Politics

The Odd Thing About Lara Trump’s Fox News “Career”

Lara Trump's face is seen in front of a red background that changes to blue.
Animation by Slate. Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images.

This is part of Trump Slump, a series of stories checking in on how things are going now for the people and products that were riding high during the last administration.

What does Lara Trump do? This simple question has vexed America for years. Even now, nearly four months after her father-in-law begrudgingly vacated the White House, the query is still a popular one, at least according to a recent Lara Trump–centric Google search. Also on people’s minds, according to that same search: What nationality is Lara Trump? And How do you pronounce Lara Trump? Let’s tackle these questions in ascending order of difficulty.

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Lara (as in “cahr-uh,” or sometimes like “Laura,” but definitely never like “lare-uh”) Trump is American. She was born in North Carolina in 1982, the year the UNC Tar Heels won the NCAA men’s basketball championship (a very American accomplishment). Back then she was known as Lara Yunaska. She went to North Carolina State, later attended culinary school, and worked for a while in television. It was all very normal! But in November 2014 Lara Yunaska’s very normal life took a turn when she married the future president’s middle son, Eric, whom she had dated for six years, in a Mar-a-Lago ceremony officiated by Jared Kushner—and thenceforth became known as Lara Trump.

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It’s the fact of Lara Trump’s married name that makes the first question, What does Lara Trump do?, such a moving target. Over the past few years, she has become a satellite Trump World celebrity in her own right, building a “brand” around her proximity to power, her smooth delivery, and her famous last name. Name value is a big thing for the Trumps, insofar as their family name and its endless marketability has long been one of the few things keeping them out of bankruptcy. That value has dipped a bit since November 2020, given that Donald Trump is no longer the president and the Trump name is now inextricably linked, in the minds of many people around the world, with incompetence and sedition. But in some quarters, those linkages remain an appreciating asset, which is why Lara Trump found herself on Fox & Friends at the end of March, announcing that she had recently signed on to become an official Fox News contributor.

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For years, of course, she had been an unofficial Fox contributor, as so many Trumps were during their patriarch’s presidency—always available for a softball interview, a cheery morning show hit, or to complain on cue about whatever spurious indignity had most recently been visited upon her father-in-law by those faithless rascals in the mainstream media. But, counterintuitively, Donald Trump’s election loss seemed initially to increase the value of Lara Trump’s television persona, insofar as Fox News was finally unencumbered by the ethical norms around employing campaign personnel as journalistic contributors, so she could finally make some money off it. Getting paid to say “Trump” over and over and over again is basically the family business, and Lara is the first in her family to draw a post-presidency paycheck for doing so on television. Why is she the first Trump to formally sign on to Fox News? And how’s her new career in cable news punditry working out thus far?

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First, it’s helpful to understand the story of her rise. Before marrying Eric, she worked as a producer at Inside Edition. She kept that job until late summer 2016, when she stepped aside to campaign for her father-in-law, telling the Port City Daily that when “they’re reporting on your family on the show you work for, it’s a little challenging.” (This apparent desire to avoid any potential conflicts of interest is how you can tell that she was not born a Trump.) She stumped for Trump in her home state, which he ended up winning by almost 4 percentage points. “In the moment after they called [North Carolina], my father-in-law turned to me and said, ‘We won because of you,’ ” Lara Trump told the Associated Press in October 2017. Thanks, Lara Trump!

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Instead of returning to Inside Edition, she spent the subsequent four years flacking for her father-in-law, while bearing two children. She appeared periodically on Fox News, hosted the Trump campaign’s Real News Update social media webcast—sample dialogue: “I bet you haven’t heard about all the accomplishments the president had this week because there’s so much fake news out there”—and later hosted a successor podcast called The Right View. Over time, she proved herself to be an industrious and effective surrogate for the then-president.

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Poised and comfortable on television, steadfast in her professed support for Donald Trump and her disdain for his enemies, she sold his policies and promises and vendettas whenever she was called upon to do so. She was a much more functional flack than her husband, Eric. While Eric went on television and lamely mimicked his father, complaining about kneeling NFL players and bragging about how much America was winning, Lara smiled and sparkled while selling the ostensible threats posed to America by migrant “caravans,” socialism, and the anti-Trump media. She ably represented the Trump name while encouraging distrust of anyone who dared reject that name.

