Not a night will pass at this week’s Republican National Convention without a Trump in the spotlight.
That doesn’t just include the nightly “appearances” President Donald Trump is planning for himself during his re-nomination extravaganza. Organizers have scheduled a son, daughter, wife or in-law to speak each evening – programming a convention heavily reliant on his immediate family to provide character witness and a humanizing touch for what is otherwise expected to be a bombastic four-day event salted with cultural battles and outsized spectacle.
Trump made little attempt to soften the message during his kick-off speech in Charlotte on Monday, warning of rampant voter fraud and complaining about the 2016 contest moments after he was formally renominated. The grievance-filled speech – identical to the political speeches he’s been delivering in the weeks leading up to the convention – was an early sign of how important Trump’s family will become as they work, in some cases, to smooth over his rougher edges.
The focus on family during the convention comes at an inauspicious moment for the extended Trump clan. Over the weekend, recordings of his sister Maryanne Trump Barry disparaging the President emerged, taped by their niece, Mary Trump, who is now one of the President’s harshest critics.
And on Monday, as the convention was kicking off, the New York attorney general said she had taken legal action to compel the testimony of Eric Trump in connection with her offices’ investigation into the Trump Organization, saying in recent weeks he has refused to appear to give testimony pursuant to a subpoena.
Eric Trump, like all four of Trump’s adult children, is scheduled to speak at his convention this week. The first lady will also address the convention from the newly renovated White House Rose Garden. Even the significant others of Trump’s two grown sons – both on his campaign’s payroll – will speak.
The reliance on Trump family members to vouch for the President – opposed to former Republican presidents or other party elders – underscores the degree to which the GOP has consolidated around Trump as an ideology and brand unto himself; in a document Sunday, Republicans said they would not formally adopt a new party platform aside from simply supporting Trump’s agenda.
The all-in-the-family convention also underscores the otherwise slim roster of associates or officials willing to attest to Trump as a relatable human being — a trait he doesn’t necessarily work to amplify during public appearances or in speeches on the campaign trail.
Introducing her father ahead of his formal acceptance address on Thursday, Ivanka Trump will repeat her role from the 2016 Republican National Convention, when she described the then-nominee as “colorblind and gender-neutral” who treated female executives at his company fairly and always encouraged her to “think big.”
Back then, Ivanka Trump was viewed as a natural choice to deliver warm testimony about her father’s strength as a family man. People familiar with the family dynamic said then that she was by far the most influential of Trump’s children in his decision-making and strategy. That impression was cemented when she, along with her husband Jared Kushner, moved to Washington to join the administration as unpaid senior advisers.
The heir apparent
Yet in the ensuing years, it has been Donald Trump Jr. who emerged as his father’s political acolyte. More than any of Trump’s children, Trump’s namesake son has embodied his father’s political persona while staking out his own mantle as a far-right standard bearer.
Instead of remaining an executive at the Trump Organization, which had been the plan when Trump was elected, Donald Trump Jr. has campaigned for conservative Republican candidates and adopted a combative online persona as he aggressively defends his father and fuels culture war outrage.
His speech on Monday will come after something of a transformation over the past four years. Since his father was elected, Donald Trump Jr. has gotten divorced and found himself, through a meeting he arranged with Russian lawyers in 2016, the subject of intense scrutiny from special counsel Robert Mueller.
But he’s also developed a massive following, particularly among young conservatives, and has proven a major fundraising draw for his father’s reelection effort. He has also begun dating Kimberly Guilfoyle, the former Fox News host who herself has become a top Trump surrogate and is now a top fundraising official for the Trump campaign. Guilfoyle will also speak at the convention on Monday.
Like Guilfoyle, Lara Trump – the wife of Eric Trump – has a formal campaign role as a senior adviser. She is scheduled to speak Wednesday, a day after her husband and his half-sister Tiffany, a recent Georgetown Law school graduate who has rarely appeared publicly in support of her father.
The company man
After his father’s election, Eric Trump took over main responsibility for the Trump Organization, though he has also acted as an aggressive political surrogate for his father.
His stewardship of the company has had mixed results and has brought him new legal scrutiny. In court filings Monday, New York Attorney General Letitia James’ office said Eric Trump initially agreed to sit for a deposition on July 22, only to refuse, “balking less than two days before he was scheduled by agreement to give testimony.”
James’ office outlined the scope of the investigation into whether the Trump Organization “improperly inflated the value of Mr. Trump’s assets on financial statements in order to secure loans and obtain economic and tax benefits.”
The unfortunate timing was an example of Trump’s intersecting business and family dramas surfacing at an inopportune moment of his presidency. The recordings of his sister, a former federal appellate judge, was another.
“It’s the phoniness of it all. It’s the phoniness and this cruelty. Donald is cruel,” Maryanne Trump Barry is heard saying to her niece, whose estrangement from the larger Trump family was cemented when she published a book this summer questioning his mental state and describing a troubled upbringing.
“His goddamned tweet and lying, oh my God,” Trump’s sister said in the recordings. “I’m talking too freely, but you know. The change of stories. The lack of preparation. The lying. Holy shit.”
A loss in the family
Maryanne Trump Barry did not attend the funeral Trump held at the White House on Friday for their brother, Robert Trump, who passed away a week earlier in New York. Trump rushed to Robert Trump’s hospital bedside a day before his death and in an uncharacteristically tender statement described him as his “best friend.”
In interviews later, Trump offered a description of his relationship with Robert that seemed more in keeping with his persona: he said his brother was never jealous of him.
Still, the moment provided a fuller picture of the President as the product of a larger family dynamic that has recently become the subject of intense examination.
In her book, Mary Trump described Trump’s upbringing as devoid of maternal emotion and dominated by an overbearing father, who instilled in his children a ruthless drive to succeed. Trump’s response to his brother Robert’s death stood in stark contrast to how he reacted when another brother – Fred Trump Jr., Mary’s father – was dying. Instead of visiting him in hospital, the book states, Trump went to the movies and allowed his older brother to die alone.
Though various accounts of their upbringings have described an unloving or remote father, all of the President’s adult children have publicly attested to his qualities as a parent – and plan to do so again this week as they take to the convention stage to advocate for their father’s re-election.