Come November, Donald Trump may go down in flames. Or he might continue to surprise and astonish us. But the Trump children, regardless of whether their father is ever again allowed in GOP polite company, are another matter.
The display of warm affection for their father during the Republican National Convention was not merely for him. Certainly, their presence was aimed in part at showing forth Daddy-Trump, suggesting to the American public that he is not such a bad guy. But there was another reason the Trump children took center stage: to introduce and establish the Trump dynasty. The convention offered the Trumps the opportunity to demonstrate the character, personalities, and attractiveness of the Trump children, securing the possibility of an enduring Trump presence in U.S. politics.
The Trumps are not going away any time soon.
The Trump children display all the positive features of their father—shrewd in business, tough, and pragmatic—without the buffoonery, acerbic and caustic wit, and unprincipled patterns of behavior and policy positions. Eric Trump has helped raise tens of millions of dollars for St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital. Ivanka, who introduced her father at the convention, plays a significant (not perfunctory) role in the Trump Organization. All have avoided the type of public excess and drama seen among the children of other rich and famous parents. When viewed apart from their father, it is hard not to see respectable and promising people.
The Trump children’s natural association with their father is unlikely to harm their political prospects. In fact, it will likely help them—if they can control him. With the Trump children comes a spirit of pragmatism and steadfastness channeled to them by their name alone; and when coupled with their own personalities, which seem far more composed and cool than their father’s, they will shine in the public square. Even if they do not deviate from the core of Donald’s populist message, they will likely soften it, articulate it, and give it some semblance of consistency and practicality.
They will be Trump 2.0.
What suggests the continued presence of the Trumps is the close parallel between them and the Le Pens of France. Jean-Marie Le Pen, the founder of the far-right Front National (FN), is widely known for his Trump-like character traits: clownish, rash, impolitic, and conspiratorial. In the early days of the party, he regularly made remarks considered antisemitic and racist, and his party was marginalized as a result, though it continued to gain seats in regional councils, the National Assembly, and the European Parliament. The party made little headway with legislation, though it was able to attract media attention on account of its leader’s periodic sardonic bombast.
All of this has changed. Jean-Marie’s daughter, Marine Le Pen, became the FN leader in 2011 and has significantly shaped and altered its message. She has repudiated the most controversial statements of her father and even booted him from the party. Still, her international fame far outweighs her party achievements. Under her leadership, the FN has gained only 20 percent of France’s European Parliament seats and few seats elsewhere. But France’s plurality voting system, which naturally disadvantages third parties, masks the breadth of support for the Front National in France. Marine Le Pen received almost 20 percent of the vote in the 2012 presidential elections, and nearly 15 percent for the National Assembly. These are significant percentages for third parties in such a system, resembling those found in proportional representation systems.
One rising star in the FN is Jean-Marie’s granddaughter and Marine’s niece, Marion Maréchal-Le Pen, a 26-year-old attractive, articulate, and fiercely vocal, though smart, critic of E.U. immigration policies. At 22, she became the youngest MP in modern French history. Together with her aunt, she has become the face of French nationalism.
Their accomplishments, though owing principally to their own efforts, would not be possible without the name Le Pen. Jean-Marie has not gone away, much to Marine’s chagrin. But his spirit has been tamed by Marine and Marion, and the party’s message reaches more and more people. The image of the party is now attractive, controlled, and perhaps even winsome while maintaining the Front National’s tough, unwavering demands of protection for the French people.
The Le Pen ladies have assumed leadership of a populist movement and found success in rebranding its image while retaining the essence of its message. It is likely that at least a couple of the Trump children will find a similar path open to them.
Admittedly, the political context in the United States is much different. The Le Pens are leaders of a third party, and neither Marine nor Marion has extensive business experience. Indeed, Marion has no professional experience outside of holding political office, and Marine is a lawyer. The Trumps, on the other hand, have business experience and would likely participate in a major party. Further, the regular incidents of terrorism, sexual assault, and rioting by Muslims in France, all exacerbated of late by the disastrous European migration crisis, provide the FN with countless attention-grabbing examples of why the French citizenry needs the party. The United States, though she has her own share of terrorist incidents, does not have an obvious terrorism crisis.
The important similarity between the politics of the two families is a brand of populism that is tied to an emphasis on law and order. Both controversial patriarchs have amassed a following that is uniquely attached to their name and that message. The task for Trump’s children is to build the base and burn off the dross, lose the unnecessary conspiracies, and keep their father quiet.
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