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And then came the Fox News gig. “I’m so excited, first of all, to be joining the Fox family,” she said on her first day as an official contributor. “I sort of feel like I’ve been an unofficial member of the team for so long. You guys know, it was kind of a joke, over the past five years I would come there so often that the security guards were like, ‘Maybe we should just give you a key.’ ” So much for fretting over conflicts of interest!

But what has Lara Trump actually been doing on Fox News? It turns out, not very much. Though the contributors’ contract she signed with Fox News made her the first Trump to sign on to the network, I have not actually seen her on its programs incredibly often, certainly not with anything approaching Bongino frequency. (Her Twitter bio does not mention her Fox News affiliation, but it does mention The Right View, which she has continued to host on her own even after the end of the presidential campaign.) When she has appeared on Fox News, she has talked a lot about her father-in-law, the former president, the person to whom her own fortunes are now tied. In a mid-April Gutfeld! appearance, for instance, she reminisced about the days when Trump would ramble extemporaneously during his speeches—‘ “All right, let’s go, the fake news’: Everybody loved that,” she said, inaccurately—and complained that Joe Biden, a relative dullard, can barely make his way through a scripted speech. “How boring,” she said. “It’s really kind of sad.”

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She also talks about herself and her prospects as a potential candidate for Senate in North Carolina next year. A recent poll showed Lara Trump with a double-digit lead on the next closest Republican contender for the nomination, though she has not yet announced whether she will run. “I’m so honored, I’m so humbled, when I see these polls. It’s amazing to see and I appreciate it so much,” she said during a late April Hannity appearance. “We need strong leaders. We need people in ’22 and ’24 that have the best interests of the American people at heart.” She went on to say that she has not yet decided whether or not to launch her candidacy—and it must be a legitimately difficult decision, to choose between pulling a paycheck to appear occasionally on Fox to talk about her father-in-law and effectively serving once again as his surrogate out on some North Carolina campaign trail.

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What should Lara Trump do? What should any of them do, any of the ex-president’s ex-courtiers, surrogates, flunkies, and mythologizers, now that none of them, having tasted power, can really go back to the relatively unambitious lives they used to have? The answer, for most of Trump’s dispossessed appendages and hype men, is to keep on doing what they were doing before, albeit in their current reduced circumstances, and hope that the cruel, braggadocious narrative of Trumpism as the sole recourse against encroaching socialism and national decline continues to resonate with a huge swath of America.

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Lara Trump was not born into Trumpism. She’s had to work at it, to learn how to polish her act, and this extra hustle surely helps make her a particularly persuasive ambassador for the family on Fox News. Meanwhile, she’s also become a pro at sounding the precise notes of grievance and resentment that comprise the only tune her family has ever bothered to learn how to play. “Come 2022, Americans are gonna be sick and tired of being told, ‘We don’t think you can celebrate the Fourth of July.’ They’re trying to stop Mount Rushmore from having fireworks, for goodness’ sakes,” she told Judge Jeanine Pirro during an early May appearance on Pirro’s Fox News show, in an apparent reference to the National Park Service’s March decision to deny South Dakota a fireworks permit this year. “We want our freedom back. We want our liberty back.”

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It was a classic Trump maneuver: spinning a bogus grievance into cannon fodder for the right’s endless culture war. No matter that the COVID-19 pandemic is not yet over, no matter that the president of the Oglala Sioux Tribe has praised the Department of the Interior for “considering input from local tribal nations and their desire to protect the Black Hills from contamination, and the possibility of forest fires.” According to Lara Trump, “they” wanted to deprive real Americans of cookouts, fireworks, and liberty, which is why “they”—defined, still, as anyone who isn’t a bona fide Trumpist—must never, ever be trusted.

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This trick still works right now, with the Trump presidency fresh in everyone’s minds, with the country still loopy from the residual and ongoing effects of the COVID-19 pandemic. Will it still work three months from now? Six months on? Next year? You’d like to think that the Trump family’s mind tricks will lose some of their potency over time, especially if the economy stays strong and the country continues to reopen and it turns out that no one actually wants to arrest you for grilling out on Independence Day.

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Who knows? It’s very possible that a good many Americans will continue to choose to ignore objective reality in favor of curdled cultural resentments. As for Lara Trump, she will keep on doing what she does—that is, lazily trying to convince you that everything stinks and the only way to make it better is to keep chanting Trump, Trump, Trump, at home, at work, online, on television, and at the ballot box. “2022 is when Americans have to get out,” she continued on Pirro’s show. “If you love this country, get out and vote. Because it is our last chance. … Republicans, get out and vote like our country and our lives depend on it. Because they do.” Hers does, at least.

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