In her brief time at the White House — Mrs. Trump moved to Washington with her son, Barron, last June — she took her time establishing her own profile, with only a stilletoed misstep or two — literally: She piqued the public’s interest by wearing high heels on a trip to an area decimated by a hurricane. But she also drew positive attention for speaking before her husband about a protest in Charlottesville, Va., that left one woman dead.
In January, amid news that Stephanie Clifford, the pornographic actress known as Stormy Daniels, had accused the president’s attorney of paying her to stay silent about an affair days before the 2016 election, Mrs. Trump put the brakes on her public appearances. Her office dismissed her absence as a coincidence, while others close to the president said that Mrs. Trump had been surprised and angered by the news reports.
In recent months, Mrs. Trump has emerged more often without Mr. Trump by her side. She has twice been seen avoiding or swatting the president’s hand away during public appearances — mishaps she has privately dismissed as bad photography angles — and she is rolling out her platform even as Mr. Trump and his legal team have added new, confusing contours to the story surrounding Ms. Daniels. She has directed her 10-person East Wing staff to stay focused by telling them that the stories swirling about Ms. Daniels are “just noise.”
The state visit by French President Emmanuel Macron and his wife, Brigitte, brought a new level of attention to the East Wing, particularly after Mrs. Macron commented that Mrs. Trump was essentially trapped in the White House.
“Melania can’t do anything, she can’t even open a window in the White House,” Mrs. Macron told the French newspaper Le Monde. “She can’t put her nose out. Me, every day, I’m out in Paris.”
One person close to Mrs. Trump said that, like other modern first ladies, she has chafed against some of the boundaries of living in the White House. But, that person said, she has begun to embrace the possibilities of her role, particularly because she has been touched by letters she has received.
According to two others who know her, she has adjusted to the role primarily because her 12-year-old-son is happy in Washington.
“She’s a devoted mother,” Hilary Ross, the wife of Wilbur Ross, Mr. Trump’s commerce secretary and a frequent dinner guest of the Trumps, said in an interview. “And if her son is happy, she is happy.”