President Donald Trump and his wife Melania Trump standing with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his wife Sara Netanyahu, as well as Israeli President Reuven Rivlin and his wife Nehama Rivlin. (Photo by Ilia Yefimovich/Getty Images)
It was the hand swat memed across the internet — the moment when First Lady Melania Trump wouldn’t take President Donald Trump’s hand as the two were arriving at the airport in Tel Aviv, Israel.
Rather than indulge her 70-year-old husband in what many regard as a routine gesture of affection between loving married couples, Melania swatted his hand away. Footage of America’s first couple, walking down the tarmac alongside Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his wife Sara, shows the swat as they pass security and the press.
lol watch melania’s hand pic.twitter.com/hQ2FGZL2Q4
Of course, the swat now is being dissected for all it might say about the state of their 12-year marriage or the state of Melania’s mind when it comes to her husband.
Trump’s critics seized on the swat as what they view as yet another sign that Melania is so fed up with her husband that she doesn’t want him to touch her. The Daily Beast was typical in this regard, blasting the headline: “Melania’s Swat Proves She Hates Donald Just As Much As We Do.”
Certainly, the dominant portrait that’s emerged of the marriage in Vanity Fair, the Washington Post and other publications is that the Slovenian-born former model is a beleaguered wife who has long endured various humiliations at the hands of a self-centered husband, accused by multiple women during his presidential campaign of sexual harassment or sexual assault. Trump has denied the allegations.
These publications suggest that Melania has long put up with this behavior in exchange for being a billionaire’s trophy wife who gets to live in Trump Tower while devoting herself to raising their 11-year-old son Barron. These reports furthermore suggest that Melania didn’t really want to be First Lady and that’s the reason she has been been slow to take up her responsibilities of being First Lady until recently.
The Daily Beast asserts that Mrs. Trump has “has grown bolder in her push to telegraph her disdain for Donald.”
She swatted her husband’s hand away just as they were joining Netanyahu and his wife for a photo op. The first couple are visiting Israel as part of a five-country tour that marks his first foreign trip as president. “She doesn’t care if he’s embarrassed,” the Daily Beast said.
Of course, it’s hard to know for sure and Melania remains an elusive First Lady, who maintains an aloof, regal cool in her public appearances. Moreover, a conflicting portrait of Melania and the state of the first couple’s marriage has emerged in recent days, and it’s not coming from Trump loyalists.
It’s coming from a mainstream publication like Politico which published a report that suggests that Melania loves the president very much and has become one of his fiercest supporters and most trusted behind-the-scenes advisors. Giving this assertion, the report points to an alternative interpretation for the hand swat: It might have been done out of love.
According to the Politico report, Melania is becoming a key behind-the-scenes player in the president’s public relations operation — such as it is.
She pays very close attention to how her husband is portrayed in the media. On his behalf, she scours cable news and other outlets for the growing number of negative headlines about his troubled presidency and pays especially close attention to reports about anonymous, backstage sniping occurring amongst West Wing Staff.
“Her quiet role as private watchdog is at odds with her public persona,” Politico says.
While it’s true that Melania generally maintained her distance from Trump’s political operation during his presidential campaign and the early months of his administration, she has become increasingly vocal about the perceived shortcomings of the staff surrounding him.
Both Politico and the New York Times, citing aides and friends, say that she is one of several people he calls at night to hear how the dysfunction in his White House is playing out in the American public. Others on his speed-dial reportedly include billionaire businessmen Carl Icahn, Rupert Murdoch and Newsmax CEO Chris Ruddy, Politico said.
“Melania loves the president unconditionally, definitely, she really cares about the president, she feels a kind of protection,” her longtime friend and former modeling agent Paolo Zampolli told Politico. Zampolli introduced the couple to each other in 1998.
“She’s very private and she’s very smart,” longtime Trump associate Roger Stone added to Politico. “She has excellent instincts into who is trying to exploit their influence with him.”
She may also be involved in a shakeup in the White House press office that’s expected to come after the president returns from his overseas trip.
“She was really concerned that (Press Secretary Sean) Spicer was not doing a good job, that they were not proactive in defending the president,” one outside adviser told Politico. ”The leaks bother her. She believes a lot of people are more interested in serving themselves than him.”
With this vision of Melania as fierce protectress, there could be another reason that Melania batted the president’s hand away on the tarmac at the Tel Aviv airport — and it doesn’t have to do with her disdain for him.
Like Donald Trump, perception is said to be key to Melania Trump. Perhaps she thought it somehow wasn’t traditional or professional for first couples to hold hands as they deplane to meet world leaders on official state visits. Anyone who views the video clips of the swat can also see that Netanhayu and his wife aren’t holding hands as they get ready for the photo op.
Barron Trump, Melania Trump and President Donald Trump listen to the US national anthem during the Easter Egg Roll at the White House (BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI/AFP/Getty Images)
Melania famously nudged her husband’s hand to move in a different direction at another high-profile event at which their marital unity played a starring role: the White House Easter Egg Roll in April.
As they stood on a White House balcony with Barron and the Easter Bunny, and as the national anthem played, Melania visibly nudged her husband to put his hand on his heart.
“Mrs. Trump is being diligent and thoughtful, with a focus on quality and tradition, when it comes to her important role of first lady — both behind the scenes and in public,” said Stephanie Grisham, Melania Trump’s communications director. ”She is staying true to herself, and she believes the American people deserve nothing less.”