In scandal's wake, Melania Trump keeps her distance from Donald

Melania Trump is not in Davos. She was planning to go — her office had already announced that she would be there to “support the president” as he hobnobs with the global elites at the World Economic Forum. But the first lady is staying in Washington for what her office opaquely calls “scheduling and logistical reasons.” What happened?

Well, one thing that happened was the disclosure that Donald Trump’s lawyer arranged a $130,000 payment to a porn star, reportedly to keep quiet about her decade-ago affair with Trump.

In the swirl of news over the last week, Melania’s defection — which was announced on the couple’s 13th wedding anniversary — didn’t get much public attention. (Yahoo News White House correspondent Hunter Walker asked the White House how the Trumps celebrated, but got no answer.) To the many rules that Mrs. Trump’s husband has rewritten in the past two years, add one more — that the public will always care how a politician’s wife reacts to news of his infidelities.

RELATED: Melania Trump in her White House role

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A look at Melania Trump in her White House role
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A look at Melania Trump in her White House role
First Lady Melania Trump and her son Barron Trump participate in the 70th National Thanksgiving turkey pardoning ceremony in the Rose Garden of the White House in Washington, U.S., November 21, 2017. REUTERS/Carlos Barria
U.S. first lady Melania Trump reads the children's book "Party Animals" at the 139th annual White House Easter Egg Roll on the South Lawn of the White House in Washington, U.S., April 17, 2017. REUTERS/Joshua Roberts
U.S. First Lady Melania Trump greets school children as she tours the holiday decorations with reporters at the White House in Washington, U.S. November 27, 2017. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst
First lady Melania Trump visits American International School of Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, May 21, 2017. REUTERS/Hamad I Mohammed
U.S. President Donald Trump delivers remarks as he hosts a Congressional picnic event, accompanied by First Lady Melania Trump, at the White House in Washington, U.S., June 22, 2017. REUTERS/Carlos Barria
First Lady Melania Trump holds a baby as U.S. President Donald Trump (not pictured) greets members of the congress and their families as they attend a congressional picnic event at the White House in Washington, U.S., June 22, 2017. REUTERS/Carlos Barria
US First Lady Melania Trump with France's First Lady Brigitte Trogneux during the second day of G7 Taormina summit on the island of Sicily in Taormina, Italy on May 27, 2017. (Photo by Gabriele Maricchiolo/NurPhoto via Getty Images)
WASHINGTON, DC - JUNE 04: First lady Melania Trump and President Donald Trump exit the residence to attend a reception at Ford's Theatre on June 4, 2017 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Olivier Douliery-Pool/Getty Images)
U.S. first lady Melania Trump introduces her husband President Donald Trump as he rallies with service members at Sigonella Air Force Base at Naval Air Station Sigonella at the end of Trump's participation in the G7 summit in Sicily, Italy May 27, 2017. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY
US First Lady Melania Trump (R) visits the Queen Fabiola children's hospital, on the sidelines of the NATO (North Atlantic Treaty Organization) summit, on May 25, 2017 in Brussels. US President Donald Trump meets NATO and EU leaders for the first time with the US president set to press nervous allies to do more on terrorism after the Manchester bombing. / AFP PHOTO / BELGA / LAURIE DIEFFEMBACQ / Belgium OUT (Photo credit should read LAURIE DIEFFEMBACQ/AFP/Getty Images)
BRUSSELS , BELGIUM - MAY 24, 2017: President Donald Trump and First Lady Melania Trump pictured during their meeting with Queen Mathilde and King Philippe of Belgium. (Picture by Didier Lebrun/Photonews via Getty Images)
US President Donald Trump (R) and First Lady Melania Trump step off the Air Force One upon arrival at Melsbroek military airport in Steenokkerzeel on May 24, 2017. US President Donald Trump arrived in Brussels ahead of his first talks with NATO and European Union leaders. / AFP PHOTO / Emmanuel DUNAND (Photo credit should read EMMANUEL DUNAND/AFP/Getty Images)
ROME, ITALY - MAY 24: US First Lady Melania Trump Visits the Paediatric Hospital Bambin Gesù on May 24, 2017 Rome, Italy. (Photo by Vatican Pool - Corbis/Corbis via Getty Images)
VATICAN CITY, VATICAN - MAY 24: Pope Francis exchanges gifts with United States President Donald Trump and First Lady Melania Trump during an audience at the Apostolic Palace on May 24, 2017 in Vatican City, Vatican. The President Trump will return on Italy on Friday attending the Group of 7 Summit in Sicily. (Photo by Vatican Pool/Getty Images)
First lady Melania Trump is greeted as she visits GE All women business process service center in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, May 21, 2017. REUTERS/Hamad I Mohammed
U.S. President Donald Trump and first lady Melania Trump arrive aboard Air Force One at King Khalid International Airport in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia May 20, 2017. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst
U.S. President Donald Trump and Melania Trump depart the White House to embark on a trip to the Middle East and Europe, in Washington, U.S., May 19, 2017. REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque
