Speaking for Trump: How Don Jr. and other family members target different voters with different messages

WASHINGTON – On the day President Donald Trump was acquitted of “high crimes and misdemeanors” in the Senate impeachment trial, Donald Trump Jr. tweeted more than 80 times, taunting House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and calling on the party to expel Utah Sen. Mitt Romney, the sole Republican who voted to convict his father.  

Lara Trump, the president’s daughter-in-law and another ubiquitous campaign surrogate, posted three tweets. She barely mentioned impeachment.

As Trump’s children take on an expanded role in his reelection campaign, they are embracing different styles – and speaking to different constituencies. From Trump Jr.’s bombastic rally warm-ups and social media posts to Lara Trump’s focus on women’s issues and Ivanka Trump’s composed policy perch inside the White House, Trump’s family tailors their message to different voters.

“What would you do if you woke up on Nov. 4 and Bernie Sanders was your president?” Trump Jr. asked as he revved up a Phoenix crowd last week before a rally. “Guess what, guys: There are no do-overs. You get one chance to get this right.”

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Trump Jr.’s bomb-throwing is especially noticeable in his social media feed. The president’s eldest son is far more likely than his siblings to use Twitter to attack Democrats, according to a USA TODAY analysis of nearly 4,500 tweets from the Trump family. He has referenced Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden, for instance, in 8 percent of the tweets to his 4.4 million followers since Oct. 1. That’s a higher share than all of his siblings combined. 

He is also more likely to use the word “media” on Twitter, virtually always as an attack.  

Republican observers said Trump Jr.’s red-meat style has made him a rising star among conservative voters within the president’s base.

By contrast, Lara Trump – who married Eric Trump in 2014 and who has taken on an increasingly high-profile role in the president’s election – is more likely than other family members to use the word “woman” on social media, according to the analysis. That syncs with her appearances at Women for Trump events recently in Iowa, Minnesota and Pennsylvania. A senior adviser on the campaign, Lara Trump has also been more likely to mention the words “employment” and “job” than other surrogates. 

Lara Trump’s pitch to suburban women 

“The media tells us women don’t support Trump! WRONG!” Lara Trump posted Jan. 17 to her 761,000-plus followers.

The approach has allowed Lara Trump to reach out to women voters, particularly suburban women. Trump narrowly won white women in 2016, exit polls showed, but that key support appears has slipped. A new USA TODAY/Ipsos found that 54% of suburban women are more likely to say a Democrat would be better for the country.

From left, Eric Trump, Donald Trump Jr. and Tiffany trump applaud as President Donald J. Trump delivers the State of the Union address from the House chamber of the United States Capitol in Washington.

Ivanka Trump, who has been a more sporadic presence on the campaign trail in 2020, has focused heavily on her efforts inside the White House on workforce development, rarely wading into politics at all on social media. While Trump Jr. shares memes like one of Romney with a “Mom Jeans” caption, Ivanka Trump is more likely to post images of her official trips overseas on behalf of the administration, or of her children.

“Since 2017, rural areas have had similar or better economic performance than urban areas as measured by GDP growth, housing value appreciation and labor market participation,” Ivanka Trump tweeted this month in a message that was similar to others she has posted.

Her husband, Jared Kushner, whose vast portfolio includes building the wall along the U.S. Mexico border and Middle East peace, has never posted a tweet. Both have long been viewed as moderating forces, relatable to centrist Republicans and some swing voters who crossed from backing President Barack Obama to Trump in 2016.

Melania, Ivanka, Eric and Donald Trump Jr. in St. Louis, Missouri, on Oct. 9, 2016.

The Trump campaign declined to answer questions about the the family’s role in the trail.     

“Nothing can really prepare you for this,” Lara Trump told USA TODAY in an interview. “We all became a lot closer because it almost feels like you go through a war with people. And I would say for all of us – including my father-in-law – we’re all a lot closer because of it.”

Dianne Bystrom, a former director of the Carrie Chapman Catt Center for Women and Politics at Iowa State University, said some of the president’s adult children have been fulfilling a campaign role more typically handled by a first lady. So far in the 2020 cycle, Melania Trump has been less active on the campaign trail than many of her recent predecessors, including Michelle Obama and Laura Bush.

“It is not unusual for presidential candidates to employ surrogates, including family members, to strategically target the campaign’s message with a variety of groups,” Bystrom said. “I think we see so much more of the Trump children because Melania Trump has not been an effective spousal surrogate.”

The ‘star power’ of family members

Few presidential candidates have been able to draw so heavily on their progeny as proxies, and few have been able to put their children so front and center. President George H.W. Bush brought in his family, including George W. Bush, in the 1988 election. Romney’s children often appeared on stage during his 2012 campaign. 

The difference in Trump’s case is that many of his children were well known before he ran for president.

“If you want star power, add the Trump name and you automatically have it,” said Jason Miller, who was a senior aide on the president’s 2016 campaign.

“In addition to the last name, they bring a sense of passion, a sense of insight into the policies,” Miller said. “It says something when the people who know President Trump the best are willing to get out there and work so hard for him.”

The ubiquity of Trump’s children on the trail has had another impact: It has raised speculation about their own political ambitions.

Trump Jr., who published a New York Times best seller last year, is among Republican voters’ top picks for the nomination in 2024, according to a poll for the news site Axios last month. Ivanka Trump also made the list, along with Vice President Mike Pence.

That interest hasn’t been lost on Trump’s children, or the crowds turning out to hear the president speak.

Donald Trump Jr. speaks at a rally before President Donald Trump appears Wednesday, Feb. 19, 2020 in Phoenix. (AP Photo/Rick Scuteri) ORG XMIT: AZRS104

When the president recognized Trump Jr. during a rally in New Hampshire this month, his supporters chanted “46” – as in the 46th president.

When Trump Jr. addressed an audience in San Antonio last fall, someone in the audience shouted out “2024.” As many in the crowd laughed, Trump Jr. held a dramatic pause before exclaiming his response.

“Let’s worry about 2020 first!” he said.

Contributing: Associated Press, Courtney Subramanian

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