Without Ivana Trump There Would be No Donald Trump

From a Washington Post story by Paul Farhi headlined “Without Ivana Trump, there would be no Donald Trump”:

Without Ivana, “The Donald” wouldn’t exist. The Czech-born first wife of Donald Trump was the one who took to calling him that, mistakenly sticking an article in front of his first name as she struggled with English. Journalists picked up on its delicious pomposity, and it stuck.

But there might not be a Donald Trump, either, had it not been for Ivana Zelnickova Trump, whose death at 73 was announced by her ex-husband on Thursday. His early rise to fame, as manifested in New York’s tabloid and glossy-magazine culture of the greed-is-good era, was fueled as much by her florid charisma as by his own heat-seeking swagger and ambition.

Typically photographed in either society-gala sparkles or “Dynasty”-caliber shoulder pads, she was a relentlessly glamorous figure, a hot-rollered blonde with a bootstrapping backstory as the scrappy refugee who fled communist Czechoslovakia and climbed to the heights of New York society.

Unlike Donald’s successor wives, Ivana wasn’t reticent or press-shy. Like him, she relished the spotlight and often spoke to reporters. Like him, she sometimes fed them scraps and tidbits to help burnish the Trump mystique.

In an ingratiating way, she seemed to recognize the absurdity of her Zsa Zsa-meets-Real Housewife persona while also playing it to the hilt. After the ugly and expensive breakup, she fashioned herself as an avenging angel for discarded first wives. “Don’t get mad — get everything!” she advised her fellow divorcées. After her ex’s election, she said she held off on calling him in the White House to avoid upsetting Melania Trump. “Because I’m basically first Trump wife,” she told an interviewer with a laugh. “I’m first lady, okay?”

It may have been a dig at Melania. Or it may have just been Ivana making a cheeky play on words. In any case, Melania wasn’t amused, “There is clearly no substance to this statement from an ex,” her office stiffly responded. “This is unfortunately only attention-seeking and self-serving noise.”

Which may have been a feature, not a bug, for the preeminent New York power couple of the late 1980s.

As with a number of elements of the Donald Trump story, it was often hard to parse the truth of the Ivana story. Her husband told reporters that Ivana had been a member of Czechoslovakia’s Olympic ski team (she hadn’t been). He described her as a former top model in Canada (she wasn’t). Neither he nor she mentioned in their respective memoirs that she was married to someone else when they started dating — a brief relationship that was apparently arranged to facilitate her immigration.

As she proved during and after their marriage, Ivana didn’t actually need the puffery. She actually did lots of interesting things: managed businesses (including some of Donald Trump’s hotel properties and Atlantic City casinos), launched fashion and beauty lines, penned an advice column (“Ask Ivana,” for the Globe tabloid) as well as several fiction and nonfiction books. One of them was her 2017 memoir, “Raising Trump,” about rearing Trump’s first three children, Don Jr., Eric and Ivanka.

Yet as with so many who came into association with Trump over the decades, Ivana’s relationship with him ended bitterly, amid highly public infidelity and explosive claims of abuse.

Their divorce after 15 years of marriage became a soap-operatic drama chronicled in near-daily headlines in the New York Post and Daily News, already hot on the trail of Trump’s new romance with a younger model, Marla Maples, whom he married and later divorced.

At one point, Ivana gave a deposition in their divorce proceedings in which she accused Trump of sexually assaulting her after an argument. She later softened the allegation, in a statement for a 1993 book that recounted the incident, “The Lost Tycoon: The Many Lives of Donald Trump.”

“During a deposition given by me in connection with my matrimonial case, I stated that my husband had raped me,” the statement said. On “one occasion during 1989, Mr. Trump and I had marital relations in which he behaved very differently toward me than he had during our marriage. As a woman, I felt violated, as the love and tenderness, which he normally exhibited towards me, was absent. I referred to this as a ‘rape,’ but I do not want my words to be interpreted in a literal or criminal sense.”

Trump denied the incident, saying it was a ploy to increase her divorce settlement.

There were also recriminations, from Trump, about Ivana’s management of some of his business operations, including his claims that she had wildly overspent on redecorating the Plaza Hotel in New York. Trump later said he regretted that his wife had been involved in the business.

By many accounts, including her own, the couple repaired their relationship over the years and spoke often. When she married her fourth husband in 2008, the wedding was held at Mar-a-Lago, with Trump in attendance.

She had no visible role, however, during Trump’s campaign and presidency — no campaign trail appearances, White House visits or photo-ops with their shared grandchildren. She maintained that they had a cordial, even close relationship while he was president. They discussed politics, the media and their children, she said.

She also said Trump should face the reality of the 2020 election: “I don’t think he has a choice,” she told People magazine at the time. “He has to go and declare that he lost.”

But after nearly a lifetime of knowing Donald Trump, she knew that wouldn’t be easy. “He hates to be a loser,” she said. “That I’m sure of.”

Paul Farhi is The Washington Post’s media reporter. He started at The Post in 1988 and has been a financial reporter, a political reporter and a Style reporter.

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