The Dangerous, 'Relatable' Appeal of Lara Trump

The Dangerous, 'Relatable' Appeal of Lara Trump

If there’s one thing Lara Trump wants you to know about her, it’s that she just loves dogs. She’s a “crazy animal lady,” she said in December while on stage at Politico’s “Women Rule” conference, held by chance on the same day that Nancy Pelosi solemnly announced the articles of impeachment against Donald Trump. Lara, dressed in an animal print wrap dress and nude red-soled heels, her shins glistening, spent a few minutes defending her father-in-law against impeachment (“This is based on the fact that I think very clearly the Democrats seem a little scared to run against Donald Trump”) and parroting the talking points of the Trump administration. But what she really wanted to talk about was her support for animal rights and her two dogs. (“I would have about 50 if our apartment would allow it!”) “I want everybody on board for the animals. We can all agree on that at least, right?” Lara said, a smile on her face and her arms outstretched.

Lara was invited to speak to the largely hostile crowd—few in the audience for this empowerment festival clapped when she emerged onto the stage—in order, I assumed, to generate headlines for Politico’s website. And Trump, née Yunaska, did just that, sharing improbably that she admires Nancy Pelosi for her “tenacity” and her willingness to “put down and throw down when she needs to,” a sort of watered-down tribute to girl power. Lara—the wife of the toothier, and lesser, Trump son Eric—is nothing if not dutiful. Having married into the Trump family at the tail end of 2014, she soon slapped on a truly magnificent set of false eyelashes and spent most of her father-in-law’s election campaign smiling from the sidelines with the rest of the extended Trump crew. There she might have remained had Donald not noticed her and her carefully crafted brand of Southern charm. He decided that Lara should lead the campaign for him in her home state of North Carolina, a state that Barack Obama won in 2008 before it narrowly flipped back to the Republicans in 2012.

A white woman who could be deployed to soothe the misgivings of anxious suburban women

She said yes, naturally. A helpful emissary on the laughably named “Trump-Pence Women’s Empowerment Tour” in the fall of 2016,” Lara quickly became an important, and easily digestible, surrogate—a white woman who could be deployed to soothe the misgivings of anxious Republican suburban women who normally would be perfectly fine voting for a racist misogynist, just not one who was quite so bald about it. “We’ve got to go out and tell people what a great guy Donald Trump is,” she said at the time. Hardly a rousing start, but hey, 53 percent of white women who voted cast their ballots for the man currently in the White House, so her efforts, which centered on loyally talking up Trump as a quintessential family man working to make America safe again (without quite ever specifying whom he was keeping the country safe from), must not have hurt.

Within Trump’s circle, she was credited with helping him win her home state, and her star rose so quickly that, almost as soon as he was elected, she left her producer job at Inside Edition (as well as the board of her husband’s foundation) to work on Trump’s reelection campaign. (Lara was formally hired by Trump advisor Brad Parscale as a senior consultant in March of 2017.) The Washington Post has described Lara “the campaign’s Ivanka,” which is only partly true—both are dedicated foot soldiers, both are very blonde as well as tall, but where Ivanka is polished to the point of being a lifeless marble statue, Lara has the calculated warmth of a sorority queen turned local morning show news anchor, stunned by her improbable rise. “I’m a girl from North Carolina who really has no business even being involved with this family,” Lara said in an interview at the end of 2015. “But I just so happened to fall in love with a guy, we clicked and it worked.”

This affect is what makes her seem, as one Republican strategist who’s worked with her put it, “relatively normal” and “approachable,” the only woman in the Trump family to whom those adjectives could even remotely apply. She runs marathons and loves SoulCycle! She supports dog rescues! She loves baking cakes! (Including a birthday cake for Eric shaped like an AK-47 during the early years of their relationship.) She was, as she’s said often, “raised with good Southern values.” In a recognition of the Trump campaign’s need to shore up its support from the white suburban women who tipped towards the Democrats during the 2018 midterms, it’s Lara—not Melania, not Don Jr., not Ivanka, not Eric, and certainly not Tiffany—who has become so key to Trump’s success. As one political reporter put it, she’s the face of his 2020 bid for reelection, hitting the campaign trail and, in a nod to her broadcasting past, recording regular Facebook videos promising to combat “fake news” and provide the “real news.”

