In the first hours and days after a mob of Donald Trump’s supporters attacked the U.S. Capitol — and five people died — Melania Trump did what she has been doing for decades: stayed quiet.
Silence is one of the few definable traits of the former model from Slovenia, who has become one of the most famous and purposefully inscrutable figures in American politics.
Now returned to the insularity of her husband’s private Mar-a-Lago Club in Palm Beach, Florida — where the family made their permanent residence, rather than New York City, after leaving the White House — Mrs. Trump, 50, has been enjoying spa treatments and focusing on her son, Barron, as well as spending time with her parents, sources say.
As one Palm Beach insider recently put it to PEOPLE: “It is safe to say she plays the game for personal gain. Around here, that is not a bad thing.”
It is all too easy to be wrong about Melania Trump. But that’s no accident, according to those who have long observed the model-turned-mogul’s wife-turned-East Wing resident as she has appeared on ever-larger stages under ever-brighter spotlights.
“I think a lot of people thought she just wanted to be rich,” says Mary Jordan, author of The Art of Her Deal and a Washington Post correspondent. “And she wanted not just to be rich — I heard that several times from key people: ‘You don’t understand, she wanted to be known.’ “
So what next becomes of the former first lady?
PEOPLE spoke with four of her biographers over the course of a year, who have collectively covered her for decades: Kate Bennett, Kate Andersen Brower, Nina Burleigh and Jordan.
Their views, drawn from hundreds of interviews and years of research, corroborate but sometimes contradict each other — a tension in trying to completely understand any single person, let alone a president’s wife.
Together, though, these assessments add up to a more shaded portrait than might be guessed from Mrs. Trump’s rare public appearances as first lady, when she gave a speech and hugged children or stood next to her husband, armored in dark sunglasses and couture and heels.
For its part, the Trump White House repeatedly dismissed reporting about her, including calling Jordan’s book “fiction” and snapping back at Bennett’s book, with which they cooperated.
Despite Mrs. Trump’s reluctance to reveal her interior life, there is consensus among her biographers: The former first lady is “tough” and smart and knows what she wants out of life and out of her relationship with the former president, 74, with whom she has formed an enduring if unsentimental bond. (Even, or especially, when she famously rebuffed her husband’s hand — once, perhaps twice — and sent social media chattering.)
She was never the one on the ballot and she’ll continue to live her life as she chooses. Her priorities are to be a wife and mother; she keeps a small inner circle. And she enjoys the power and benefits of her elevated station. She also mirrors her husband’s values — prizing public image and loyalty — and nowhere was that parallel more stark than after the Capitol insurrection, when she did at last choose to speak.