Donald Trump Jr. Becomes a Rainmaker on the Republican Speaking Circuit

  • Championing gun rights, attacking Democrats brings in cash
  • Shaking hands, posing for selfies and bear-hugging camo-clad

Donald Trump Jr.'s Life in His Father's Shadow

Donald Trump Jr. navigated the Indianapolis fundraiser like a seasoned politician: shaking hands, ensuring everyone got a selfie and doling out bear hugs to a camo-clad hunting buddy he spotted in the crowd.

By the end of the May dinner for the Indiana Republican Party, the president’s eldest son had raised $400,000, a record, besting previous headliners including House Speaker Paul Ryan and New Jersey Governor Chris Christie.

His father’s presidency has turned Donald Trump Jr. into a rainmaker for the Republican Party, allied conservative groups and, in at least one case, himself. 

Probes by Congress and Special Counsel Robert Mueller into Trump Jr.’s interactions with Russians during the president’s campaign haven’t dulled his star power for conservative groups and others seeking keynote speakers. To these groups, his proximity to the president and his red-meat enthusiasm for gun rights and lashing Democrats are paramount, making him one of the most in-demand guests on the Republican fundraising circuit.

In October, he will headline at least four events, including a fundraiser for Cuyahoga County Republicans in Ohio and a pheasant hunt for Iowa Congressman Steve King’s re-election bid. Next month, he’ll attend a fundraiser for Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach’s campaign for governor with tickets selling for as much as $2,000. He’ll also be paid a $100,000 fee by private donors for speaking at the University of North Texas to raise money for college scholarships.

Paying Attention

“Don Jr. and Ivanka are the two most recognizable members of that family, aside from the president. Put either one of them on your event and you are going to get people to pay attention and come,” said Pete Seat, executive director of strategic communications for the Indiana Republican Party.

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Donald Trump Jr. didn’t respond to a request for comment.

The group putting on the Texas event, the Kuehne Speaker Series, has never paid a speaker as much as the younger Trump. Often the college’s headliners come for free or give a reduced rate.

But the president’s oldest son will be worth the money, said Brint Ryan, CEO of tax consulting firm Ryan LLC and one of the event organizers. He anticipates Trump will draw a record crowd of around 1,200 people and raise $300,000 for scholarships. Sponsorships for the event go for as much as $100,000, which includes 20 tickets to the speech, a VIP reception and a photograph with Trump.

Donald Trump Jr. became a regular surrogate for his father on the campaign trail. After the election, he initially said he planned to get out of politics and focus on his family’s real estate business, which he and his brother Eric were designated to run once his father took office.

Back on Circuit

But by March he was back on the fundraising circuit speaking at a GOP fundraiser in Dallas that raised $500,000. In May, shortly after he spoke to Indiana Republicans, he campaigned across Montana for Greg Gianforte, who won a special election for the congressional seat vacated by Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke. Trump’s name was even floated in the spring as a candidate for New York City mayor or governor of the state.

Trump’s future as a force in Republican politics looked uncertain over the summer after he admitted to a meeting during the campaign with a Russian lawyer. He met with attorney after being promised damaging information from Russian government sources on campaign rival Hillary Clinton, according to an email exchange about the meeting that he made public.

Since then, Trump has become a focus of congressional and Justice Department investigations into Russian involvement in the 2016 elections. He spoke for five hours behind closed doors to congressional committee staff on Sept. 7, and Democrats have said they want him to return to the Hill for a public hearing. President Donald Trump’s re-election committee paid almost $238,000 in the third quarter to the law firm representing younger Trump in the matter, according to campaign finance disclosures.

Stirring Controversy

Part of Trump’s appeal is the controversy he stirs, said event organizers. At the University of North Texas, Trump’s hefty speaking fee and political views provoked criticism and protests are expected. A group of 87 professors called on the university to stop the event.

“That anyone associated with our university would choose to associate with Mr. Trump shows distressingly poor judgment,” the professors wrote in a letter published in the campus newspaper.

But the fight helped generate media attention and excitement for the event, Ryan said.

“He has probably been a little more controversial than I would have thought,” Ryan said. “But everyone is talking about it, for that reason I think it is an excellent choice.”

Trump also puts a fresh face on a Republican speaking circuit populated by mostly older, establishment figures. For last year’s event featuring Rudy Giuliani, Ryan said his wife was agnostic about attending and his children stayed home.

Not this year. Ryan’s wife wants a seat at Trump’s table, he said, and his girls are joining them.

— With assistance by Kevin Cirilli

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