U.S. President Donald Trump and U.S. first lady Melania Trump are pictured at the 139th annual White House Easter Egg Roll on the South Lawn of the White House in Washington, U.S., April 17, 2017. REUTERS/Joshua Roberts TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY
U.S. first lady Melania Trump and China's first lady Peng Liyuan applaud after students performed for them at Bak Middle School of the Arts in West Palm Beach, Florida, U.S., April 7, 2017. REUTERS/Joe Skipper
U.S. first lady Melania Trump watches as eighth grade art students paint at the Excel Academy public charter school in Washington, U.S., April 5, 2017. REUTERS/Joshua Roberts
U.S. President Donald Trump (L) and first lady Melania Trump (2ndL) welcome Jordan?s King Abdullah (R) and Queen Rania at the White House in Washington, U.S., April 5, 2017. REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque
U.S. President Donald Trump kisses his wife Melania during a "Make America Great Again" rally at Orlando Melbourne International Airport in Melbourne, Florida, U.S. February 18, 2017. REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque
U.S. first lady Melania Trump and Sara Netanyahu look at the lunch counter exhibit during a visit to the African American Museum of History and Culture in Washington, U.S., February 15, 2017. REUTERS/Joshua Roberts
U.S. First Lady Melania Trump (L) and Akie Abe, wife of Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, listen to a guide as they tour Morikami Museum and Japanese Gardens in Delray Beach, Florida, U.S., February 11, 2017. REUTERS/Joe Skipper
U.S. President Donald Trump talks to journalist members of the travel pool accompanied by First Lady Melania Trump on board of the Air Force One during his trip to Palm Beach, Florida, U.S., February 10, 2017. REUTERS/Carlos Barria
With her face bearing the scars of an acid attack, Natalia Ponce de Leon stands with first lady Melania Trump after being recognized at the 2017 Secretary of State?s International Women of Courage (IWOC) Award ceremony at the State Department in Washington, U.S., March 29, 2017. REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque
U.S. President Donald Trump and U.S. first lady Melania Trump walk with their son Barron to Marine One at the White House in Washington, U.S., March 17, 2017. REUTERS/Joshua Roberts
U.S. first lady Melania Trump (L) sits with Sara, wife of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, during a visit to the Hadassah Ein Kerem hospital in Jerusalem May 22, 2017. REUTERS/Sebastian Scheiner/Pool
U.S. President Donald Trump and First Lady Melania Trump host a reception for Senators and their spouses at the East Room of the White House in Washington, U.S., March 28, 2017. REUTERS/Carlos Barria
U.S. first lady Melania Trump touches the Western Wall, Judaism's holiest prayer site, in Jerusalem's Old City May 22, 2017. REUTERS/Ronen Zvulun
U.S. President Donald Trump and first lady Melania Trump hold hands as they arrive at the Naval Air Station Sigonella to visit U.S. troops before returning to Washington D.C. at Sigonella Air Force Base in Sigonella, Sicily, Italy, May 27, 2017REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY
U.S. President Donald Trump and First Lady Melania Trump leave the MedStar Hospital Center following their visit to injured victims, after a gunman opened fire on a baseball field where Republican lawmakers were practicing for a charity game, in Washington, DC, U.S. June 14, 2017. REUTERS/Carlos Barria TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY
U.S. President Donald Trump and first lady Melania Trump arrive for dinner at Trump National Golf Club in Bedminster, New Jersey, July 14, 2017. REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque
U.S. President Donald Trump and First Lady Melania Trump leave after attending the traditional Bastille Day military parade on the Champs-Elysees avenue in Paris, France, July 14, 2017. REUTERS/Charles Platiau
U.S. First Lady Melania Trump reacts during the traditional Bastille Day military parade on the Champs-Elysees avenue in Paris, France, July 14, 2017. REUTERS/Charles Platiau
U.S. President Donald Trump and First Lady Melania Trump board Air Force One as they depart Orly aiport after the traditional Bastille Day military parade in Paris, France, July 14, 2017. REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque
U.S. President Donald Trump and First Lady Melania Trump stand in front of the American flag at the end of the traditional Bastille Day military parade on the Champs-Elysees in Paris, France, July 14, 2017. REUTERS/Gonzalo Fuentes
From L-R, Brigitte Macron, wife of French President Emmanuel Macron, U.S. President Donald Trump and First lady Melania Trump pose at the Jules Verne restaurant for a private dinner at the Eiffel Tower in Paris, France, July 13, 2107. REUTERS/Yves Herman
French President Emmanuel Macron (R) tours Marechal Foch's Tomb with US President Donald Trump (C) and First Lady Melania Trump (L) at Les Invalides museum in Paris, France, July 13, 2017. REUTERS/Ian Langsdon/Pool
U.S. President Donald Trump and first lady Melania Trump board Air Force One as they depart Joint Base Andrews in Maryland, U.S., enroute to Paris July 12, 2017. REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque
U.S. First Lady Melania Trump visits the Necker Hospital for children in Paris, France, July 13, 2017. REUTERS/Philippe Wojazer TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY
