Probably the most powerful personality in the American presidential campaign this year is Melania Trump, the President's (third) wife. Powerful in a passive, backgrounded way, but powerful just the same. Donald Trump has had a terrible year, what with one thing and another - America's death toll from Covid, alone, signals that - and his re-election is far from assured.
But if he does win again in November, it will almost certainly be because Melania - aloof, dignified, maintaining a separate life while also loyal to her husband - is seen as a stabilising force. As he grows older, according to Melania's biographer, he'll come to depend ever more on her judgment, which he respects.
It was Melania who advised him to pick Mike Pence as his Vice President, calculating that Pence would be content to serve as No. 2 and never challenge the boss.
They often play a dual role of "bad cop, good cop" and, according to Mary Jordan in The Art of Her Deal, Melania compensates for Donald's many blind spots. When he rails against immigrants, Melania posts compassionate messages about migrant families and their needs.
And he really, really needs her now. Just imagine if she threatened to leave him in the run-up to the election? Jordan says that she won't, but she will probably use her leverage to renegotiate their prenup arrangements to enhance security and inheritance rights for her son, Barron. She's keen to ensure that Barron, now 14, is treated equally with the rest of the Trump tribe, who, with grandchildren, form quite an extensive kinship.
So how did a young woman from a small Slovenian town, whose fluency in English isn't yet entirely perfect, get to be the First Lady of the United States? The short answer is "beauty". But beauty linked with ambition, shrewdness, the discipline, ironically, of a Communist education, and an unusual ability to keep silent and mysterious in a talky, shouty world.
The key moment in Melania's young life - she was still Melanija Knavs - was when she began studying architecture at the University of Ljubljana in the late 1980s. She saw how many students there were, and how few jobs; she observed that a brilliant architectural graduate had ended up designing windows in Germany. She perceived that she had a far greater asset than an average ability to study: beauty. She knew she possessed beauty because she noticed the impact she had on others. Besides which, her mother, Amalija, always told her how beautiful she was.
And Melania was confident about her looks. After she married Trump in 2005, she was asked if she would be with him if he weren't rich. She retorted: "If I weren't beautiful, do you think he'd be with me?" We may talk of gender equality till the cows come home - even Melania now gives speeches about gender equality - but where beauty dominates, there is little equality.
So she switched from architecture to modelling. Slovenia became independent in 1992, and Italy is just across the frontier (I've heard Slovenes referred to as "more like northern Italians") so it was just a hop to Milan's fashion hub. And then Vienna and Paris.
But sex and drugs weren't Melania's scene. Her mother kept close, as did her elder sister, Ines.
She did some nude shots for a men's mag - "I have a good body. Why should I be ashamed of it?" she asked - along with another female model, and slightly erotic text was added later, seemingly without Melania's knowledge.
But not much of a "past" has emerged and she successfully sued a tabloid for claiming she'd worked as an escort. Melania has been humiliated by Trump's philandering, and by the crude way he has been heard to speak about women: in response, she either maintains an aloof silence or just says she doesn't agree with everything he says, or does. Yet Mary Jordan in her book claims that Trump is less impulsive and calmer when Melania is around. And apparently she does love him.
But she's also carved out her own life: her father and mother are ensconced in the White House, and she has successfully obtained permanent US residency for her sister Ines. They all speak Slovenian together, which maddens Donald. The couple's son, Barron, also speaks Slovenian and, like Melania, has dual American and Slovenian citizenship.
Melania is the first foreign-born presidential spouse since the 18th century, and the first baptised Catholic since the Kennedys.
She's not known to be particularly religious - and being a third wife is a little unorthodox - but she did seem touched by meeting the Pope in 2017 and asked him to bless her rosary beads.
She apparently hopes Trump will be re-elected in November - and, anyway, she doesn't want to interrupt Barron's education. If she continues to reign as FLOTUS, it will again prove what Alexander Pope wrote in the 1700s about women, power and beauty: "Yet mark the fate of a whole sex of queens! / Pow'r all their end, but beauty all the means."