Eric Trump was Making America Great Again at his father’s New Jersey golf club just as United Nations Ambassador Nikki Haley crammed onto a couch with a gaggle of her “sweet friends” and the sunglasses-clad Trump surrogate Katrina Pierson reminisced about the days before politics forced her out of her car and into an Uber.
Or, so said their Instagram feeds.
If President Donald Trump’s favorite form of social media is Twitter, the outlet of choice for many of his relatives, campaign boosters and even a Cabinet member is Instagram, the photo-sharing app owned by Facebook.
People in Trump’s orbit—including several of his children—use Instagram to highlight television appearances and tout the president’s luxury properties. It’s a venue for pushing “MAGA” messaging and for showing off the offspring of those close to the president.
But most of all, Republican operatives watching these social feeds closely say the Instagram accounts offer a glamorous glimpse into the president’s inner circle and his ritzy enclaves, providing routine reminders of the days when “Trump” was more closely associated with celebrity than the White House. The feeds are a nonstop stream of fodder for a clamoring, adoring Instagram fan base that doesn’t seem to mind the disconnect between that Trumpian lifestyle and that of the president’s working-class base.
“It’s not celebrity-esque,” said Wesley Donehue, a South Carolina-based GOP digital strategist. “It’s straight celebrity.”
Of the five Trump children, Ivanka Trump is the only one who works in the administration, and her prolific feed is accordingly the most on-message. There are posts featuring the country’s leading CEOS and pictures with major foreign officials, snaps with senators and images of Ivanka abroad.
But there are also the videos of her young children bouncing around her well-appointed home, hand-holding scenes with her husband, Jared Kushner, as the couple jets around the globe, and images of the Trump-Kushner clan on various luxe-looking vacations.
“They understand, more so than your typical politicians, how celebrity works, and you see that in their usage of Instagram,” said another Republican digital strategist with plans to be involved in the 2018 midterms, who isn’t authorized to speak on the record. “It’s more Kim Kardashian than Mitch McConnell. It’s a great way to connect with their supporters. It gives a bit of a behind-the-scenes look into what it’s like to go into the White House. That’s a natural extension from their roots as a reality TV family.”
Ivanka Trump also appears to take an interest in how others portray her on Instagram, displaying a relatively unusual level of engagement with her fans, for either a celebrity or a politician. In contrast to some prominent users such as Beyoncé, who don’t follow fan pages—or many other Instagram accounts at all—Ivanka follows around three dozen of her own fan pages.
And administrators of those accounts know it.
When the First Daughter clicked Instagram's heart button, showing her approval of a shot of Trump and Kushner posted by Instagram user Ivanka Trunp—whose Instagram page is a "Czech fan page for Ivanka Trump"—the user’s caption crowed, "IVANKA LIKED."
Indeed, many of the Ivanka Trump Instagram fan pages advertise that the real Ivanka Trump follows their feeds. And for users like Ivanka.Marie, Ivanka.lioness and Ivankatheepitome, it’s standard to note how many times she has “liked” a picture or responded to a direct message.
One person who runs an Ivanka Trump Instagram fan page shared a screenshot with McClatchy of what appeared to be a direct message conversation with Ivanka Trump. After the user thanked Trump for following her account, she said she received a reply several hours later, around the Fourth of July.
The reply, which does appear to be from Ivanka Trump, thanks the user by name, wishes her a happy Independence Day, and expressed hope "to meet you one day soon," signing off with a smooching emoji symbol.
The White House did not dispute this account, or offer comment for this story.
Donald Trump “was used to picking up the phone and calling reporters, working through New York tabloids, that kind of thing. This seems to be a younger generation of Trumps engaging the same way the generation they come from engages with the world,” said one Republican official whose organization is involved in the 2018 midterms, and who requested anonymity so as not to affect professional relationships. “It’s inherently more relatable because social media is much closer to that experience than chatting on the phone for National Enquirer.”
The Trumps aren’t the first First Family to use Instagram. The app was launched in 2010, and the Obamas were and are known to post from time to time. Neither of their young daughters, however, have verified accounts, and the Obama White House was simply not the family affair that the Trump administration’s is.
Two of Ivanka’s brothers, Don Jr. and Eric Trump, are also Instagram aficionados, as is Eric’s wife, Trump 2020 campaign adviser Lara Trump, whose feed offers a mix of animal photos, scenes from Trump properties and family gatherings, and shots of campaign swag.
The president’s adult sons remain in leadership positions at the Trump Organization, and their feeds offer a steady stream of images from the world their father has left behind—at least, during the week. But on Instagram, as in today’s political reality, the First Family’s business endeavors are often mixed with the president’s campaign slogans.
That very public, graphic melding of business and presidential politics sets off red flags for some campaign strategists, particularly Democrats.
“The extent to which their family commingles their public life, their public brand and their financial interests is alarming,” said Jesse Ferguson, a veteran Democratic strategist and communications operative. “Voters don’t want to know that they put someone in power whose family thinks it’s more important to promote their business than the public good.”
Instagram, Ferguson stressed, can be smartly used in politics to convey authenticity.
“The problem for the Trumps is not that it exposes their wealth,” he argued, “but that it exposes their use of their public profiles to enrich their wealth.”
Then, in another category, there is Nikki Haley’s account.
There, one is just as likely to find an image of South African anti-apartheid icon Nelson Mandela or Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu as a shot of Haley brunching in New York with her husband, or surrounded by friends in town from South Carolina.
“Friendships that will last a lifetime! So fun!” posted the former South Carolina governor over the weekend, the enthusiastic caption accompanying a shot of Haley and her husband joined by friends gathered around a white tablecloth-draped table. “#TeamHaley #LifeinNYC.”
“So many of these social media accounts feel like they’re coming from these stilted press shops,” the Republican official said. “Hers genuinely look like the kind of Instagrams I would see from other women her age putting out things about family, friends visiting, the view from her apartment. It’s interesting to watch her journey because she’s new to New York. That’s a long way from South Carolina.”