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When Donald Trump Met Melania: The First Couple's Unusual Road to the White House


Donald Trump, Melania Trump, 2016

The third time has proved to be the charm for Donald Trump.

A pile-up of stories debating the happiness of their marriage aside, Trump won the presidency in 2016 and, almost 20 years after Melania Trump was first asked about the prospect of being first lady of the United States, they moved into the White House.

And there they remain, much to his supporters' delight and to his critics' persistent irritation.

"I love Washington. I love to live there. And I made the White House home—for our son and my husband—and we love to live in the White House," Melania told ABC News in October. "We are very honored to serve our great nation."

But with no public events scheduled for Friday, it's likely that they're planning on marking the president's 73rd birthday at their Mar-a-Lago estate in Palm Beach, where the Trumps like to spend as many weekends and holidays as possible.

Earlier this month the first couple—and all of Trump's four grown children—visited England and enjoyed the literal royal treatment, dining with Queen Elizabeth II and her family, including future kings Prince Charles and Prince William and their wives. In between tweet storms, the obligations of governing and a news cycle that manages to feel more 25/8 than 24/7, it's evident that both Trumps relish the formal events where Melania gets a chance to shine and be the "traditional" first lady she once envisioned herself being, long before it became apparent there would be nothing traditional about the Trump presidency.

Except, perhaps, for his wife's stalwart support.

"I love what I do," Melania told a group of middle school children in North Carolina in April while on a visit to Fort Bragg with second lady Karen Pence. Asked if she was up for a second Trump term, she replied, "I think our husbands are doing [a] fantastic job, and I will support my husband if he decided to run again.

"And yes, it's a privilege, a great honor to serve, and I will be here."

But the public dynamic of the Trumps' relationship, including the sort of things they say about each other in the press, has hardly varied since they first got together in the late 1990s.

The most inscrutable first lady in decades rarely diverges from the script as far as championing her husband goes, though she has assured on several occasions that she doesn't shrink from letting him know when she disagrees with him.

"I don't always agree with what he tweets," Melania told ABC News' Tom Llamas during her visit to Africa last fall. "And I tell him that. I give him my honest opinion and honest advice. And sometimes he listens and sometimes he doesn't. But I have my own voice and my opinions and it's very important for me that I express what I feel."

In that respect, not much has changed, though many had hoped she would raise her voice much louder when it came to certain issues.

Except that now there's more talk of public service and less about sex and nudity.

A still-married but separated Donald Trump first met Melania Knauss in September 1998 at a party at Manhattan's famed Kit Kat Club thrown by Paolo Zampolli, the president of ID Models. It was the middle of New York Fashion Week and Melania, a 28-year-old model who had moved to the U.S. from Slovenia in 1996, was out with friends. Trump was on a date but, as he recalled later, he was immediately drawn to his future wife, if not immediately down for the count.

"I went crazy. I was actually supposed to meet somebody else," Trump recalled to Larry King on CNN in 2005. "There was this great supermodel sitting next to Melania. I was supposed to meet this supermodel. They said, 'Look, there's so and so.' I said, 'Forget about her. Who is the one on the left? And it was Melania."

"It was a great chemistry and energy," Melania concurred. "We had a great time. We started to talk. And, you know, something was there right away."
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