So there was Donald Trump, Jr., at Berkeley, getting screamed at by a crowd of 20-something protesters, albeit ones from a right-wing youth group angry about his unwillingness to take questions. If it wasn't clear that things were getting out of hand when the chant shifted from "U.S.A.! U.S.A.!" to "Q&A! Q&A!" it certainly was when Trump's girlfriend, the former Fox News host Kimberly Guilfoyle, not so politely suggested that her audience was largely made up of members of a particularly reviled internet subculture.
This is not how it was supposed to go down. The president's son and namesake was in California doing what right-wingers always do when they want to generate headlines, get attention on social media, and sell books — going to a college campus in the hope of deliberately pissing off excitable young people. Instead of being applauded for his commitment to the cause, he was heckled off the stage by the people who ought to be his closest allies. Now everyone is making fun of him.
This was not the first time that Don Jr. has found himself in a situation like this. His entire life since his father entered politics has been one largely thankless task after another. He is the only Trump child who travels around the country doing events with candidates who need endorsements but don't merit his father's personal attention. He meets with officials from the Republican National Committee to discuss fundraising and strategy. He goes to CPAC and makes the rounds on the right-wing media circuit — not just Fox News, but the talk radio programs that are still the lifeblood of the conservative movement, such as it is.
Unlike any of his siblings, Don Jr. appears comfortable with the circumstances that made his father's election possible. He feels at home around ordinary right-wing activist types and genuinely seems to enjoy hunting and fishing and driving trucks and wearing camo and barking on about the Second Amendment.
He is also, not to put too fine a point on it, totally willing to make a complete ass of himself. He goes to lunch with bizarre oppo research hacks, corresponds with WikiLeaks, retweets white supremacists, promotes vintage Clinton murder conspiracy theories, calls George Soros an ex-Nazi, reminds voters in the Commonwealth of Virginia to get out there and pull the lever the day after the election, publicly confiscates his 3-year-old's Halloween treats in the hope of teaching her about "socialism."
Trump needs his son to do most of these things. Establishing institutional continuity between yesterday's conservative grassroots and Trumpism is less glamorous than jetting around the world the way his sister Ivanka does, but it is also absolutely necessary. When the history of Trump's political rise is finally written, I suspect we will learn that, behind many of the crucial endorsements and the unflinching expressions of loyalty we have seen from virtually every prominent American conservative outside the Bulwark orbit, there was Don Jr. assuring ex-Tea Party congressmen and talk radio mavens that his father is fighting for them.
Is he ever going to get his due, I wonder? And what about the next level, in 2021 or 2025? It is difficult to imagine a world in which Trump's designated successor — if he has one — is anyone but Ivanka, whom he obviously considers the cleverest. Don Jr. might carpet-bag his way into a House seat somewhere in Colorado, but if one of Trump's children runs for the White House at some point in the next decade or so, my guess is that it is going to be the one he has actually chosen to serve as one of his official senior advisers.
Don't misunderstand me. My heart does not exactly go out to this failson, who is making a good living being his father's most useful idiot of all. But I do think he should be commended for his filial piety, an old-fashioned and occasionally maligned virtue. Don't tell me that if your father were president you too would not go on the radio and call his enemies communists and murderers and hunt prairie dogs (legally) with obscure reactionary congressmen if you thought it was going to help him, especially if all your siblings (including the ones who have always been his favorites) refuse to do it. We don't get to pick who our parents are.
So I say one cheer for Don Jr.
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