The role of the first lady in American politics began as an offshoot of the aristocratic class that emigrated from England. Wives of the Founding Fathers and the first few presidents of the new nation were educated, well-mannered, and could coordinate one heckuva dinner party. But in the last 100 years, the spouse of the leader of the free world not only has to contribute to fashion and social programs but also weigh in on public opinion and policy, campaign, and advocate for others.
With 2024 approaching, what are potential first spouses bringing to the campaign? A lot. The making of a FLOTUS is a significant factor in the nominee selection and can sway the electorate to put a candidate into the Oval Office. Florida’s First Lady Casey DeSantis, former FLOTUS Melania Trump, and former Second Lady Karen Pence may be the secret weapon the GOP powerhouses can utilize to go all the way in November 2024.
DeSantis on the Rise
The press is outright salivating at personality pieces on Casey DeSantis. Sure, she is stunning. And some say she is channeling the style of Jackie Kennedy. But when it comes right down to it, DeSantis is way ahead of the former first lady from the Camelot era. Casey is widely reported to be a significant asset to her husband, Ron, because she is his equal. He understands this, and together they have put forward an impressive initial effort. Where Ron is somewhat dull in delivering his remarks, Casey can work a room and speak with voters and connect with the audience. She is his closest confidante and advisor, and she might well become the favorite spouse in America.
Jeanette Hoffman, a Republican political consultant, said after an excursion to Iowa: “She’s (Casey) an asset to his campaign. I’m not sure how much of a difference it will make in the primary, but the campaign is smart to use her as an effective surrogate.”
And to top off the Casey factor, her time as Florida’s first lady has prepped her for the national stage: She knows policy, focuses efforts on raising the status of women of all creeds and colors, and is making a noticeable difference in the Sunshine State with a whirling dervish schedule that would make Jill Biden cloister in her safe space classroom.
First Lady Melania Trump
No matter how hard she tried, Melania Trump was not the greatest asset to her husband. Melania came to the limelight only because of who her husband is – and not for her many accomplishments before ever meeting The Donald. She speaks her native Slovenian, as well as English, and she’s conversational in French, German, and Italian. In addition, Mrs. Trump had her own fashion business. But she did not participate much in her husband’s campaign besides appearing on stage and being, frankly, stunning. It took a bit for Melania to embrace the role she was thrust into, but she rallied and focused efforts on her movement, Be Best for her greatest love, children.
Melania may step up her game in the coming months, but her interest in helping Donald achieve his goal of becoming number 47 seems unlikely to compare with the energy and desires of Casey DeSantis.
Second Lady Pence
Karen Pence is one of the latest high-profile political spouses that isn’t present much on the scene. Perhaps that’s only because her husband has not officially announced his intentions to run for president. Karen is in a close circle of advisors, and, though many may not know it, she’s an educator and an award-winning artist. “I would characterize her as the silent, omnipresent partner. You knew she was there, you knew there was some considerable influence she wielded, but, boy, she was not public about it,” said Brian Howey, publisher of Howey Politics Indiana, a political newsletter in the state. But, as Tammy Wynette once sang, Stand by Your Man – no matter how bumpy the ride.
The FLOTUS With Lasting Impact
For a short time, Martha Washington was referred to as Lady Washington, Mrs. Presidentress, or Mrs. President. Then along came a journalist – a trailblazer who became the first American woman to make a living with her pen – Lydia Sigourney. First lady was applied to Martha in an 1838 article in the St. Johnsbury Caledonian. As Sigourney described, “The first lady of the nation still preserved the habits of early life. Indulging in no indolence, she left the pillow at dawn, and after breakfast, retired to her chamber for an hour for the study of the scriptures and devotion.”
Of all the first ladies, Washington, Dolly Madison, Jackie Kennedy, and Eleanor Roosevelt have left lasting impressions on the work they accomplished, the fashion they wore, and the most social projects empowering and uplifting the lives of the nation’s most vulnerable on behalf of a sometimes-ungrateful country.
Betty Ford turned her addiction into a place to find acceptance and comfort for other sufferers, giving those unfortunate souls the tools for recovery. Betty Ford once said, “The job of First Lady diminishes after she leaves the White House, but it never ends.”
Ford was correct: We all remember the calls from former first ladies. Pat Nixon focused on volunteering, the outdoors, and bringing up strong girls. She began her term by saying, “People are my project.” Betty Ford encouraged dance and the passage of the Equal Rights Amendment. Nancy Reagan urged Americans to “Just Say No” to illegal drugs. Barbara Bush championed literacy, and daughter-in-law Laura Bush followed in her footsteps.
But for the Trump, Pence, and DeSantis ladies, they must get to 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue to leave those kinds of legacies. They all have the intelligence and possess a style and countenance that embraces the ideals of the GOP voter. But who will bring the most to the campaign trail? Well, of course, the woman who wants it the most.
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