In making one of the most scrutinized decisions of his short-lived political career, Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump relied on his three most trusted advisers: his children.
For months, Trump had heard arguments from his closest confidants, as well as potential donors, that his insurgent campaign had outgrown its campaign manager Corey Lewandowski. But the billionaire businessman did not decide on removing him until after a Monday morning meeting with his eldest son, Donald Jr., 39, who along with his siblings Ivanka, 34; and Eric, 33; had grown increasingly worried about their father's political campaign.
They had watched with concern over the past two weeks as their father's presidential bid foundered, urging him to adopt a different tone on the campaign trail. A pivot to the general election did not come easily, however, with self-inflicted wounds by the candidate, missed opportunities to attack Democratic challenger Hillary Clinton, slow fundraising, and reports of feuding among staff members dominating headlines. A Bloomberg poll last week showed Trump trailing Clinton by 12 percentage points, and Federal Election Commission reports from Monday showed Trump had raised just $3.1 million in May, compared with Clinton's $26.4 million.
Trump told NBC's Today on Monday that reports of his children's role in ouster of Lewandowski were "absolutely nonsense." But while shying away from discussing politics publicly, Trump's oldest children have made their views known to their father for months, on a "daily" basis and sometimes an "hourly" one in the case of the presumptive Republican nominee's namesake, Donald Trump Jr.
"Were we involved in talking about this with him? Sure," Trump Jr., who goes by Don, said in an interview with Bloomberg TV's "With All Due Respect," referring to the Lewandowski decision. "He was coming to that on his own. We were there to help augment that and really think it through with him."
The role for the three most prominent of Trump's five children emerged in interviews with several people with direct knowledge of the campaign who requested anonymity to speak openly about the private deliberations.
While serving as executive vice presidents within the Trump Organization with offices virtually adjacent to each other in Trump Tower, Trump's children also advise him on a gamut of issues facing a candidate for the highest office in the land: from staffing and fundraising to political strategy and policy ideas. They retain no official titles with the campaign, yet their travel expenses are paid by it, according to campaign finance records.
Lewandowski felt the influence of Trump's children from the beginning of his tenure, when a communications strategist from Ivanka Trump's team joined as spokeswoman. In the campaign manager's final days with Trump, a scrap with Ivanka's husband, Jared Kushner, precipitated meetings that led to the dismissal.
For days leading up to his dismissal, rumors swirled about Lewandowski butting heads with Kushner, who is the publisher of the New York Observer and the campaign's liaison with House Speaker Paul Ryan's policy staff.
Trump said Monday that "Ivanka really respects Corey." He said the campaign was simply moving on from its lean structure during the primary, which relied largely on Trump's ability to command attention at rallies and in news appearances -- for which Lewandowski "was absolutely perfect."
Trump also said he didn't think he would change his blustering tone for the general campaign.
Message and Policy
Another push by Ivanka—for her father to strike a warm tone towards the gay community in his formal response to the Orlando massacre—was overshadowed by numerous factual errors blamed on Lewandowski's shop. Trump said, for instance, that the Queens, New York-born shooter was from Afghanistan.
Clinton's political machine hammered Trump relentlessly on the facts and on his reaffirmation of the divisive Muslim ban that Ivanka Trump was pushing to tone down, further convincing the children that his campaign lacked the communications team needed to win the election.
For months, Lewandowski had said that he would be expanding the campaign's communications staff, but time had run out. Just minutes after Lewandowski was let go, Manafort was telling senior staffers dialed into a conference call that one of his top priorities was bringing in new talent to better run the campaign. Before he spoke, Hope Hicks, Trump's press secretary and a former Ivanka Trump staffer, delivered the opening remarks in a sign that her role continues to be a crucial one in Trump's final push to the White House.
Ivanka introduced her father when he announced he was running for president last summer. As he battled Fox News' Megyn Kelly last August in one his first major political scuffles this cycle, she urged him to emphasize his record of employing women at his companies and his support for women's health programs. In an interview with Fox News' Sean Hannity, Trump called Ivanka "my guide on that whole subject."
"Ivanka is so much into that whole issue of women's health and women," Trump, who has said he is pro-life, said. "She understands how I feel about it." Trump, unlike the other Republican presidential candidates in the primary, praised Planned Parenthood in a press conference after his victories on Super Tuesday in March as an organization that "has done very good work for millions of women."
Trump's sons have also influenced their father's politics. Don Jr.—a devout hunter—has worked tirelessly as a Second Amendment rights activists. Both he and Eric were instrumental in introducing their father to the hunting community, both at a grassroots level and also from a business standpoint. They helped coordinate a meeting with CEOs of hunting businesses in Las Vegas ahead of the Iowa Caucuses.
They have also directly helped interview several top aides before they officially joined Trump's political team, and in some cases they are also often the contact people for lower-level policy staffers looking to connect with the campaign.
Each of Trump's children, as well as Kushner, have been involved in lining up donors for the campaign. Despite the slow pace of May fundraising for Trump's campaign, he has said he raised $12 million for the Republican National Committee in June, and friends of his also cut checks to the RNC.
When Manafort was hired to oversee delegate operations, he worked closely with both Eric and Don Jr. to help line-up delegates at a time in the campaign when it appeared uncertain whether Trump would be able to secure the 1,237 delegates needed to clinch the nomination.
Trump has said repeatedly that he decided against running for president in 2012 because he didn't think that his children were ready to take on a bigger role within the company.
That changed this cycle. While Trump shifted his focus to the campaign, his children managed the business -- including the transformation of the Old Post Office Building in Washington D.C.
But it quickly became apparent that there were no better surrogates for him than his children. They were polished, accessible and camera friendly, having spent much of their adult lives living through their father's very public lifestyle, including roles on "The Apprentice."
While many have speculated that Ivanka would become CEO of the Trump Organization should Trump become president, his sons' increasing roles within the campaign have left many wondering if they would have an official role with a Trump administration.
In an interview with Bloomberg ahead of the Iowa Caucus, Don joked about the possibility of joining a Trump administration. "The big joke over the holidays was maybe Department of Interior because of my love for the outdoors," he said, laughing. "But the only problem is that they joked I'd go off into Alaska and never be seen again."
"I thought, 'Hey, that's a pretty good job. I could probably do that,'" Trump Jr. said.
Toluse Olorunnipa and Ben Brody contributing.