Shortly before Donald Trump was elected President of the United States, his wife Melania said that one of her goals as first lady would be to end cyberbullying. Speaking during a rare campaign appearance in Philadelphia, she vowed to crusade against meanness on the internet, saying that online culture was riddled with abuse and mockery of people’s “looks or intelligence”, and had gotten “too mean and too tough”.
But in her official response to her husband’s most recent Twitter tirade, she appeared to condone the exact online behaviour she once condemned.
President Donald Trump had landed himself in hot water after posting a string of abusive tweets directed at US television host Mika Brzezinski. While it’s not clear exactly what prompted the outburst, Trump appears to have been unhappy with how he was covered by Brzezinski and Joe Scarborough, her co-host on the right-leaning MSNBC news and talk show Morning Joe.
Trump claimed that Brzezinski’s treatment of him was hypocritical, given that she had visited Mar-a-Lago (Trump’s Florida estate and member’s-only club) “3 nights in a row around New Year’s Eve”. The president then alleged that Brzezinski, who he referred to as “low I.Q. Crazy Mika”, had been “bleeding badly from a face-lift” at the time, and that he had refused her request to join him.
Trump’s tweets drew widespread condemnation from politicians and public figures on both sides of the political divide. However, the First Lady’s response – delivered through a spokeswoman – was brief and startlingly aggressive.
“As the First Lady has stated publicly in the past, when her husband gets attacked, he will punch back 10 times harder,” said Stephanie Grisham, Melania Trump’s communications director, in a statement to CNN.
The hostile response may seem a little out of character, given that she has largely shied away from the public eye since the presidential election. However, Trump has form when it comes to backing the President’s questionable behaviour towards other women.
In October 2016, she appeared on TV to defend her husband from accusations of sexual misconduct, saying that the derogatory language he used to describe women was nothing more than “boys’ talk”. Several women had come forward to accuse the then-presidential candidate of sexual assault in the wake of the infamous “grab ’em by the pussy” tape, but Trump insisted that he was innocent.
“This was all organised from the opposition,” she told CNN’s Anderson Cooper. She also poured scorn on the alleged victims, asking: “Did they ever check the background of these women?”
Apart from his wife, President Trump’s most recent online rant has found few defenders. Even Republican politicians have criticised the language he used to attack Mika Brzezinski, with US House Speaker Paul Ryan – usually one of the president’s most loyal allies – telling reporters at a press conference that he “obviously [didn’t] see that as an appropriate comment.
“What we’re trying to do around here is improve the tone, the civility of the debate,” Ryan continued. “And this obviously doesn’t help do that.”
Other Republican lawmakers posted condemnatory statements on social media, including senators Lynn Jenkins, Lisa Murkowski, Susan Collins, Lindsey Graham and Ben Sasse.
Less surprisingly, left-wing politicians, journalists and public figures also condemned Trump’s tweets. “Surely you are kidding?” tweeted actress Patricia Arquette. “Grow up you embarrassment. I have seen more class and decorum from lice.”
She added: “There is a lot of gossip about you on the street that hasn’t been in the press – yet. At a certain point you are going to open the flood gates of hell against you and people will start talking. People who normally wouldn’t.”
Mark Kornblau, a spokesman for NBC News, said that he had “never imagined a day when I would think to myself, ‘It is beneath my dignity to respond to the President of the United States.’”
CNN’s Brian Stelter, meanwhile, tweeted a photo of Brzezinski from December which appeared to contradict Trump’s claim that she had been “bleeding from a face lift”.
However, the best response came from Brzezinski herself:
Images: Getty, Rex Features