Trumpstagram is Slate’s pop-up blog that close-reads Instagram accounts in the Trump orbit.
As a middle child of a vice president, Charlotte Rose Pence has to fight for attention on two fronts. Neither firstborn nor first-family, she is nonetheless working to claim a role as the most famous Pence offspring and a bona fide “public figure,” which is, at least, how Instagram labels her account.
Pence posted only a few times before her father’s election as vice president, including a 2013 snapshot with her pet bunny—noted rabbit Marlon Bundo, now the subject of a children’s book that Charlotte published in the spring. But since then, the 2016 college graduate seems to have been working to become an Ivanka-lite figure: the cheerful blonde daughter who loyally ignores the haters and promotes her own projects with tunnel vision. Her children’s book about Marlon Bundo was parodied by John Oliver in a competing book in which Bundo was “revealed” to be gay; Pence, for her part, gamely announced she was buying a copy of the rival publication and merrily continued posting Instagrams about her own book. (John Oliver DESTROYS Charlotte Pence by … making her book much more famous than it would have been otherwise and giving her an opportunity to look graceful in the face of mockery.) In October, Charlotte will publish Where You Go: Life Lessons from My Father, with a foreword by her dad.
She follows merely 115 accounts, many of which are related to running and veganism, and a variety of locked personal accounts by friendly looking white women with the last name Pence. Other than one recent portrait of a friend, she never posts photographs of anyone outside the Pence family. The only image of Donald Trump to grace her feed is a February 2017 repost from Trump’s official account, depicting a small group including the Trump and Pence families bowed in prayer after Trump’s nomination of Neil Gorsuch. (The one real social issue Charlotte engages with on her feed is human trafficking; with entwined themes including sexual purity, victimized women, global rescue, and redemption, trafficking has been a marquee issue in the white evangelical community since the early 2000s.)
Charlotte Pence’s Instagram makes it clear that she adores her parents with the obedient perkiness of a Victorian children’s book heroine. Here are some actual captions of photos of her and her mother and/or father. “Hanging out with you is fun!” “You inspire and encourage me every day, Mom!” “always cheesin’ w my bffs” (to be clear, her parents are her bffs here).
Her father, she writes underneath an old photo of them line-dancing together, is her “favorite dance partner for all time.” Where You Go, her upcoming book about her father, is a nod to a Bible verse about intense family loyalty from the book of Ruth: “Don’t urge me to leave you or to turn back from you,” the titular young widow tells her mother-in-law. “Where you go I will go, and where you stay I will stay. Your people will be my people and your God my God.”
If you were told to peruse Charlotte Pence’s Instagram and guess whether her father was a Democrat or a Republican, it would be hard to tell. Aside from a few posts depicting her promotional appearances in conservative spaces (The Ben Shapiro Show, Focus on the Family), the account is an apolitical space in which the Pences are just a nice family who stand in front of American flags and tour jet propulsion laboratories together. Also, there’s a lot of Marlon Bundo.
In fact, Marlon doesn’t just make frequent cameos on Charlotte’s feed—he has an entire Instagram account all to himself: @marlonbundo, also run by Charlotte. Pence’s account on behalf of this rabbit is even more active than her own; as of Tuesday, it has 33,200 followers to her 14,500. On Bundo’s page, Charlotte is “Mom,” Karen Pence is “Grandma,” and Mike Pence is “Grampa.” Bundo promotes his own merch, like a pink T-shirt sporting a Bible verse or a shirt with his own face at the center of a presidential seal (“Bunny of the United States”). Sometimes he appears alongside generically wholesome artifacts like American flags or Christmas trees.
Bundo seems to be enjoying his tenure as Bunny of the United States as much as any rabbit could. In photos, he hops around freely on a blue Oriental rug one day, a smooth painted-wood porch the next. He makes several cordial joint appearances with fellow Pence pet Hazel, a cat. He is almost never in a cage. On the vice president’s birthday in early June, his loyal grandson was ready to celebrate: HAPPY BDAY TO MY GRAMPA LOVE YOU.
It’s all very on-brand Pence family, which is to say: patriotic and pleasant in a kind of vague, animatronic way. If Charlotte is indeed trying to position herself as Ivanka lite, using a rabbit to make that image cuddlier might just be a canny strategy. Marlon Bundo’s Instagram feels like a convenient extension of Charlotte’s own smiling, sterile, family-first self-branding—just with nearly 20,000 extra followers, and also four-legged and covered in hair.
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