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Presumptive first daughters can wield great power in the White House

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Presumptive first daughters can wield great power in the White House

You may think the president's most powerful decision makers are his chief of staff or first lady. Think again. Many times, it's his kids.

A child has a tremendous amount of power in the White House because they can never be fired
Doug Wead, historian and NYT best selling author.

Ivanka Trump, Eric Trump, Donald Trump Jr., and Chelsea Clinton are formidable forces for their respective parent's campaigns. According to Doug Wead, their direct access to their parents is a power few people have. Wead is a presidential historian and the New York Times bestselling author of "All The President's Children, a definitive look into the private lives of president's families."

Despite their parent's political affiliation, both Ivanka and Chelsea have more in common than one might think. They are both mothers and care deeply about women's issues. 

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Doug Wead, historian and New York Times best selling author of All The President's Children. Photo provided by Doug Wead.

"A child has a tremendous amount of power in the White House because they can never be fired," said Wead, who also worked  was a former special assistant to President George H. W. Bush and saw the family dynamics first hand. "Ivanka and Chelsea already have their parent's devotion and time."

Wead recalled an instance at the White House when he realized what it meant to be a president's son.  


"I had a list of ten items that needed to get done but staffers didn't want to make a decision," he said. "I ran into George [W.] Bush Jr. with the list and within ten minutes every item on the list was taken care of. He'd say yes to one and no to the other, then the list was completed. I never saw decisions made so quickly."

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Ivanka Trump, Founder and CEO, Ivanka Trump Collection and Executive Vice President Development and Acquisitions The Trump Organization, speaks at the Fortune Most Powerful Women Summit at the Mandarin Oriental hotel in Washington, Wednesday, Oct. 14, 2015. (AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster)

Ivanka, whom I spoke with at her father's rally in Virginia, knows she has her father's ear and respect. She says she understands the important role she will have if her father wins the election in November. 

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The 32-year-old mother of three says she doesn't take it lightly. 


"My role will always be daughter. That's always my first role. But there are issues that are so core to me and things that I've advocated for my entire professional career supporting women, empowering women to create the lives that they want to lead," said Ivanka, as she prepared to meet military wives at a round table discussion with her father and his senior advisor Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn.

Part of her plans, she said, is to expand her advocacy for her campaign #WomanWhoWork. She's already done that, showcasing the important work of Leigh Searl, the founder of America's Career Force, whose group helps military wives stay employed through numerous deployments.

Wead, who spends his time researching archives, journals and letters of past presidents, said it's been daughters that have often played the most remarkable roles and many times acted as de-facto first ladies when their mothers couldn't or wouldn't take it on themselves.


But the more seemingly glamorous lives of first daughters in the 21st Century differ from the difficulties faced by first daughters in early America.

"In early American history and middle American history,  daughters and daughter-in-laws ran the White House, more often than first ladies, and it's something that's still somewhat taboo to talk about," said Wead. "That's often because many first ladies were invalid, they had medical issues, and some had no function or role were because they were too weak to complete the demanding tasks." 

Andrew Johnson's daughter, Martha, became a de-facto first lady in the White House because her mother was ill and spent most of her time in her room. Martha took on her mother's role and made history at the White House.

"She advocated for her father," Wead said. "Most of the important protocol at the White House can be traced back to Martha." 

Dwight D. Eisenhower's wife was afraid of flying, so his daughter, Barbara, became a de-facto first lady and he took to important campaign events, rallies and meetings, Wead said.

Franklin D. Roosevelt's daughter Anna Eleanor Roosevelt, who advocated for women's issues, also became a very close confidant of her father. Historical evidence shows that she, in many instances, she played a more significant role than her mother, Eleanor, he added. 

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President -elect Franklin Roosevelt and his daughter, Anna, Mrs. Curtis Dall, stand are in front of the Roosevelt home on Jan. 23, 1933 at Warm Springs, Georgia. They returned from Muscle Shoals, Alabama. Roosevelt's visit to Muscle Shoals included officials and experts involved in the planning for the development of the Tennessee Valley by means of a public authority. (AP Photo)

"The list of daughter's who've played significant roles in the White House is long," said Wead. "It's nothing new, but many times it's been covered up. Men like to take credit for what women have done, and in history, women stayed in the shadows."


In the 21st century, presidential children will define their own future.

For Ivanka, who doesn't shy away from, or apologize for, her privileged life, it's a way to make a difference.

"Of course, obviously this campaign and hopefully a Trump presidency will give me the platform to advocate on a much larger level with those very same issues," she said. 

You can follow Sara A. Carter on Twitter @SaraCarterDC 

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