U.S. First Lady Melania Trump is greeted by Hamburg mayor Olaf Scholz during a G20 leaders spouses event at the townhall during the G20 summit in Hamburg, Germany July 8, 2017 REUTERS/Jens Buettner, Pool
U.S. President Donald Trump and his wife Melania Trump attend a concert at the Elbphilharmonie Concert Hall during the G20 summit in Hamburg, Germany, July 7, 2017. REUTERS/Kay Nietfeld,Pool
Hamburg mayor Olaf Scholz, U.S. First Lady Melania Trump, the husband of the German Chancellor Joachim Sauer and U.S. President Donald Trump stand together after a family photo of the participants of the G20 summit and their spouses prior a concert at the Elbphilharmonie in Hamburg, Germany, July 7, 2017. REUTERS/Ludovic Marin/POOL
U.S. President Donald Trump and his wife Melania attend a concert at the Elbphilharmonie Concert Hall during the G20 summit in Hamburg, Germany July 7, 2017. REUTERS/Christian Charisius,Pool
First Lady of the U.S. Melania Trump waves as she, U.S. President Donald Trump, Polish President Andrzej Duda and Polish First Lady Agata Kornhauser-Duda leave after Trump's public speech at Krasinski Square, in Warsaw, Poland July 6, 2017. REUTERS/Laszlo Balogh
U.S. President Donald Trump and First Lady Melania Trump arrive aboard Air Force One at Warsaw military airport in Warsaw, Poland July 5, 2017. REUTERS/Laszlo Balogh
U.S. President Donald Trump and First Lady Melania Trump arrive for the G20 leaders summit in Hamburg, Germany July 6, 2017. REUTERS/Axel Schmidt
U.S. President Donald Trump and first lady Melania Trump welcome South Korean President Moon Jae-in and his wife Kim Jeong-sook to the White House in Washington, U.S., June 29, 2017. REUTERS/Carlos Barria
President Donald Trump concludes his remarks while First Lady Melania Trump applauds as they welcome military families who have gathered for a Fourth of July picnic on the South Lawn of the White House prior to a fireworks display, in Washington, U.S., July 4, 2017. REUTERS/Mike Theiler
U.S. President Donald Trump and First Lady Melania Trump wave as India's Prime Minister Narendra Modi leaves the White House after a visit, in Washington, U.S., June 26, 2017. REUTERS/Carlos Barria
First lady Melania Trump listens with Vice President Mike Pence (2ndL) and Secretary of State Rex Tillerson during a joint news conference between U.S. President Donald Trump and Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi in the Rose Garden of the White House in Washington, U.S., June 26, 2017. REUTERS/Carlos Barria
U.S. President Donald Trump (C) and first lady Melania Trump meet with Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi in the Oval Office at the White House in Washington, U.S., June 26, 2017. REUTERS/Carlos Barria
U.S. First Lady Melania Trump greets schoolchildren as she tours the holiday decorations with reporters at the White House in Washington, U.S., November 27, 2017. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst
U.S. President Donald Trump waves as he walks with First Lady Melania Trump and their son Barron on the South Lawn of the White House upon their return to Washington, U.S., after a Thanksgiving vacation in Florida, November 26, 2017. REUTERS/Yuri Gripas
U.S. President Donald Trump and First Lady Melania Trump visit a U.S. Coast Guard Station Lake Worth Inlet in Riviera Beach, Florida, U.S., November 23, 2017. REUTERS/Eric Thayer
U.S. President Donald Trump speaks as his son Barron and first lady Melania Trump listen during the 70th National Thanksgiving turkey pardoning ceremony in the Rose Garden of the White House in Washington, U.S., November 21, 2017. REUTERS/Jim Bourg
U.S. President Donald Trump and U.S. first lady Melania visit the Forbidden City with China� President Xi Jinping in Beijing, China, November 8, 2017. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst
FILE: First Lady Melania Trump listens as U.S. President Donald Trump, not pictured, speaks to members of the media before boarding Marine One on the South Lawn of the White House in Washington, D.C., U.S., on Friday, Oct. 13, 2017. The one year anniversary of U.S. President Donald Trump's inauguration falls on Saturday, January 20, 2018. Our editors select the best archive images looking back over Trumps first year in office. Photographer: Al Drago/Bloomberg via Getty Images
U.S. President Donald Trump, first lady Melania Trump and their son Barron step from Air Force One upon their arrival at Joint Base Andrews in Maryland, U.S., January 15, 2018. REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque
U.S. President Donald Trump and first lady Melania Trump, with their son Barron, arrive for a New Year's Eve party at his Mar-a-Lago club in Palm Beach, Florida, U.S. December 31, 2017. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY
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Until Trump changed everything, the public was insatiably interested in what the wronged spouse thinks. When Bill Clinton was accused of Oval Office dalliances, for instance, Hillary Clinton at first became his fiercest defender, blaming the charges on a “vast right wing conspiracy.” She also became the subject of endless speculation about whether she would stay in the marriage or leave. The photo of the couple walking forlornly toward the presidential helicopter, with Chelsea between them holding each of their hands, ran with countless stories about the tense state of their marriage.

