Considering all the precedent-busting moves we’ve seen since Donald Trump took office, the term “unprecedented” has become almost meaningless in this town. But now the first lady has done something truly…well, unprecedented. Melania Trump has called for the firing of deputy national security adviser Mira Ricardel, in a statement saying, “It is the position of the Office of the First Lady that [Ricardel] no longer deserves the honor of serving in this White House.”
Let’s put aside for a moment the oddly anachronistic tone (“…no longer deserves the honor…” really?) and consider why this move is crackling through D.C. like autumn lightning. Typically, first ladies attend a lot of ceremonial events and take up social causes with broad public support. Laura Bush campaigned for literacy. Michelle Obama promoted healthy living.
True, many have quietly advised their presidential husbands on policies, staffing arrangements, and more. Nancy Reagan even consulted an astrologer as she whispered in Ronald Reagan’s ear. But — and this is the important part — this kind of string pulling almost always occurs in a limited fashion and way behind the scenes.
Indeed, when Eleanor Roosevelt held her own press conferences and spoke up about her views, some voters were deeply troubled. When Hillary Clinton was chosen by her husband, President Bill Clinton, to lead an early effort for health care reform, some people went bananas. Especially Republicans. Why?
You may suspect this is all about old-fashioned bias against women, and certainly that plays a role. But the bigger issue for many voters is just this: First ladies are not elected. Their names do not appear on the ballot. And when they directly engage in the business of running government, voters have no way to hold them accountable.
Does Mira Ricardel deserve to keep her job, or has she done something to warrant firing? It’s not clear. But having an employee of the American taxpayers booted by someone who is not, is always going to raise a lot of eyebrows in D.C., and not a little bit of ire.