When a London tabloid published a story online this afternoon that first lady Melania Trump wore a jacket emblazoned with the (huge) words “I REALLY DON’T CARE, DO U?” while en route to visit migrant children separated from their parents, the collective reaction was this: It must, MUST be a hoax.
It wasn’t. The White House quickly defended her fashion choice. So yes, that’s exactly what it said on the back of the first lady’s jacket from retailer Zara.
Until that moment, her surprise visit to Texas was seen as a smart political move from a White House trying to end the week on a more compassionate note than where it had started, with network television anchors hosting live outside of detention centers with children held inside. Now instead of the images of kids behind bars, viewers were watching the first lady eager to fly south and learn about their plight.
When asked by reporters what Melania was attempting to express with her outfit choice, first lady spokeswoman Stephanie Grisham responded, “It’s a jacket. There was no hidden message. After today’s important visit to Texas, I hope this isn’t what the media is going to choose to focus on.”
President Trump had his own theory Thursday evening.
?I REALLY DON?T CARE, DO U?? written on the back of Melania?s jacket, refers to the Fake News Media. Melania has learned how dishonest they are, and she truly no longer cares!— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) June 21, 2018
In an apparent show of defiance, the first lady donned the jacket yet again as she arrived back in Maryland early Thursday evening, and then continued wearing it as she walked into the White House.
Coming back to Grisham’s point, no one suspects the message was hidden — it would be hard to hide something in that size font — but when the first lady of the United States selects that piece of outerwear for this kind of visit, you have to know we’re going to ask why.
And yes, we know there are many more important questions Thursday than an outfit choice. A day after Trump signed an executive order ending the separation of migrant children from their parents, there was no clear sign as to how those already split up would be reunited.
And despite Trump’s tweet voicing his opinion on the matter, the first lady herself hasn’t actually weighed in, which means we’re still left to speculate. With that in mind, here are four theories as to what she may have meant with her outfit choice:
1. It was some inside message meant for the president himself
Melania Trump has been vocal about the issue of children being separated from their families, noting on Twitter that she “hates to see” the images she was seeing out of Texas and imploring Congress to fix the problem. Trump himself cited his wife’s stance as one of the reasons why he signed the executive order on Wednesday.
So maybe this was a way of telling her husband: “I really don’t care” about how much you want to crack down on the borders; this isn’t fair to children. Or perhaps the jacket was a larger statement about their marriage. Since the Stormy Daniels stories began, Melania has been noticeably absent from her husband’s side. More than once, she traveled separately to Joint Base Andrews to get on Air Force One instead of being pictured on the White House lawn with the president as he got on the Marine One helicopter. Those may have been subtle jabs at her spouse. This one could have been a more overt shot across the bow.
2. It was a message to the migrants themselves
If this theory were to be true, it’s hard to imagine how this message isn’t insensitive, or really just downright harsh. Is she suggesting that she doesn’t really care the kids are without their parents because they were here illegally in the first place? If so, was that some sort of message she offered up in a show of unity with her husband? In fairness, the fact that she was traveling to Texas in the first place suggests this theory might be a bit far-fetched.
3. She was making a broader point to the electorate over its speculation on her whereabouts in recent weeks
Melania Trump has been in the news a lot lately. There was her distance from Trump in the wake of the stories her husband had an affair with a porn star. Then there was a mysterious surgery that should have had a speedy recovery and instead had her out of the public eye for weeks, despite a fiery rumor mill that fueled dozens of reasons why.
Thursday’s statement may have been a message to the speculating public that the first lady really doesn’t care what absurd ideas the world may have about where she’s been or what she’s thinking. She has a job to do as the wife of the president and that’s where she’ll focus her attention. Shouldn’t they do the same?
4. There’s no message at all
If the first lady’s spokeswoman was right and there really was no message inherent in the words splashed across her clothing, then maybe she actually, truly, is saying: “I really don’t care.”
Do u?Jaclyn Reiss of the Globe staff contributed to this story. James Pindell can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @jamespindell or subscribe to his Ground Game newsletter on politics: http://pages.email.bostonglobe.com/GroundGameSignUp