Could Donald Trump Jr follow in his father's footsteps and be US president?

The emergence of Donald Trump Jr as keeper of the Trump political flame could not have been predicted a decade ago. Photo / AP

Donald Trump Jr’s stump speech in Orlando appeared to be in trouble just minutes after he took to the stage during a bus tour with a cage fighter dubbed “Fighters Against Socialism”.

The US president’s oldest son had barely got going when the heavens opened, soaking his checked shirt and jeans.

For a while, as crowd members scrambled for yellow ponchos, it looked like he might have to stop. But then someone passed an umbrella and the trademark Trumpisms kicked in.

“We keep going guys!” Trump Jr hollered into the mic, to cheers from the Floridians. “This isn’t a Biden rally, we’re not going to do it from a basement!”

If the counter-punch had the ring of his father, so too did the rush of supporters for selfies and signatures 30 minutes later, when the tub-thumping ended and the sun was back out.

Trump Jr and his partner, former TV host Kimberly Guilfoyle. Photo / AP
Trump Jr and his partner, former TV host Kimberly Guilfoyle. Photo / AP

One woman, her white hat now bearing a name scrawled in black ink, was asked if she could ever imagine voting for the younger Trump for president. “Absolutely,” she said, without skipping a beat.

The idea that a Trump sibling could one day follow their father into running for the White House may appear preposterous. None have ever been elected to public office or even tried.

But then nor had their dad. And in today’s fractured and contentious American political scene, they have something just as valuable as experience to a not-insignificant portion of the electorate: the Trump name.

If Trump Sr loses the election next month, an almighty Republican civil war will break into the open, pitting the president’s impassioned base against moderates seeking to draw a line.

If he wins, in Washington DC, a city always looking to the next battle, the starting gun will be fired on the succession games. Specifically, who will be the Republican Party’s 2024 presidential nominee?

Tiffany Trump, Donald Trump Jr and Eric Trump at the first presidential debate in Ohio on September 29. Photo / AP
Tiffany Trump, Donald Trump Jr and Eric Trump at the first presidential debate in Ohio on September 29. Photo / AP

Could one Trump follow another? Many in the Orlando crowd thought so.

“It could be him or it could be his sister,” said Joe, a 68-year-old recently laid off from his crowd control job at nearby Disney World.

“They live and breathe the average person. And if you know anything about Donald Trump it’s that he treats people like people.”

Scott Bilodeau, a 50-year-old photocopier technician and lifelong Republican, agreed. “He tells it like it is,” he said of Trump Jr.

“He doesn’t mince his words. He doesn’t mind running out a profanity or two. Who cares? Normal people speak like that. He’s not looking for people who would be horrified if you drop an f-bomb.”

The emergence of Trump Jr as keeper of the Trump political flame could not have been predicted a decade ago. Aged 42 now, in his youth there were signs of discomfort about the fame his father built as a property mogul and New York personality.

At the University of Pennsylvania, Trump Jr’s nickname among fraternity brothers was “Ron Rump”, according to The New York Times, which quoted one saying it gave him “anonymity”.

Asked by a journalist in 2010 if there was pressure being a Trump son, he said yes.

“There probably shouldn’t be. But there is for me, because you want to please someone like that, and he’s a perfectionist,” Trump Jr said.

Donald Trump brags the only person more famous than him is Jesus Christ. Video / C-Span

“There’s definitely always that shadow that follows you around, like how is this guy, the son of someone so good at what he does, going to act?”

It was a question Trump Sr appears aware of, too. His first wife Ivanka wrote in a memoir how her husband reacted to her suggestion of calling their son Donald Jr. “You can’t do that!” Trump is quoted saying. “What if he’s a loser?”

Yet Trump Jr was taken into his father’s business world, appearing on The Apprentice. He became an avid hunter, something which eventually benefited his dad.

“Don, great, now you can do something that actually helps me”, one Trump world figure recalls the father saying when Trump Jr went hunting with the Iowa governor as a publicity stunt ahead of the state’s 2016 Republican primary.

Trump Jr was assigned to help run the family business, the Trump Organisation, with brother Eric when their father became president. They did not follow Ivanka, their sister, into the White House.

But, drawn to politics, Trump Jr soon became a hit on the Republican donor circuit. During the 2018 midterm elections he spent months touring the country to appear alongside congressional candidates, drawing out supporters and dollars.

This year it is the same but intensified. This week Trump Jr held about 25 different events in more than half a dozen states, aides say. He plans to keep doing the same until election day on November 3.

There have been controversies. An avid social media user like his dad, Trump Jr has sparked criticism. He once tweeted an image of Pepe the Frog, an internet memo embraced by white nationalists. He said he was unaware of the link.

Sam Nunberg, who advised the president on politics between 2011 and 2015, including the groundwork for his 2016 presidential campaign, is not surprised about Trump Jr’s move into campaigning.

“He is the most politically attuned out of the children to the type of voter, the movement and the types of campaign his father was going to run and be successful at,” Nunberg said.

“He comes off as a regular type guy who still works hard and wasn’t raised with a golden spoon. He appears very relatable. He is the biggest political asset out of all the president’s children.”

A senior Trump campaign operative helping run states in the West agreed. “He’s a lot like his dad. I think that’s why the grassroots like him.”

If he runs for office, statewide posts could be sought first – such as the governorship of Florida. Numerous Trump voters waved away criticism that, like the Clintons and the Bushes, this would be setting up just another insider political dynasty.

Or perhaps he will never run. One figure close to Trump Jr has moved to dampen down speculation. “You can be plenty involved in politics without being a politician yourself,” the source said.

His support among the base was apparent on another stop this week in outer Las Vegas. A similarly sized crowd to Orlando had gathered at an engineering firm as the sun set before a backdrop of the Nevada mountains.

Trump Jr was close to an hour late but the crowd stayed. Again, cage fighters were part of the warm-up act – “Warriors for Trump” – with one lofting a championship belt above her head when name-checked.

And again, the audience was whooping along once the speech began.

For more than half an hour he spoke at pinball speed without a teleprompter. His speeches have similarities with his father – Trump Jr moves his hands like he is playing an accordion when in mid-flow and is at ease on stage.

There are differences too: more swear words and more jokes. Humour is deployed almost every minute and is often cutting, aimed at political opponents or – just as often – the media.

Near the end of the Vegas event, he praised the president’s decision to run for the top job. “My father’s doing this for you guys,” he said. “He didn’t need this job. I can assure you he had a pretty awesome life.”

As the music kicked in and the crowd again rushed forward for selfies, The Telegraph got close enough to shout two questions. Was he enjoying the campaign trail? “Always.”

And do you think you will ever run for office? “‘I’m only focused on this right now,” came the response. It wasn’t a no.


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