Speeches by a candidate’s spouse or children are generally meant to humanize him and to reassure voters that they’re voting for a loving family man. But Tuesday night’s vague testimonial by Donald Trump’s younger daughter, Tiffany, served only to make him seem more strange and aloof.
In a speech about five minutes long, Tiffany was unable to come up with a single meaningful anecdote about her father or his influence in her life. He wrote notes on her childhood report cards, she said, and called her on the phone after someone close to her died. Her attempted praise was edged with sadness: He’s good with advice, she said, but “he keeps it short.” She loves introducing him to her friends who have “preconceived notions” about him, because “in person my father is so friendly, so considerate, so funny, and so real.” The unavoidable implication was that the Donald Trump the public knows is none of these things. Her delivery, meanwhile, reminded many people of Vanessa Bayer’s impression of Miley Cyrus on Saturday Night Live.
So who is Tiffany Trump? It’s a question that no one has to ask anymore about her older half-sister Ivanka, who is one of the most important public faces of the Trump campaign and brand. Tiffany, by contrast, remains little-known and has rarely been seen on the campaign trail, in part because she was in college until May. Her father doesn’t follow her on Twitter, and he rarely mentions her. A creepily omnipresent clickfarm headline plays into her low profile, combining an unflattering modeling photo with headlines teasing variations on “the daughter Donald Trump wants to hide.”
Tiffany is the only child of Trump’s second marriage to model Marla Maples. He wooed her during his marriage to Ivana Trump, supposedly romancing Maples in the same Manhattan church in which he had married his wife. The New York Post famously ran a front-page headline in 1990 quoting Marla on Donald: “BEST SEX I’VE EVER HAD.” But their relationship was tumultuous. The couple got engaged after Trump’s divorce then postponed the wedding at least five times. Maples’s pregnancy ended the back-and-forth, and two months after Tiffany’s birth, 1,300 people attended the wedding at the Plaza Hotel in New York. At the reception, celebrity guests were separated from the couple’s friends and relatives by a velvet rope.
Tiffany was the couple’s only child. Newspaper articles at the time of her birth reported that Trump named her after Tiffany & Company—yes, the jewelry brand—because his purchase of the air rights above the store in the 1980s allowed him to go on to build Trump Tower on Fifth Avenue. “She’s got mama’s legs,” Trump told a TV interviewer of infant Tiffany in 1994. “We don’t know whether or not she’s got this part yet,” he added, cupping imaginary breasts, “but time will tell.”
Trump and Maples divorced in 1999, and Tiffany Trump, the little girl named after air and money, was raised by her mother. They moved to Calabasas, California, a continent away from her father and eventually four half-siblings in New York. Maples has said she was essentially a single mother. “I would bring her into New York a couple times a year and let her go see her dad in the office and let her go have dinner with him,” she said in April. “I wanted to create some consistency where she could see him.” A source told the New York Post last year that Tiffany would spend about two weeks at year at Trump’s estate in Florida but that her relationship with her famous family didn’t extend much beyond that.
Tiffany graduated from her father’s alma mater, the University of Pennsylvania, with a degree in sociology and urban studies in May. Her upbeat, Rich Kids of Instagram–worthy online profile depicts a lavish life of travel, parties, photo shoots, and family. (Her boyfriend, Ross Mechanic, is a registered Democrat doing an internship this summer at a startup founded by Ivanka Trump’s husband, Jared Kushner.) Tiffany has interned at Vogue but has yet to settle on a career. She has dabbled in modeling, and in 2011, she made a stab at a career as a pop star, releasing a heavily Auto-Tuned single that never took off. These days she speaks warmly, if vaguely, about her father. “I don’t know what it’s like to have a typical father figure,” she told DuJour magazine. “He’s not the dad who’s going to take me to the beach and go swimming, but he’s such a motivational person.”
It was that amorphous idea of “motivation” that she emphasized in her speech on Tuesday night. “He motivates me to work my hardest and to always stay true to who I am and what I believe,” she said at the lectern, smiling broadly at each pause. “That’s what he does: He draws out the talent and drive in people so that they can achieve their full potential.” It was almost too easy to psychoanalyze —to see a young woman eager for the attention and approval of a father she barely knows. Alas, Donald wasn’t in Cleveland to watch his daughter’s big debut. He had flown back to New York for the night.