Kate Andersen Brower joined SiriusXM host and Breitbart News Executive Chairman Stephen K. Bannon on Friday morning’s edition of Breitbart News Daily to talk about her new book, First Women: The Grace and Power of America’s Modern First Ladies.
Brower said Jackie Kennedy, featured on the cover of her book, was the model First Lady all of her successors “worship,” including Hillary Clinton.
“Hillary actually went to Jackie Kennedy and asked for advice on how to raise children in the White House,” she said. “They were very close. Jackie Kennedy never felt that other First Ladies really paid her the proper respect, until Hillary Clinton.”
“The Clintons obviously went out of their way to talk about their connection with the Kennedys,” she continued, recalling “that famous photo of Bill Clinton shaking Kennedy’s hand in the Rose Garden.”
Bannon noted that the cultural power of the First Lady’s office has grown to the point where “they’re almost like CEOs,” requiring them to be “incredibly organized and really strategic in how they think.”
Brower agreed, offering Pat Nixon as an example. “I interviewed Pat Nixon’s chief of staff, and I really loved talking to people who were around Pat Nixon, because I knew very little about her,” she said. “Her chief of staff said, ‘What First Lady is understood? It’s the King, it’s not the Queen.’ This is as close as we have to a royal family, and the First Ladies are their husbands’ closest advisers, and you see, again and again, where they of course play pivotal roles.”
“You think of Jackie Kennedy and Hillary Clinton, but also Laura Bush,” Brower said. “She was somebody who, after dinner, would sit with George W. Bush and talk about what was going on in Afghanistan, and, you know, major world events.”
“And then, of course, they’re criticized no matter what they do — by everybody, by different sectors of society. There’s no way to please everybody. One First Lady told me she just did what she wanted to do because she knew she would get criticized no matter what. They have this huge spotlight, but no job description,” she observed.
Brower said her book is about “the sisterhood of these women, their empathy across party lines, and how they face these challenges of deciding how they’re going to approach the role of First Lady.”
She said she found letters between the First Ladies that beautifully illustrated these strong relationships, including correspondence between Betty Ford, Nancy Reagan, and Barbara Bush. Brower described the First Ladies as a “sorority of really intelligent women” whose friendships transcended intense partisan disputes.
In fact, she noted that “oftentimes the most difficult relationships are within the same party, because the primaries, as we see, are so heated.” She observed, for example, that Michelle Obama and Hillary Clinton “are not particularly close,” because “Michelle Obama finds it hard to forgive Hillary Clinton for what she said about her husband.” There was also some distance between Nancy Reagan and Barbara Bush, while Mrs. Bush has “befriended Michelle Obama.”
She expected the aftermath of the current presidential primary would be especially bitter, given the stress of the modern 24-hour news cycle and how the candidates’ wives have been “pitted against each other on Twitter, and things like that.”
However, a bit of friction between the tough First Ladies of the past was not unheard of, such as Betty Ford’s famous comment that Rosalynn Carter “has a way of smiling while sticking a knife in your back.”
As with her previous book, The Residence: Inside the Private World of the White House, Brower used the First Ladies as a means of offering a behind-the-scenes look at the presidency, in the manner of popular TV shows like “Upstairs, Downstairs” and “Downton Abbey.”
“They would tell me that when a decision comes from the First Lady, they would say it comes from the ‘Second Floor,’” Brower said of her interviews with White House staff. “Everyone was always worried about what the Second Floor was thinking. I always thought that was interesting, because that’s the actual, literal private living quarters for the First Family.”
Brower said First Ladies exert a subtle influence on the election process, which isn’t always detected in polling, as voters consider the possibility of each woman entering the White House alongside her husband. This is especially noticeable in the case of prospective First Gentleman and “co-President” Bill Clinton.
She also assessed Melania Trump as “both an asset and a detriment, in some ways” to Donald Trump, because some women find her “very hard to relate to,” even though she isn’t the first former fashion model with aspirations to become First Lady. “Pat Nixon and Betty Ford were both models, which is something a lot of people don’t know,” said Brower. Mrs. Trump also wouldn’t be the first First Lady to be born outside the United States, having been preceded by Louisa Adams, born in London.
She observed that First Ladies and families help to “humanize” presidential candidates. “If you saw those town halls on CNN, I think that really helped Donald Trump, because here’s a man with devoted children. That whole thing really works for them. I think that’s why you have to have children. That’s the kind of expectation we have — a President and First Lady can’t really be childless, we don’t like that.”
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You can listen to the full interview with Kate Andersen Brower below: