Donald Trump Jr. points father’s followers to new villain, new rallying cry
At President Donald Trump’s first rally since the end of the 22-month Russia investigation, his supporters shouted about a woman who is guaranteed not to feature opposite him on the ballot in 2020.
She’s a Democrat, elected to Congress from New York.
It wasn’t only Hillary Clinton – Trump’s adversary since 2016, and the GOP’s since the 1990s – who was irking the crowd in Grand Rapids, Michigan, on Thursday. Their calls to “Lock her up!” had quieted.
It was Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez – the 29-year-old freshman congresswoman whose social-media megaphone has rallied left-wing Democrats and rocketed her to national stardom – whose name was on their lips. Or, for brevity, AOC.
“AOC sucks!” they cried, breaking into the crude refrain as the president’s eldest son, Donald Trump Jr., assailed Ocasio-Cortez in warm-up remarks for his father.
“Think about the fact that every mainstream, leading Democratic contender is taking the advice of a freshman congresswoman who three weeks ago didn’t know the three branches of government,” the president’s adult son said, referring to the enthusiasm with which Democratic presidential aspirants have embraced the Green New Deal, the climate plan sponsored by Ocasio-Cortez and Sen. Edward J. Markey,D-Mass. “I don’t know about you guys, but that’s pretty scary.”
He looked down at his notes to continue, but when he heard the chant, he paused to take it in, his face breaking into a broad grin as he gazed out at the crowd and nodded.
“You guys, you’re not very nice,” he said, pretending to admonish the audience. “And neither is what that policy would do to this country.”
The chant reverberated at the Trump rally as a possible catchphrase for 2020, swapping out one female villain for another. It testified to the first-term congresswoman’s rapid ascent to GOP public enemy No. 1, a position that took Clinton slightly longer to reach.
What’s more, the episode could deepen the battle lines between two hard-nosed militants – and social media savants – who have clashed before, including over a meme suggesting that socialists eat dogs. The decision by Trump’s son to present himself as a foil to the liberal firebrand took on added significance as he pointedly declined to rule out a political bid of his own, telling Fox News host Sean Hannity on Thursday, “I do enjoy it. I like being in the fight.”
Corbin Trent, a spokesman for Ocasio-Cortez, dismissed the 41-year-old as a “minion” for his father.
“I don’t watch garbage television, so I was unaware of it,” Trent said in a phone interview. “When reality TV gets into the White House, then things get a little weird, don’t they?”
In 2016, “Lock her up!” rivaled “Make America great again” and “Build the wall” as a rallying cry of the movement that helped catapult Trump from the set of “The Apprentice” to the Oval Office. The words, which endorse the imprisonment of a political opponent, continue to inflame his base. They issued from an audience as recently as this month, when the president said in remarks at the Conservative Political Action Conference that he was joking when he entreated Russia to hack Clinton’s emails.
The slogan gained currency at the 2016 Republican National Convention in Cleveland, where more graphic barbs were also on display, including T-shirts announcing, “Hillary Sucks, but not like Monica.” The flip side featured the meme, “TRUMP THAT B——!”
The slur against Ocasio-Cortez picked up where the sexualized derision of the former first lady, senator and secretary of state left off. It was a sign of just how much the self-identified democratic socialist, who shares the president’s knack for online engagement, bothers, and yet also fascinates, the GOP.
Fox News commentators deliver grave warnings about her. Conservative writers document what she wears and where she lives. She was the specter haunting CPAC. A Republican senator hauled posters of a machine gun-toting Ronald Reagan and a velociraptor to the floor this week to counter her climate change appeal. And, on the other side of the aisle, a Republican congressman has called her “attractive” and “adorable” and said, in a reference to the way Tinder users make their dating preferences known, that he would “swipe right” on bipartisan cooperation with her.
The congresswoman’s approach to political combat suggests she won’t be caricatured without a fight. A short committee speech this week, in which she responded to criticism of her climate plan and warned, “People are dying,” tore through the internet. On social media, she fires back at her detractors, taunting, “What have you got left?”
In December, she put the president’s eldest son on notice after he shared a meme with his 1.5 million Instagram followers that included a photograph of her and a suggestion that socialists eat dogs. Her comeback came swiftly: “I have noticed that Junior here has a habit of posting nonsense about me whenever the Mueller investigation heats up,” she wrote. “Please, keep it coming Jr – it’s definitely a ‘very, very large brain’ idea to troll a member of a body that will have subpoena power in a month.”
But it was the president’s son who was gloating Thursday about the outcome of that investigation.
In an interview from Grand Rapids, he told Hannity that his father’s warnings about the so-called “deep state” – the idea that government operatives were working to sabotage his administration – had been vindicated by the summary of a report clearing the president of coordinating with Russia. Yet, it was special counsel Robert Mueller III, the alleged exemplar of the deep state, who had cleared him, according to Trump’s attorney general, William P. Barr.
“We are combating it hard,” the president’s son said of the purportedly secret cabal.
Then, Hannity asked him a question that the Fox host said “a lot of people want to know.”
“You know, you’ve been out on the stump a lot lately,” he said, pointing to the “big crowds” he was drawing. “Do you ever think about it, maybe one day you want to run?”
Trump Jr. said he wasn’t ruling it out, especially given how much he enjoys being at the center of his father’s political battles. “I like being in the mix,” he said.
He acknowledged being “the son of a billionaire from New York City,” but said he has “friends in flyover country” with whom he goes hunting and fishing. “I mean, I actually spend much more time here than I do at the rubber-chicken charity dinner circuit in New York City,” he told Hannity. “These are my people. I get it.”
He said he has been proud to watch his father elevate people in “flyover country” and pledged to “keep fighting” on the president’s behalf. “I won’t rule it out for myself, but first things first, we’re going to let him finish up strong,” he concluded, echoing remarks he made Wednesday about his political future to Bloomberg Radio’s “Sound On.”
The acknowledgment by the president’s son that he would consider running for office came as a new book, “Kushner, Inc.,” suggested that the president’s elder daughter, Ivanka, harbors political ambitions of her own.
She has a specific job in mind, according to the author, Vicky Ward: president.
“Ivanka Trump has made no secret of the fact that she wants to be the most powerful woman in the world,” she wrote in the book, according to an excerpt in Town & Country magazine. “Her father’s reign in Washington, D.C., is, she believes, the beginning of a great American dynasty.”
She could have some competition.
Ocasio-Cortez has been mum about her possible next steps. It’s more than five years before the millennial is eligible to be president. For another seven months, she isn’t even entitled to be in the Senate.
But her mother has been less discreet, telling the New York Post last June, “Her aspiration is to be the president.”