Kathy Zhu held the title of Miss Michigan in the Miss World America pageant system until earlier this month, when the organization dismissed her over several tweets it characterized as “offensive, insensitive and inappropriate.” “Did you know that the majority of black deaths are caused by other blacks?” one tweet read. “Fix problems within your own community first before blaming others.”
Zhu had deleted the tweets by then, but she seemed to defend them after her dismissal, tweeting that she was a victim of “prejudice views against people with ‘different opinions.’ ” (Perhaps she felt that deleting the tweets “fixed the problems,” so she was free to “blame others.”) Last week, she announced that she had joined President Donald Trump’s reelection campaign, becoming a member of his new Women for Trump Coalition Advisory Board.
At first glance, her ascension—from the college pageant circuit to the problematic tweet publicity cycle to a national political advisory board—seemed remarkable. But a closer look at her fellow board members on the Women for Trump Coalition reveals a more eclectic membership than the fundraisers and advocates who typically make up such groups. Women for Trump is a motley crew including fringe entertainers, Trumpworld mini celebrities, and, notably, a number of relatives of famous men.
The advisory board launched this month, with the stated goal of sharing its members’ “experiences and successes during the Trump administration.” The 36-member board includes rising conservative commentator Danielle D’Souza Gill (daughter of Dinesh D’Souza), podcaster Cissie Graham Lynch (daughter of Franklin Graham), activist Alveda King (niece of Martin Luther King Jr.), and entrepreneur Merlynn Carson (daughter-in-law of Ben Carson).* There’s Becki Falwell, best known for being married to Jerry Falwell Jr., and Debbie Meadows, best known for being married to Freedom Caucus Chair Mark Meadows. Lara Trump, the president’s daughter-in-law, kicked off the campaign at a Pennsylvania casino. (High-profile Republicans including Republican National Committee chair Ronna McDaniel and former Trump administration communications staffer Mercedes Schlapp appeared at the launch event but are not listed as part of the advisory board.)
The group also includes a heavy proportion of entertainers, including two former Apprentice contestants, actress and former Fox commentator Stacey Dash, radio host Rose Tennent (“an edgy and politically INCORRECT Ellen”), popular “clean” comedian Chonda Pierce, and former Pussycat Dolls performer Kaya Jones. (Jones is also listed on Trump’s National Diversity Coalition site as a Native American Ambassador for Trump, although she has not substantiated her claim to a tribal identity.) The Fox Nation pundits Diamond and Silk—Lynnette Hardaway and Rochelle Richardson—appear on the list of board members as a single unit, as if they are not two distinct women but a permanently fused brand entity.
[Support Slate’s 2020 coverage. Join Slate Plus.]
The board does include some women with policy backgrounds. There’s former Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi, whose reelection PAC accepted a $25,000 donation from Trump shortly before she opted not to pursue a case against Trump University. (Bondi left office this year and took a job with a Washington lobbying firm with close ties to Trump.) Former Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer is best known for signing a draconian immigration bill into law in 2010, and former New Hampshire state legislator Lynne Blankenbeker made national news when she joked in an email about using military weapons against “the unions.” Board member Carolyn “Bunny” Welsh, a longtime sheriff in Pennsylvania, has presided over multiple controversies including liking a Facebook post suggesting white supremacists are less threatening than Black Lives Matters supporters, and auctioning off an AR-15 as a fundraiser.
Other members are known primarily for their near-random proximity to Trump. There’s Mary Ann Mendoza, whose son was killed in a car accident caused by an undocumented immigrant and who has since become an activist on immigration issues. She is best known for tweeting so virulently about immigration that Twitter and Facebook both suspended her, an event that landed her an appearance on Fox & Friends; Trump then tweeted that she is “a winner who has lost so much” and pleaded with Twitter to reinstate her. Gina Loudon, aka “Dr. Gina,” told Sean Hannity last year that she had scientific evidence that Trump may be “the most sound-minded person to ever occupy the White House.” Trump endorsed her book, to which Hannity contributed the introduction. Loudon’s author bio once stated she had a Ph.D. in psychology, but the Daily Beast reported that she instead has a degree in “human and organization systems” from an online college.
In her own short career, Zhu has shown an unusual knack for spinning national news coverage out of minor culture-war skirmishes. She was the subject of flattering coverage in anti-abortion news outlets last fall when she announced publicly that seeing the anti-abortion movie Gosnell had converted her from being pro-choice. Earlier that year, her combative tweet about a World Hijab Day display on her college campus went viral, prompting news reports and a response from the school. The Trump campaign clearly sees something promising in her, describing her last week as “a patriot who has continued to stand for American values despite being stripped of her crown.” “I am so excited,” she tweeted in response. “Let’s get Trump re-elected for 2020.”
Correction, July 30, 2019: This post originally misstated the relationship between Alveda King and Martin Luther King Jr. She is his niece, not his daughter.