Georgina Bloomberg, Stacey Silverstein, Lara Trump, Eric Trump, and Jackie O’Sullivan attend a fundraiser for Rescue Dogs Rock NYC, October 22, 2019. Image:Getty

Lara, 37, is now leading the Trump campaign’s efforts to reach those white suburban women voters they view as critical to 2020, kicking off the Women for Trump coalition in suburban Philadelphia in July and more recently headlining a bus tour before the Iowa caucuses. “We want to inspire women to get out there, talk to their friends, talk to their neighbors, talk to their co-workers, and really make it okay to outwardly support Donald Trump,” Lara told Vice News last summer, brushing off tweets that Trump had sent out shortly before the event telling the four congresswomen known as the Squad to go back to where they came from. “He gets hit every single day, he gets attacked every single day, and he is out there fighting for this country because he loves America, he loves the people of this country,” she said, before claiming that the Squad was “dumping” on the United States. “I know Donald Trump, he’s not racist,” she concluded.

Like a preacher’s wife, Lara has hitched her star to that of her husband and his family, and she is a true believer—in Trump, in his vision. “I never knew her to say no a single time,” said Kellyanne Conway of Lara’s campaigning. Loyalty is the only currency in Trump world, after all. That’s how the interlopers—welcome, Jared Kushner!—make it, after all. She knows she has to kiss the ring. “He is an incredibly loyal person and never forgets those who are loyal to him,” Lara told Hello! of Trump in 2017.

Lara fills a vacuum in the Trump family—that of the devoted woman who’s willing to defend her father-in-law to the bitter end, but a palatable, family-oriented one with a smile pasted to her face, her blonde hair impeccably curled. Having divorced Don Jr. a year into the Trump presidency, Vanessa Trump, who once reportedly called Donald Trump “retarded,” is no longer in the picture; it doesn’t take a lot to read between the lines and deduce that Don Jr.’s turn towards the most noxious forms of rightwing racism and assholery (not to mention the fact that he was a notorious cheapskate as well as the many rumors that he cheated on her) played a role in her exit. Ivanka, as complicit as she is in the Trump administration’s cruelties and for all of the chirpy cheerleading of her pet projects, has no desire to sully herself by spearheading campaign rallies. And Tiffany, bless her, has generally stayed out of the picture, largely taking part in only ceremonial events. Melania is simply too robotic to convincingly play the part; Kimberly Guilfoyle, Don Jr.’s girlfriend, a touch too rabid.

Cue Lara, whose devotion comes from inside the house. Ever since she met Trump, she’s been a fan. She has said it over and over and over again in interviews and on the campaign trail, telling the story of how the two met for the first time at the U.S. Open and he bought her an ice cream cone and it was, as she put it to a crowd of women in 2016 shortly after the Access Hollywood tape became public, “so normal.” It really, “just blew my mind,” she said. (White) America first, family first is the mantra of this down home girl, and Donald is incredible, and the Trump family is incredible, one of, she’s said, the “best families I’ve ever met in my life.” If it’s obvious that Lara needs the Trumps, it’s just as clear that the Trumps need her, too.

In January, Lara generated a brief flurry of criticism after she mocked Joe Biden’s stutter while campaigning for Trump in Iowa. Despite her prominent role in the campaign and despite her frequently inflammatory comments and actions, Lara has largely avoided the bad press that surrounds Ivanka and Jared Kushner, Don Jr., and to a lesser extent, her husband Eric. It’s all relative, but according to E! in 2018, Lara and Eric are “the Most Normal, Least Controversial Trump Couple,” based, as far as I can tell, on little more than the fact that they have babies and a couple of adopted dogs.

This is by design—Lara has consistently worked to make Eric, and by extension, the Trumps, seem like a well-adjusted family, talking up how Eric is the “cool uncle,” and confiding that Trump was “so excited” to become a grandparent again when she was pregnant with the couple’s first child. Lara has cannily used her appearances on softball lifestyle press outlets to drive this narrative home, like in her 2017 appearance with Eric on The Dr. Oz Show, where she talked about how she deals with stress (“For me, if I’m stressed and having a bad day, I’ll go for a run”) and her ongoing campaign against puppy mills. “It’s unfortunate that anybody would do that, but it’s about money for people,” she said. Months later, perhaps taking a cue from her sister-in-law, Ivanka used Dr. Oz’s show to reveal her struggles with postpartum depression. And here they are in Westchester magazine, in June 2018, perched on their sofa, their rescue beagles and son cuddling in Eric’s lap as Lara looks on, her mouth agape in what is meant to be a smile of happiness and wonder. “Eric can fix anything,” she exclaimed at one point during the profile. “He’s much handier than anyone I’ve ever dated!”

