The news this week that the Ivanka Trump clothes and jewellery line is no more was greeted with widespread glee from critics of the Trump presidency, and in particular those who have long highlighted the toxic ties between family, business and politics that characterise this administration.
The 36-year-old daughter of Donald Trump and adviser to the president announced she is closing her brand in order to focus on her work in public policy. Noting that she did not know “when or if I will ever return to the business”, she added: “I do know that my focus for the foreseeable future will be the work I am doing here in Washington, so making this decision now is the only fair outcome for my team and partners,” she said.
Late-night TV hosts couldn’t resist a jibe at the so-called first daughter.
“The good news is that no American jobs will be lost, because almost every piece of her clothing was made overseas,” said late-night host Jimmy Kimmel.
Seth Myers also chipped in. “Ivanka Trump announced today that she is closing her fashion brand. And look, I know it’s tempting to make jokes, but please - thousands of kids are out of a job . . .” he said, referencing the heiress’s well-documented use of cheap labour in Asia to make most of her products.
Their gags hit on a fundamental truth about the president’s eldest daughter.
Ivanka Trump has struggled to present a credible argument that she has addressed the blatant conflict-of-interest concerns that have swirled around her since she and her husband Jared Kushner joined Donald Trump in the White House.
The arrangements she put in place to address government ethics rules were hardly convincing – while she outsourced day-to-day running of the business when she joined the administration, she retained ownership of the brand, ensuring that she would ultimately profit from any policy measures that could benefit her business.
But it was her presence at a dinner with Chinese leader Xi Jinping at her father’s private club, Mar-a-Lago in Florida, last year that brought her business interests under fresh scrutiny. She sat beside Xi at a banquet – the following day three Ivanka Trump trademarks were approved by the Chinese authorities. She and her husband were also assiduously courted by representatives of the Chinese government in the early months of the Trump presidency.
Sceptics believe her move to shut the brand had a purely financial motivation. Several department stores had dropped or scaled back their offering, beginning with upmarket department store Nordstrom, which announced last year it would no longer stock her fashion lines due to falling sales. The decision prompted an outburst by her father on Twitter, who said Ivanka had been treated “so unfairly” by Nordstrom.
Other retailers have followed suit, most recently Canadian chain Hudson Bay Company. The impact of the Trump presidency on the family business interests are difficult to ascertain. Though campaigns like #Grabyourwallet have urged consumers to shop with their conscience when it comes to the Trumps, there is little publicly-available information on the financial performance of the brand.
Government ethics filings show that Ivanka and her husband earned more than $80 million in income and capital gains last year from their various business interests.
Others see another motive. The president’s eldest daughter is popular among Republicans, with some suggesting that she could have a career in politics.
In her first 18 months in the job she has managed to keep above the Russia investigation fray, quietly meeting with lawmakers on Capitol Hill to pursue her signature policy of paid parental leave. Her decision to sit in at a G7 meeting in place of her father in Germany last year also prompted speculation about her political ambitions.
Where Republican fans see poise and grace, critics see someone who has chosen a wilful silence in the face of unacceptable policies. Ivanka was widely panned for failing to reject her father’s zero-tolerance policy on immigration, which saw children being separated from their parents, while she posted social media pictures of herself with her children.
Her decision to divest herself from her namesake fashion brand is too little too late for many. The first daughter is unlikely to care, however. By leaving the door open to resurrecting her clothing brand, she can return to her business if and when her father’s presidency falls apart. If not, the prospect of candidate Ivanka always remains a possibility.