Analysis

U.S. Withdrawal From Paris Accord Exposes Ivanka Trump's Lack of Influence

It's time American media stop selling the unfounded theory that the first daughter can alter the direction of her father’s administration

Ivanka Trump listens as her father President Donald Trump speaks via video conference with NASA astronauts at the White House, April 24, 2017.
Molly Riley/Bloomberg

Ivanka Trump wasn't present at White House event on Thursday when her father announced the United States' withdrawal from the Paris climate accord. She spent the entire day at home with her family, observing the holiday of Shavuot. By the time the holiday was over on Thursday night, the most dramatic and consequential decision the current administration has taken so far was already a done deal – one in which she had absolutely no involvement.

Ivanka Trump's absence from the "ceremony" marking President Donald Trump's rejection of the Paris deal was highly symbolic. In recent months, ever since the elder Trump's election victory, the media has been portraying his oldest daughter as a strong, moderating influence within the administration, working hard for causes that the president isn't affiliated with, such as women's health, gay rights and above all, efforts to stop global warming. Those reports became completely irrelevant on Thursday. Whatever influence Ivanka Trump might have had on her father, it turned out to be useless and ineffective at the moment when it mattered the most.

The debate over quitting the Paris agreement – the most comprehensive agreement ever reached on global warming, which has been accepted by every country in the world except Syria and Nicaragua – was supposed to be Ivanka Trump’s moment of truth. Earlier this week, when it became clear that Trump is going to withdraw from the agreement, a number of leading reporters covering the administration quickly put out stories in which people close to the first daughter explained that Ivanka “gave a hell of a fight” on the Paris deal, but came up short. The objective of these anonymously sourced “briefings” was as transparent as can be: to save face and help protect Ivanka Trump's image as a force for good within the administration.

Children of politicians, as a general rule, should not become targets for public criticism – unless they deliberately choose to become a part of the political mechanism and conversation. Ivanka Trump made such a choice early in her father’s tenure, first by building up her image as the liberal face of the administration in numerous news stories, and later by taking an official role as an adviser to the president.

These choices mean that the press can examine her effectiveness as an adviser and a “presidential whisperer” just like it does with so many other people surrounding Trump, from White House Chief Strategist Steve Bannon to his national security advisor, Lt. Gen. H.R. McMaster. And upon such examination, it becomes clear that Ivanka Trump has had very little influence so far on the policy decisions that are supposedly most important to her. This was already apparent with the president's health care plan, and it became even clearer on Thursday with his decision to quit the international battle against global warming.

All of this doesn’t necessarily make Ivanka Trump a “bad person,” nor should it justify Trump’s political opponents' attempts to make her a new focus of their criticism. At the end of the day, these are not her policies. But what it does mean is that it’s about time large parts of the U.S. media – mostly the “mainstream” – stop selling their viewers and readers the unfounded theory that Ivanka Trump can alter the direction of her father’s administration.

Politico, one of the news organizations that in the past ran articles about Ivanka Trump’s supposed role as a “climate czar” in the Trump administration, declared in a headline on Thursday that the president’s daughter has decided to “move on” following her defeat on the Paris deal. Right after Shavuot, Ms. Trump proved the item correct when she published a tweet on a subject that had nothing to do with the main headlines of the day: her support for the LGBT community.

The truth is, it’s fine for Ivanka Trump to “move on” from the climate issue. The more important thing, however, is that the U.S. media “moves on” as well – from the false notion that Ivanka is influencing her father and changing his way of governing.