Well, it’s happening. Ever since Donald Trump Jr. did what can best be described as a situationally adequate job of delivering a normal-sounding speech to the Republican National Convention in 2016—an achievement only in the context of the unsettling remarks given by the rest of his family and its demented entourage—pundits have been speculating that he might get into politics as his own man, as it were. That time, sadly, has come.
Appropriately, it appears that the job the younger Trump will be doing involves not really having a job. (It’s a role he’s been preparing for his whole life!) While Business Insider reported Thursday that “Trump advisors have been buzzing about the possibility of Trump Jr. taking on Wayne LaPierre for control of the NRA,” the article cited a source who said Trump Jr. had not discussed the matter himself, and he disavowed the possibility on Twitter shortly after the story was posted. On Nov. 10, CNN reported that Trump Jr. and his girlfriend Kimberly Guilfoyle were considering a bid to lead the Republican National Committee, but Ronna McDaniel now appears set to be reelected as RNC chairwoman with the Trump family’s backing. Trump Jr.’s name has also gotten kicked around as a potential 2022 candidate for Senate in Pennsylvania, where he went to college, and as a potential 2024 candidate for president, but there haven’t been any affirmative signals, even anonymous ones leaked by “sources close to the family,” that he is actually interested in doing so.
What Trump Jr. appears to want instead is what Politico described as “a kingmaker role in the Republican Party,” one in which he will be “using his social media presence to advocate for favored candidates.” It sounds, basically, like a more ambitious version of what he’s been doing since becoming his father’s unofficial liaison to the alt-right in 2016. Trump Jr. is a prolific, often illiterate-seeming user of Twitter and Instagram and makes frequent appearances at right-wing events and on right-wing media outlets; he is usually found either complaining about “the Deep State” and mainstream media in a tone of aggrieved adolescent sarcasm or riffing on the ostensibly edgy idea that Democrats will be “triggered” in their “safe spaces” if, like, a guy such as Donald Trump Jr. holds a gun and eats meat.
There is a large audience for such content, and the party has deployed it in the past to energize what you might describe as its fraternity wing. (In October, Trump Jr. toured Florida with MMA athletes in a campaign called Fighters Against Socialism.) In a way, Don Jr. is doing for Don Sr. what Don Sr. did for his father, Fred. Fred was a charmless outer-borough landlord who rewarded his son with attention for creating the strategically useful Manhattan tycoon/playboy persona that he still inhabits. Don Sr., over the course of his term, has increasingly done the same thing for Don Jr., an Ivy League alum and boarding school graduate who has nonetheless shown an ability to relate to the misogynist video game meme guys and good ol’ boy assault rifle enthusiasts who might otherwise be an odd fit in a cult of personality around a 74-year-old Manhattan tycoon/playboy.
Politico’s reporting and the circumstances surrounding a Georgia ad campaign that launched on “conservative talk radio and country music stations” this week suggest that Trump Jr. would like to start taking some control over who benefits from his audience of White Nationalist Guys Being Dudes. The ads are the work of the “Save the U.S. Senate PAC” and are produced, Politico says, by a company that worked for the Trump 2020 organization. In the first spot to air, Trump Jr. urges Georgians to support Republicans Kelly Loeffler and David Perdue in the races that will determine control of the Senate. “My father’s accomplishments are on your ballot,” he says. “Don’t let Chuck Schumer and the radical left succeed.”
In making this play, Trump Jr. is stepping into a Georgia-related leadership vacuum, created by his father’s post-loss indifference and conspiracy theorizing, that has been filled by far-right lawyers Lin Wood and Sidney Powell. Wood is telling the party’s QAnon wing that it’s pointless to vote in the Georgia runoffs because elections are rigged by Democrats; Trump Jr. is thus the face of the effort being made by what now passes for the GOP establishment to prevent a turnout disaster.
His partners in the Save the U.S. Senate PAC are operatives named Taylor Budowich and Andy Surabian. Both played roles in the proto-Trump Tea Party movement, working for a group called Tea Party Express that promoted “insurgent” right-wing candidates. This makes sense given that Politico says Trump Jr. is “expected to be heavily involved in the 2022 midterm elections.” Surabian and Budowich have the experience to do the legwork of finding MAGA candidates across the country, and Trump Jr. has the media clout to promote them; the setup is probably thus in a value-neutral sense “smart,” or at least smarter than putting him in charge of the NRA or RNC, in that it allows him to do what he does well (mouthing off) without requiring much in the way of practical knowledge or organizational skills. I feel triggered!