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Don Jr. and Eric Trump have become their dad’s most effective surrogates

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Eric Trump, left, and Donald Trump Jr. at the opening of the Trump Golf Links clubhouse on June 11, 2018.
Eric
Trump, left, and Donald Trump Jr. at the opening of the Trump
Golf Links clubhouse on June 11, 2018.

Mark Lennihan/AP

  • President Donald Trump’s two eldest sons, Don Jr. and Eric,
    have become the president’s most effective and requested
    surrogates, particularly in red states where Republicans are
    hoping to unseat vulnerable Democrats.
  • The two men are helped by Eric’s wife, Lara Trump, and Don
    Jr.’s girlfriend, former Fox News host Kimberly Guilfoyle,
    who are campaigning as much — if not more — ahead of the
    midterms. 
  • But the arrangement appears to blur what the Trump family
    promised would be a firewall between Trump’s business, which his
    sons run, and politics.

For the last two years, President
Donald Trump’s two eldest sons have taken over a multi-billion
dollar business empire.

But over the last several months,
the brothers — particularly the elder, Donald Trump Jr. — have
spent a significant portion of their time criss-crossing the
country to fire up crowds and raise funds for Republicans eager
to wrap themselves in Trump’s flag ahead of next month’s midterm
elections. 

While Eric and Don Jr. have insisted that they respect a strict
ethical boundary between their family’s business interests and
their father’s government work, the two have become the most
sought-after presidential surrogates on the red-state campaign
trail.

Andy Surabian, a Republican strategist and political adviser to
Don Jr., said Trump’s eldest son will likely log more than
60 campaign events between May and Election Day on Nov. 6 — and
that number doesn’t include all of the other fundraising events,
including for the Trump-aligned super PAC America First Action,
he has headlined over the last year.

“With the exception of the president and vice president, I can’t
think of another Republican surrogate that’s been more active on
the trail and more requested by Republican candidates this cycle
than Don,” Surabian told Business Insider. 

‘An extension of their father’ 

For many Republicans seeking office or attempting to maintain
their hold on power this year, the surest way to victory is by
fully embracing the president and the party base. The best way to
do this is to have a Trump family member bless their campaign —
if they’re lucky, repeatedly.

Surabian argued that Don Jr. is particularly effective on the
stump because, like his father, he’s authentically devoted to his
right-wing ideology. He added that the real estate mogul wields
his Twitter account like a “political weapon” and, much like his
father, can turn a particularly controversial or vicious tweet
into a news cycle. 

“Don is like the id of the Trump
base,” Surabian said. “[He] has a natural connection with
movement conservatives because Don himself is a movement
conservative with a big libertarian streak running down his back.
He speaks their language because he actually agrees with them —
and that’s the type of thing you can’t fake.” 

Also like their father, Don Jr. and Eric are comfortable both
ginning up grassroots support at a rally and soliciting hundreds
of thousands of dollars at big-city donor events. 

“The Trump sons are seen as an extension of their father,” a
Republican strategist, who asked not to be identified in order to
speak candidly about the Senate races he’s working on, told
Business Insider. “Voters view them as sort of the messenger
for their father’s policies and they’ve done a very good job
embracing that.”


Kimberly Guilfoyle and Donald Trump Jr. at a Ted Cruz rally on October 3, 2018 in Conroe, Texas.
Kimberly
Guilfoyle and Donald Trump Jr. at a Ted Cruz rally on October 3,
2018 in Conroe, Texas.

Bob Levey/Getty
Images



Hammering Democrats in red states 

Republican operatives say the Trump family’s ability to galvanize
the conservative base is particularly valuable this year in red
states where Democratic incumbents are attempting to hold on to
their seats — places like Montana where Sen. Jon Tester is
fending off a challenge from Republican Matt Rosendale
and 
West Virginia, where Sen. Joe Manchin is in the
lead against Republican state Attorney General Patrick
Morrisey. 

Don Jr. has been particularly active in Montana, where the native
New Yorker developed a fondness for hunting and fishing years
before his father won the state by 20 points. The 40-year-old has
used his personal connection to the state as a platform to push
his politics. 

As many of you probably
know, I’m a big shooter, a big hunter, a big fisherman, so I feel
ridiculous in this suit,” Don Jr. told
the cheering crowd
at a Bozeman rally for Montana Republicans
in July. 