Even before Trump began his run for office, Lara’s mere presence served to soften some of the family’s jagged edges. In the photo accompanying a 2014 People magazine announcement of her marriage to Eric, there she is, clutching their beagle puppy Charlie instead of her shark-like husband, wearing a red plaid flannel button-up and sitting in a desiccated field. The flannel, the dog, the backdrop—all of it serves to signal that she’s a wholesome country girl. (Their second child, born in August of this year, is named Carolina, as if to emphasize the point.)

Lara Trump at a Donald Trump rally in Nashville, Tennessee, May 29, 2018. Image:Getty

“I grew up in a middle-class family in North Carolina, and I couldn’t have ever imagined that I would be a part of anything like this,” she told one reporter during this summer’s kickoff for the 2020 Women for Trump coalition. By all accounts her family was quite comfortable—her father for decades owned a company that built fairly expensive boats, including one for Walter Cronkite, and her childhood home in Wrightsville Beach, North Carolina perched right on the water is now worth $1,349,900, according to public records.

And while marrying into the Trumps and then launching dizzyingly into the ugliest corners of the rightwing ecosystem is a life few could imagine, Lara comes from good Republican stock, which can be gleaned from her father Robert’s side hobby of writing letters to the editor decrying the Democratic Party and supporting particularly draconian Republican policies. In this one, from 2005, he writes approvingly of then-President Bush’s plan to privatize Social Security; in March of last year he wrote that the Democrats “pander and giveaway to whomever you can for their vote; and here’s one from 2018 in which he defends arming teachers as a very good idea. “Would you rather be gunned down in cold blood with 20 of your students than get into a ‘gunfight?’” Yunaska wrote.

Imagine the dinner table conversations at the Yunaska family home, as they gazed out over the sound! After graduating from high school, Lara would go on to North Carolina State University for a degree in communications media, flirting for a time with a broadcasting career, and from there made her way to New York City’s French Culinary Institute in New York City, where she earned a degree in pastry arts—a skill that Lara attempted to monetize for a brief period through her short-lived cakemaking business, Lara Lea Confections. (While she took down the photo of the aforementioned AK-47 cake she made for Eric, photos of her other creations, including this “boob jersey cake” and this one shaped like a Chanel purse, remain.)

She met Eric while out with friends. “I never expected, when I moved nine years ago to New York City, that this would ever happen to me,” she told Port City Daily, a few weeks before her father-in-law was elected. But she’s embraced the role that luck has dropped into her lap. Lara is everywhere in Trump world, recording Facebook videos that rack up hundreds of thousands of views each and hitting the trail in state after state. During the past few months, she has campaigned in Tucson and in Wisconsin, visited a plywood factory in Oregon, and headlined campaign events from Sterling Heights, Michigan to Iowa. In her videos for the Trump campaign, she regularly uses her womanhood as a shield, as she did in a video defending his xenophobic and racist border wall and policies towards immigrants, in which she attempted to spin her father-in-law as a humanitarian who cares about children at the border as well as women who face high levels of sexual assault.

The Trump campaign is now aggressively trying to paint itself as a friend to a certain type of woman

The Trump campaign is now aggressively trying to paint itself as a friend to a certain type of woman—the white suburban mom it so desperately needs—and has amassed a stable of women to help make that pitch. Lara will be at the forefront of those efforts, its blonde, pillow-lipped figurehead. (She’s so popular that a poll from the end of last year shows her handily winning the Republican primary for the seat recently vacated by Representative Peter King in Long Island, a district that she doesn’t live in.) In a recent op-ed, Lara summed up the core of the Trumps’ argument to women in the months leading up to November. Trump, she wrote, “has an amazing message of empowerment for women,” and he “is making sure that women are able to thrive like never before.” She added, “A strong economy and better health care is true female empowerment, allowing women to make choices for themselves and their families,” throwing in some dog whistles about “border security” and “violent crime” to round out her argument. At Politico’s “Women Rule” conference, Lara referenced the work she led in 2016. “We’re replicating that now, but in a much bigger fashion,” she said.

Will it be successful to move the needle just enough? In Washington D.C., I got a glimpse. Before Lara came on stage, I spoke with the woman next to me, a Chanel necklace-wearing blonde who told me that she was really there to see Nancy Pelosi, slated to speak after Lara. By the end of the 20 minutes Lara was on stage, however, she was laughing at her jokes and clapping along, an approving smile pasted to her face.

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