When John Edwards was found to have fathered a child out of wedlock, attention also focused on his wife. Some publications were reluctant to cover the story at first, in part out of respect for Elizabeth Edwards, who was fighting cancer at the time. At first Elizabeth defended her husband, but then she announced she was separating from him.

Ditto for Eliot Spitzer’s payments to prostitutes, when much of the coverage centered on why we expect wronged women, like his wife, Silda, to stand publicly — and clearly miserably — by their husband’s side. Or Anthony Weiner’s lewd texting, when as much ink and energy was dedicated to why his wife, Huma Abedin, stayed with him (she did eventually file for divorce last year) and what price she would pay in her own career for his behavior.

The meme of the wronged wife, and the public’s outrage on her behalf, became an entrenched part of popular culture. The TV show “The Good Wife” rode it for seven seasons.  In the musical “Hamilton,” the title character’s admission that he had an affair leads to brief glee from his political opponents, which abruptly ends with the words “his poor wife.”  That segues into a wrenching solo, and the rest of the show focuses more on her anger and eventual forgiveness than it does on the political price he paid.

There has been, to be sure, much speculation about the Trump marriage: The way he left her behind when the couple arrived at the White House on Inauguration Day; how her smile turned to a frown during the ceremony; how she didn’t move to the White House for months, and swatted his hand away when he reached for hers on a tarmac; and, most recently, how the photo she chose to tweet on the first anniversary of his taking office was of herself not with her husband but with the military escort who accompanied her to her seat.

