Trump kids on the campaign trail: Don Jr. wows, Ivanka disappoints

Republican Presidential Candidate Donald Trump's children Ivanka Trump and Donald Trump Jr., during the second day session of the Republican National Convention in Cleveland, Tuesday, July 19, 2016. Both are giving testimonials about their father.
Republican Presidential Candidate Donald Trump's children Ivanka Trump and Donald Trump Jr., during the second day session of the Republican National Convention in Cleveland, Tuesday, July 19, 2016. Both are giving testimonials about their father. AP

On a Monday two weeks before the election, Donald Trump Jr. rallied a boisterous crowd to support Republican Senate and House candidates at an airport hanger in rural Indiana with tough talk about building a border wall, bashing the media and even a few chants of “Lock her up!’

Three days later, his sister, Ivanka, appeared alongside Republican Sen. Cindy Hyde Smith at an official government event at a nonprofit activity center in Gulfport, Mississippi, touting child-care options for working women in front of about 40 handpicked guests.

President Donald Trump’s children — especially the oldest two, Don Jr. and Ivanka — were celebrities long before their father entered the White House last year, making them each powerful surrogates for him, his agenda, his political allies. But they have taken decidedly different tacks as their father faces an election that could maintain a Republican-led Congress that will follow his agenda or a Democratic-led Congress that could investigate —even possibly impeach — him.

The 40-year-old Don Jr., as he’s known, has headlined more than 60 campaign events this year to roaring crowds, leading some to speculate — and hope — he will run for office one day. But Ivanka, 37, has only participated in a handful of quiet political events, raising questions about why she wouldn’t do more to help in a way her brother can’t — persuade centrists to support Republicans candidates in swing districts.

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“They’re successful in their own right,” said Julie Melvin, 52, a nurse anesthetist from Indianapolis who attended Don Jr.’s rally. “If you don’t like Trump, just look at his kids ... they’re reflection of his values and morals,” she said glowingly.

Michael Caputo, a top adviser to Trump during his first campaign. said he was disappointed that Ivanka — who he described as the president’s “secret weapon” — was not dispatched to House districts where she could appeal to independents, including suburban women who polls show that Trump is losing in recent months. “The children should be deployed,” Caputo said. “This is a war.”

Trump’s other adult son, Eric, has engaged in some political activities but has largely spent his time running the family’s global real estate empire while his wife, Lara, advises Trump’s re-election campaign and appears frequently at events, especially in her native North Carolina.

“There isn’t a Republican candidate in this state that would turn down a visit from anyone with the name Trump,” said Dallas Woodhouse, executive director of the Republican Party of North Carolina., which has several competitive House races.

John McLaughlin, a long-time Republican pollster based in New York who worked for Trump in 2016, said Ivanka could be successful campaigning in more moderate districts where she appeals to swing voters, including women, while Don can drive the message in red states where voters appreciate his background in business as well as his love for hunting and fishing.

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“Different members of the family have different constituencies,” said a source close to Don Jr. who is not authorized to speak publicly. “You need all of those constituencies to win.”

Charles Stoyonovich, a retiree from Greenfield, Indiana, said the Trumps are speaking from their experiences as entrepreneurs in New York, which have prepared them for a political fight.

“You have a family with a DNA of intestinal fortitude that are able to go out and meet the challenges of that environment and prosper,” he said. “My God. It’s like climbing Mt. Everest every day and, on breaks, you go fight a lion. This is what your daily environment is.”

The White House did not respond to requests for comment.

Like father, like son

In the months before the election, Don Jr. — an executive at the Trump Organization and father of five who appeared on his dad’s reality TV show “The Apprentice” — headlined campaign rallies and fundraisers in mostly conservative areas, some garnering thousands of enthusiastic supporters as if his name were on a ballot. He repeated zinger after zinger from Florida to Montana, West Virginia to Ohio.

“If Donald Trump came out today in favor of oxygen,” Don Jr. said, “the Democrats would be against it.”

“The economy is so good right now that Barack Obama is trying to take credit for it two years later,” he said. “That is the stupidest thing that I’ve heard in both economics and politics.”

