources familiar with their relationship tell CNN she supports her husband’s decision to run for president.
“He has my support, and we look forward to restoring hope for the future and leading America with love and strength,” Trump said during a May interview with Fox News.
Trump has chosen a different path than that of most of her predecessors—one that is mostly behind closed doors. Mar-a-Lago members told CNN they have seen Trump join her husband for dinner on the club’s patio on occasion, and others said she has stopped by charity events with the former President. She quietly hosted a luncheon at the Florida club in May on the anniversary of the launch of her “Be Best” initiative, a source familiar with the event said. And in September, Mrs. Trump released a set of 2023 holiday ornaments and NFTs.
This is not the first time Trump has appeared by herself at an event marking the passing of a former first lady. In 2018, she attended the funeral of Barbara Bush in Houston, alongside George H.W. Bush, George W. and Laura Bush, Bill and Hillary Clinton, and Barack and Michelle Obama. Then-President Donald Trump did not attend, citing the desire to “avoid disruptions” and out of respect for the Bush family and friends.
Later that year, the Trumps both attended a funeral service for former President George H.W. Bush at Washington’s National Cathedral. The Obamas, Clintons and Carters also attended.
The source close to Melania Trump described her as both loyal and defensive of her husband. Before a CNN town hall in May, Trump gave the former president a sort of pep talk, according to a source briefed on the event. She had privately questioned the legitimacy of E. Jean Carroll; at the time, a civil jury had just found Trump liable sexual abuse of Carroll in the 90s and defamation and awarded Carroll $5 million in damages, and she encouraged the former President to defend himself.
Another source close to the former president was unaware of this event, but noted that it wasn’t uncommon for Trump to get into her husband’s ear.
“I’ve heard him run things by her on the phone,” the source said.
Amid the never-ending stream of rumors about the relationship between the Trumps, many of the former president’s allies and advisers remain deeply protective and defensive of Trump.
“Everyone likes her because she is actually very nice. She is genuine. She asks how your family is,” one source close to the former president said.
But the private admiration of Trump varies widely from the public perception of her while she was still the first lady. Perhaps the most remembered moment of her tenure remains her decision to don a jacket that read: “I really don’t care. Do u?” during a trip to the US-Mexico border to tour an immigrant children’s shelter.
In September, Donald Trump suggested his wife might join him on the campaign trail in the near future.
“ When it’s appropriate, but pretty soon,” he said on NBC’s Meet the Press when asked when his wife would start campaigning with him. “She’s a private person, a great person, a very confident person and she loves our country very much…And honestly, I like to keep her away from it. It’s so nasty and so mean.”
The former first lady has yet to be seen publicly two months later.
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