Just a few months after Don Jr.’s
ex-wife, Vanessa Haydon Trump,
filed for divorce
in March, 
the father of five
made his relationship with longtime Fox News host Kimberly
Guilfoyle public in
a series of Instagram photos
 of the couple
fly-fishing in Montana. In August, Guilfoyle officially
left the cable news network
where she’d become a well-known
opinion host over her 15-year career to join Don Jr. on the
campaign trail. Since then, the two have attended virtually every
campaign event together. 

The couple is set to make their third campaign trip to Montana
this year for an eight-stop bus tour on Friday and Saturday
while stumping for Rosendale and Rep. Greg Gianforte. Tester’s
campaign has pushed back on the Trump family influence in
Montana by characterizing Don Jr. (without naming him) and
Rosendale as out-of-staters — a damning charge in the rural
Western state.

“Insurance Co
mmissioner Matt Rosendale continues to bring
in fellow out-of-staters to bolster his campaign because
Montanans know Rosendale’s record reflects his East Coast values,
not our Montana values,” Chris Meagher, the communications
director for Tester’s reelection campaign, told Business Insider
in an email. 


Eric and Lara Trump kick off a rally in support of Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) on October 22 in Houston, Texas.
Eric
and Lara Trump kick off a rally in support of Sen. Ted Cruz
(R-TX) on October 22 in Houston, Texas.

Loren Elliott/Getty Images

And Don Jr. has made multiple trips to West Virginia and
headlined two major fundraising events for the state’s GOP
candidates, bringing helpful media attention to Morrisey’s
campaign.

“Patrick was in a parade on Saturday and along the trail there
were a dozen folks or so who were like, ‘Hey, I’m so excited to
see Don Jr. on Monday, it’s gonna be a great rally,” Nathan
Brand, Morrisey’s communications director, told Business Insider.

Meanwhile, Eric has traveled the country to support Trumpian
Republicans in places like Tennessee, North Carolina, and
Michigan, where an energized Trump base could protect vulnerable
Republican seats. His wife, Lara Trump, who has spent the last 18
months advising the Trump campaign, often appears by his side or
at events on her own. 

“ISIS is gone,” Eric announced at a rally in
Houston on Monday
 just after Lara told the Texas crowd
that “we have never in the history of our country been closer to
a denuclearized Korean peninsula than right now” — two
demonstrably untrue presidential talking points. 

Ethical questions 

While the president’s sons’
public political work doesn’t violate any laws or government
rules, ethics experts say the activity risks breaching the
firewall the Trump family promised to maintain between the Trump
Organization and their father’s administration.

At a political fundraiser last
year, Don Jr. told an audience of Texas donors that he
essentially no longer communicated with his
father. 

“I basically
have zero contact with him at this point,”
he said

Don Jr. and Eric have repeatedly
claimed that the president doesn’t discuss government matters
with them and they don’t talk with their father about the family
business, despite the fact that they provide him with quarterly
financial reports.

“We do not have any role in the
current administration and take the separation of the Trump Org
and the office of the president very seriously,” they
said in a statement to Politico
in March 2017. 


Donald Trump Jr Eric
Republican
presidential candidate Donald Trump, is flanked by his two sons,
Donald Trump Jr., left, and Eric, while speaking at a caucus
night rally Tuesday, Feb. 23, 2016, in Las
Vegas.

AP Photo/Jae C.
Hong


But the close political relationship between the president, who
has not divested from his sprawling business interests, and his
two eldest sons calls these supposed boundaries between the
president’s political and business interests into question.

Surabian said that while Don Jr. is on the road, sometimes
visiting three states in a single day, he conducts his work for
the Trump Organization remotely. 

“It’s hard to tell where the Trump Organization stops and the
campaign or the administration begins,” Jordan Libowitz, the
communications director at the watchdog group Citizens for
Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, told Business Insider.

It’s the existence of these questions — and the seemingly
permeable boundary between the president and the chief executives
of his business — that concern ethics experts. 

“The public shouldn’t have to
wonder if the president’s businesses are using their connection
to him to influence the political process or decision-making in
any way,” Delaney Marsco, legal counsel at the non-profit
Campaign Legal Center, told Business Insider. 

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