Don Jr.’s rallies have the same feel as his father’s — but miniaturized. Since September, he has been accompanied by his girlfriend, former Fox News host Kimberly Guilfoyle, who is every bit of the draw as he is, according to interviews.

At Don Jr.’s recent event in Indiana, he spoke for only 15 minutes but energized the crowd with his one-liners and animated gestures at a rally for Mike Braun, who is running against Sen. Joe Donnelly, and Greg Pence, brother of Vice President Mike Pence, who is running for the House.

“He’s a great spokesman for his dad,” said Josh Phillips, 32, a painter who attended his first campaign rally and plans to vote for the first time this year. “He punches back. I love that style and apparently it’s working.”

Don Jr. tells crowds his father needs help from Republicans to support his policies, such as the tax cut bill, that have already improved the economy.

“He can’t do it by himself,” he said. “He needs guys who are willing to get in there to fight, because not everyone on our side fights.”

Adviser but not campaigner

Ivanka — a mother of three, a one-time fashion entrepreneur and executive in her father’s real estate company — was reportedly planning to hit the campaign trail this year. Instead of headlining political events, she has spent months quietly pushing her pet projects at low-key government events in her role as senior adviser to the president.

In a dozen interviews, Trump supporters and current and former aides say there’s no doubt Ivanka would be helpful to Republicans but said they assume she is not campaigning more because she has a job in the White House and three young children.

But others familiar with the situation said said Ivanka did not do more because her views are too liberal — unlike her brother’s, which are more in line with their father’s. Many moderate Republicans and centrists Democrats thought she would help moderate Trump on issues, including climate change and LGBT rights but that never happened.

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White House aides repeatedly declined to release details of Ivanka’s trips to McClatchy over the span of four weeks — either for a reporter to cover an event or to merely report that Ivanka attended an event. They eventually sometimes announced she participated in events after they were completed or provided details only to some local media.

A pattern emerged: She usually appeared side-by-side with Republican members of Congress who her father endorsed for election Tuesday, praising them in a way that is helpful but without being so overt as to be accused of illegally campaigning for them at a non-political event. The White House denied the events were political.

“There’s no question that having any one of the adult Trump children — in an official or political capacity — is a huge win for any candidate or elected official,” said Sean Spicer, Trump’s first press secretary who worked on the campaign.

Ivanka spoke about preparing students for the workforce at the Institute of Technology at Central in Syracuse in July alongside Rep. John Katko, who she thanked for his support of her father’s biggest legislative achievement, the 2017 tax cut bill. “Congressman Katko has been a great champion for everyone in his district,” she said at the event.

She visited a community college in Godfrey, Illinois in August with Rep. Rodney Davis, a self-described “Main Street Republican” facing a tough reelection race. “Thank you Congressman Davis for fighting everyday,” she said at the event. “He fights hard and is very persistent. We like that. We know something in my family about persistence.”

She met with NASCAR drivers and officials in October at the NASCAR Technical Institute in Mooresville, N.C. as part of her push for vocational and skills training. Rep. Ted Budd , who scored a Trump endorsement in his tough re-election, attended and promoted the event on social media. “It’s great to have in Mooresville touring the institute,” he tweeted. “We are preparing for a workforce development roundtable to highlight how is closing the skills gap.”

Ivanka’s purely political events have been mostly fundraisers. She helped House Republicans raise more than $3 million in Los Angeles and Fresno, California, in June and joined her husband, White House adviser Jared Kushner at a donor retreat for House Speaker Paul Ryan in Jackson Hole, Wyoming in August.

On Friday, she made a rare public campaign stop for Sen. Dean Heller in Nevada, thanking him for his role in helping pass the Republican tax cut bill, which included a doubling of the child credit, and Gov. Kim Reynolds in Iowa, praising her for growing the state’s workforce development.

In the final days before the election, Trump’s children fanned out across the nation. Don Jr. appeared to relish every minute. Ivanka acknowledged she didn’t campaign much. But both went for the same reason: To help their father.

Katie Glueck and Brian Murphy in Washington and Anita Lee of the Sun Herald and Joseph Bustos of the Belleville News-Democrat contributed.

Anita Kumar: 202-383-6017, @anitakumar01