Politics & Policy

The Easiest Post-Trump GOP to Imagine Might Be One Led by Donald Trump Jr.

Donald Trump Jr. (C) hugs his father Donald Trump as Donald Jr’s wife Vanessa (L) walks past after Trump accepted the Republican presidential nomination at the 2016 Republican National Convention in July 21, 2016. (Mike Segar/Reuters)
The younger Trump is an obvious candidate to fuse his father’s populism with the movement conservatism that dominated the party before.

There’s a lot of speculation these days about the “post-Trump era.” Donald Trump will face election in one year, and even if he wins, he’ll soon be a lame duck. At least that’s what’s said. My boss Rich Lowry has been asked about “the post-Trump era” over and over. He believes the Republican party can’t just snap back to what it was before Donald Trump barged onto the scene, and that Republican politicians must develop a “synthesis” of the nationalist themes that Trump has highlighted and the conservative causes that still have the adherence of so many party members and activists.

Some are clearly trying for such a synthesis. Senator Marco Rubio is experimenting with a more worker-focused brand of politics. Tom Cotton has tried to advance nationalist concerns about trade and immigration from his perch. And Josh Hawley has added an anti-big-business politics to his cultural populism. But I’ve started to wonder if we’re not headed for a post-Trump era at all; perhaps we’re still in the pre-Trump era.

In the past week, Donald Trump Jr. has been on a whirlwind publicity tour to promote his new book, Triggered: How the Left Thrives on Hate and Wants to Silence Us, which he dedicates to “The Deplorables.” The tour has shown him to be his father’s most effective media surrogate. Asked a question by The View’s Meghan McCain about Trump Sr.’s character assassination of Khizr Khan, he swiftly launched into a monologue about record-low unemployment numbers for African Americans and rising wages at the bottom. Asked about the Ukraine whistleblower, he slapped back at the network he was on for trying to out the person who leaked video of a reporter complaining that her stories on Jeffrey Epstein were killed. Asked about his father’s indecencies, he accused co-host Joy Behar of wearing blackface and co-host Whoopi Goldberg of minimizing Roman Polanski’s rape of a child. He defended his father by saying “He fights back. That is uncustomary for Republicans.”

Technically, Trump Jr. was the third of a trio of children of prominent Republicans on The View, along with McCain (daughter of John) and Abby Huntsman (daughter of Jon). But he was the one who made the show’s debate virally contentious.

In fact, maybe Don Jr. has always been the most effective public face of his father’s political movement. His speech to the 2016 Republican convention was perhaps the best received of the entire affair. He did strong work connecting the playboy real-estate mogul to working-class concerns through his own life story, saying that his father forced him to work under “Guys like Vinnie Stellio, who taught us how to drive heavy equipment, operate tractors and chainsaws, who worked his way through the ranks to become a trusted adviser of my father.” (For emphasis, he added: “It’s why we’re the only children of billionaires as comfortable in a D10 Caterpillar as we are in our own cars.”)

In short, Don Jr. is the most natural candidate to synthesize his father’s populism with more-traditional conservative politics. Of the Trump children, he was the most conservative in his politics before his father ran for the presidency. He’s an authentic “winger” who has an instinctive aversion to liberals. He’s a hunter and gun enthusiast, things his father is not. He’s also a dedicated Republican-party man in a way that his father is not. He flies around the country constantly to campaign and fundraise for Republican candidates and causes, at a pace that reminds history buffs of the way Richard Nixon put work into the 1966 midterms.

Of course, he wouldn’t be a Trump if he didn’t make your eyes water at his pure chutzpah. In his new book, he writes about visiting Arlington National Cemetery in this cringe-inducing passage:

I rarely get emotional, if ever. I guess you’d call me hyper-rational, stoic. Yet as we drove past the rows of white grave markers, in the gravity of the moment, I had a deep sense of the importance of the presidency and a love of our country. . . . In that moment, I also thought of all the attacks we’d already suffered as a family, and about all the sacrifices we’d have to make to help my father succeed — voluntarily giving up a huge chunk of our business and all international deals to avoid the appearance that we were profiting off of the office.

And of course, he’ll always be associated with the legacy of his father’s administration. He was a legendary part of the Russia probe. For a solid chunk of time, a large part of the Resistance Media fantasized about a day when he would be imprisoned. And he has incorporated this experience into a political narrative about the reputational, financial, and social sacrifices he’s made for his father, and by extension, the country.

I don’t point any of this out as a booster of the younger Trump. Like many conservative writers, I prefer notional candidates to the actual options on offer. But if Republicans want to split the difference between Donald Trump’s GOP and the GOP of movement conservatism that came before, Donald Trump Jr. is one of the more obvious choices.

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