Donald Trump Jr. speaks in San Antonio. | Eric Gay / AP Photo
It wasa showcase for the well-rehearsed role he has been playing for internet-savvy culture warriors and on the campaign trail: translating the combative, anti-liberal MAGA ethos for nonboomers.
In appearances across college campuses and on a slate of podcasts, comedy shows and livestreamed shows popular with young, cynical Americans who might not like President Donald Trump much but loathe a specific type of culturally minded Trump critic even more, Trump Jr. has branded himself as their emissary to MAGA world.
is taking his act to a wide audience with a best-selling book, “Triggered.” Featuring unvarnished, self-aware tales of his drinking problems, ditch-digging in Czechoslovakia and trying to win the approval of his distant father, the book caters to Americans who grew up listening to podcasts, watching amateur YouTube videos and reading overly confessional blogs from nontraditional journalists. When discussing the book in person, he uses “like” just as much as the 20 – somethings who are listening to him.
It’s a role that could help the president come 2020, as he tries to cobble together a reelection victory on the back of a shrinking, mostly white voting bloc. If Trump Jr. can connect with just a few pockets of traditionally Democratic-leaning younger voters, exploit their skepticism of millennial wokeness and convert them into engaged culture warriors, it could go a long way toward helping the president in key swing states like Florida, Texas and Wisconsin – not by much, but by just enough. They don’t have to love Donald Trump; they just have to hate the left more.
“They can see a lot of the backlash that [Trump Jr.] receives every single day on social media and in media and so forth,” said Charlie Kirk, founder of the college conservative group Turning Point USA, who has appeared with Trump Jr. on numerous campuses. “And they themselves as young conservatives experience, on a smaller scale, other forms of backlash.”
To those in the know, Trump Jr. has been spreading this message for months.
He’s the beloved “New York meathead”on “The Kirk Minihane Show” podcast at Barstool Sports, a digital media company that writes less about sports and more about the increasingly reactionary things that certain millennial sports bros talk about between games. He gabs with Jim Norton and Sam Roberts, two comedians and radio personalities enmeshed in the wrestling and UFC worlds, impresses Adam Carolla with his knowledge of power saws, recaps legendary WWE matches with pro wrestler Chris Jericho, and kvetches about left wing #canceling with all of them. Through his fluency in internet manliness, Trump Jr. has tried to teach a younger generation how to fight the left, the Trump Jr. way: Punch hard, talk fast, protect dad at all costs and damn the consequences.
“When you see Don speak at a college, he doesn’t come across like a buttoned-up politician guy,” said one person close to Trump Jr. “It doesn’t come across like a phony news anchor. He comes across like a guy shooting the shit on a podcast. ”A podcast that is now, incidentally, spreading pro-Trump content.
So, it was no surprise when Trump Jr. brought this persona to “The View.” Within 30 seconds of taking his seat, the hosts were grilling him on why he tweeted out the name of the whistleblower who filed the initial complaint about Trump’s approach to Ukraine. Prepared, Trump Jr. swiftly punched back with an accusation that the hosts ’network, ABC, was being hypocritical.
“Right now, ABC is chasing down a whistleblower about all of the [Jeffrey] Epstein stories that were killed,” he said, referring to a leaked video of an ABC anchor complaining that the network had prevented her from publishing a story about the convicted sex offender who committed suicide in a jail cell.
The rest of the interview continued in the same vein. Trump Jr. belittled his hosts over their past liberal misdeeds – alleged blackface, comments about film director Polanski – declaring that he was fighting back against the media on behalf of conservatives.
He likely knew exactly how his presence – and those comments – would come across on a show like “The View,” and the kind of culture-war content that would emerge as a result. That was the point.
“I mean, I could go on there, be the nicest guy in the world, use very measured and reasonable arguments and you know, that no matter what I said, [the headlines would be] ‘Don Jr. gets DESTROYED, they OWNED HIM, ‘”he told Minihane before his taping with“ The View. ”“ It’s literally a no-win for me, you know, in the social justice wars. ”
By infuriating “The View” hosts, Trump Jr. may have opened himself up to condemnation from mainstream journalists, but created a work of #triggering performance theater in the process – one that was broadcast on network television, went viral among die-hard Trumpists, and, more importantly, landed on the radar of the increasingly young free speech crowd on the internet.
later told comedian Dave Rubin onhis eponymous YouTube show that in the days afterward, several male fans had come up to him during book signings and told him they’d loved his appearance on “The View,” though they stumbled when he asked what they were doing watching a show with a largely female demographic.
There are, of course, limits to this strategy. The fact that he is President Donald Trump’s son makes it hard to win converts among a deeply polarized age cohort. But winning over any number of nonboomer voters – or at least making them skeptical toward liberals – is critical. In 2018, 62 .2 million people under the age of 53 turned out to vote in the midterms, according to the Pew Research Center, more than the 60. 1 million voters above that age.
And the Trump Jr. roadshow has also exposed infighting among the president’s supporters.
Shortly after his appearance on “The View,”Trump Jr. went to a Turning Point event at the University of California, Los Angeles, where he happily took on what he thought was a group of liberal students screaming at him to take questions.
“Name a time when conservatives have disrupted even the furthest leftist on a college campus,” he said, on cue, as the students shrieked.
Yet the students apparently were conservatives – specifically, Trump-supporting “America First” nationalists who believed Turning Point is too pro-Israel, a stance at odds with their desire to turn America into an ethno-state.
Those nationalists then followed Trump Jr. as his book tour progressed. They flooded an appearance on a YouTube livestream with demands that he participate in a Q&A. “Why did you get triggered at UCLA?” One mocked him.
Even in MAGA world, it seems, being a culture warrior is increasingly difficult.
Still, that might not matter come 2020. By casting his advocacy as a sociological endeavor and not an overtly political one, Trump Jr. is, in a way, simply shifting the context of Trump’s reelection away from the issues – impeachment, trade deals, tax reform, climate change – and toward the soft realm of the culture war. Broadly speaking, that’s area in which Trump has thrived politically.
And tellingly, the last chapter of his book – after hundreds of pages chronicling his grievances with rich liberals, college students, socialist Twitter mobs and Jussie Smollett – is titled “Trump 2020. ”The final passage includes 14 pages of actual bulleted talking points for his father’s reelection.
His father’s supporters, he wrote, were fed up with “living in a country that was ruled by what the left did and did not find offensive.” Trump Jr. is hoping that statement rings true with just enough young voters to keep his dad in the White House.