But the public reaction to the news that weeks before Election Day Trump’s lawyer, Michael Cohen, set up a shell corporation to pay Daniels shows the fundamental rulebook for public reaction to sex scandals no longer applies. (Cohen has denied that Trump and Daniels had an affair but has not denied the payment nor said what it was for.)

There was no “stand by your man” statement, no public display of support. While Melania did travel to Florida with her husband immediately after the allegations were first published in the Wall Street Journal, she did not attend any events with him there that weekend. The closest she came to signaling her feelings was canceling her trip to Davos, and while it appeared to speak volumes it was not accompanied by the headlines and speculation that would previously have been de rigueur in such circumstances.

RELATED: A look at President Trump's former wives and girlfriends

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Donald Trump's former girlfriends and wives
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Donald Trump's former girlfriends and wives
(L-R) Entrepreneur Donald Trump and girlfriend, actress Marla Maples. (Photo by Time Life Pictures/DMI/The LIFE Picture Collection/Getty Images)
Donald Trump and girlfriend Melissa during Literacy Volunteers Honor The 100th Birthday of The Late Art Deco Designer Erte at Trump Towers in New York City, New York, United States. (Photo by Ron Galella, Ltd./WireImage)
E 336287 006 Nyc 8/19/98 'Blade' N.Y. Premiere Donald Trump & New Girlfriend Model Kylie Bax. (Photo By Evan Agostini/Getty Images)
FLUSHING MEADOWS, UNITED STATES: Donald Trump and his girlfriend Celina Midelfar watch Conchita Martinez and Amanda Coetzer 07 September at US Open in Flushing Meadows, NY. AFP PHOTO Timothy CLARY (Photo credit should read TIMOTHY CLARY/AFP/Getty Images)
UNITED STATES - MAY 07: Donald Trump and girlfriend Melania Knauss are on hand for GQ magazine's party at the Milk Studios. (Photo by Richard Corkery/NY Daily News Archive via Getty Images)
NEW YORK - APRIL 02: Kara Young and Donald Trump attend the New York Magazine 30th anniversary party April 2,1998 in New York City. (Photo by Sonia Moskowitz/Getty Images)
Kylie Bax, Donald Trump NYC July 28, 1998. (Photo by Patrick McMullan/Getty Images)
Donald Trump (2ndL) and his wife Melania (R) pose with then U.S. President Bill Clinton and Trump's model ex-girlfriend Kylie Bax at the U.S. Open in Flushing, New York, U.S., in this September 8, 2000 handout photo. Courtesy William J. Clinton Presidential Library/Handout via REUTERS 
ATLANTIC CITY, NJ - JUNE 27: Businessman Donald Trump and Mistress Marla Maples ringside at Tyson vs Spinks. One of the first photos of Marla Maples and Donald Trump together Convention Hall in Atlantic City, New Jersey June 27 1988. (Photo by Jeffrey Asher/ Getty Images)
Ivana Trump and Donald Trump (Photo by Ron Galella/WireImage)
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Perhaps it’s because this is the second time the Trumps have been through this particular type of news cycle. In October 2016, when the “Access Hollywood” tape surfaced, Melania did a version of the traditional public wife walk, telling Anderson Cooper that Trump’s boasting about grabbing women was “boy talk, and he was led on — like, egged on — from the host to say dirty and bad stuff.”

Or perhaps it’s because this first lady is so opaque, and those who might be inclined to speculate or empathize have been given no window into how she might be feeling. Other wives weathering scandals had friends who would dish. Articles about the Clinton and Weiner marriages, for instance, were filled with anonymous quotes from friends of the couple, who served as conduits for their pain. But Melania Trump’s public-facing world seems to be only herself, her parents and her son, Barron.  Who are her close friends?

Perhaps because the man who is accused of cheating on her does not seem to pay a political price for his actions and because his actions do not “stick” to him, the usual public embrace does not envelop her. Yes, polls show she is the most popular member of the Trump family, but still her approval numbers are lower than her disapproval numbers.

And so, one of the many lessons of this presidency may be this: When every day brings an accusation or misstep that might have brought down a previous president, it leads to a numbing lack of surprise that translates into lack of sympathy for his wife. With a news cycle in hyperdrive, there is neither time nor inclination to wonder what Melania is thinking.

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