Donald Trump Jr. didn’t skip a beat when a white nationalist radio host likened Trump Sr. to the Holy Roman Emperor who tried to drive Muslims out of Europe.
“I hope your father becomes the next Charlemagne after he becomes the next president of the United States,” said James Edwards. When Edwards then complained about political correctness, Trump Jr. jumped right into the conversation.
“The hard-working Americans, the people who made this country so great, they’ve been left in the dust,” Trump Jr. said. “The left only worries about people who don’t want to work, they could care less. They cater more to people who are here illegally and they care more about the feelings of countries that would love to see us wiped off the face of the Earth than they do hard-working Americans. It’s ridiculous. And people get it. We’ve tapped into that.”
The controversial interview, which aired March 1 on the conservative radio show “Liberty Roundtable,” was less notable for what Trump Jr. said, however, than to whom he was speaking.
Trump Jr.’s answers largely lined up with what his father has said in debates and on the campaign trail.
But in Edwards, he had an interviewer far outside the political mainstream.
Edwards is the host of “The Political Cesspool,” a white nationalist radio show based in Memphis. He is also director of two groups deemed white supremacist organizations by the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC), although Edwards instead calls himself “a pro-white advocate.”
In the past, Edwards has said that “interracial sex is white genocide,” “slavery is the greatest thing that ever happened to” African Americans, and that Martin Luther King Jr.’s “dream is our nightmare.”
When news of the interview spread online — thanks, in part, to Edwards promoting it — the Trump campaign initially denied it ever happened. Then Trump Jr. admitted he spoke to Edwards, but said it was unintentional.
“He was brought into the interview without my knowledge,” Trump Jr. told Bloomberg. “Had I known, I would have obviously never done an interview with him.”
The controversy came at a difficult time for Donald Trump Sr., who was already facing criticism for failing to quickly disavow the endorsement of former Ku Klux Klan grand wizard David Duke on Sunday.
But the gaffe was also a baptism by fire for Trump Jr., who, after a life spent largely avoiding the celebrity spotlight has suddenly stumbled into it.
In the past two weeks, Trump Jr. has emerged as a figure on the campaign trail, introducing his father at rallies and giving media interviews. He has also joined his father in aggressively going after Trump detractors, including Mitt Romney, on Twitter.
— Donald Trump Jr. (@DonaldJTrumpJr) March 3, 2016
“I’ve been a politician for 12, maybe 13 days,” Trump Jr. quipped on stage during one of his father’s rallies last week in Valdosta, Ga.
Trump Jr.’s appearance on the campaign trail is almost as surprising as that of his father, who many pundits predicted would never actually run or would drop out months ago.
While Trump Sr. has defied expectations to become the GOP favorite, his son has overcome his own hurdles to enter politics, including an admitted drinking problem, an aversion to the spotlight and spats with his father.
When his parents split in 1991, Trump Jr. didn’t speak to his father for a year, according to New York magazine.
Born into his father’s bizarre world of wealth, celebrity and controversy, Donald Trump Jr. has spent much of his life trying to stay out of the headlines. His birth on New Year’s Eve 1977 came at a strange time for the Trump family. Donald Trump Sr., had only recently settled a long-raging, highly publicized lawsuit with the federal government over accusations that the family company had discriminated against minorities. He had also just taken on a massive project, buying the heavily indebted Commodore Hotel.
Trump Sr.’s successful transformation of the Commodore into the Grand Hyatt, however, gave him a name as a savvy businessman. In 1987, he sought to capitalize on that success with his best-selling memoir, “The Art of the Deal.”
He mentions his son in one passage, describing how Donny called him to ask when he’d be home from work.
“I adore [my three kids], but I’ve never been great at playing with toy trucks and dolls,” Trump Sr. wrote. “Now, though, Donny is beginning to get interested in buildings and real estate and sports, and that’s great.
“I tell Donny I’ll be home as soon as I can, but he insists on a time. Perhaps he’s got my genes: the kid won’t take no for an answer.”
Donny accompanied his father to construction sites as a kid, and for a while, it seemed like he would be the scion of the family business.
When he was 12, however, father and son had a falling out. Trump Sr. and Ivana were going through an acrimonious and litigious divorce, fueled by rumors of Trump’s relationship with TV personality Marla Maples and splashed on the front page of New York City tabloids. Ivana asked for more money than agreed to in the prenup, and Trump Sr. refused.
“You just love your money,” Donny angrily shouted at his father, according to Michael D’Antonio’s biography, “Never Enough: Donald Trump and the Pursuit of Success.”
Trump Jr. didn’t speak to his father for a year, blaming him for the divorce, according to New York magazine.
“It’s tough to be 12,” Trump Jr. told the magazine in 2005. “You’re not quite a man, but you think you are. Being driven to school every day and you see the front page and it’s DIVORCE! THE BEST SEX I EVER HAD! You don’t even know what that means. Your private life becomes public, and I didn’t have anything to do with it, my parents did.”
Trump Jr. moved with his mother and two siblings to Palm Beach, Fla. Then he was sent to boarding school in Pennsylvania and, eventually, his father’s alma mater of the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School, where he studied business and finance.
His father had launched his business career while studying at Wharton, but Trump Jr. struggled with personal issues while at school.
“To be candid, I used to drink a lot and party pretty hard,” he told New York magazine. “I couldn’t do it in moderation.”
He was more brooding and emotional than his father.
“Don is a bit more contemplative,” Trump Sr. told Real Estate Weekly in 2004.
And instead of going straight to work for his father after graduating from Wharton, Donny spent a year in the Colorado wilderness. School had driven him “a little crazy,” he told the Australian in 2005.
“I think everyone assumed I would just move off to Colorado and live in a log cabin for the rest of my life,” he told Real Estate Weekly. “I actually did that for about a year to make sure that when I came back and did what I did after I graduated from Wharton, I would love what I was doing. I wouldn’t have regrets or question myself and ask ‘what if I would have done that.'”
“I used to really think that Donny would one day just get on a boat and sail away and leave this world; those periods when the drinking was his way of escaping,” a person who knew the family told New York magazine. “I was shocked when I realized how deep some of his problems had gone. I’m so happy he turned a corner.”
Turn the corner he did, going to work for his father and slowly moving up the ranks in the Trump Organization. His first big project was the Trump Park Avenue.
“The Park Avenue project enabled me to step up my role a lot faster, and it was a lot of hard work and sweat,” he told the Arizona Republic.
The project went well, but father and son still clashed on several issues. They differed on the decor, with Trump Sr. insisting on gold doorknobs. When it was finished, Trump Jr. jokingly asked his father to put “Trump Junior” on the outside, but his father refused. Still, Trump Jr. took on increasingly important roles in the company, overseeing Trump towers in Chicago and Toronto.
Trump Jr. got serious about life as well as business. He quit drinking in 2003 and proposed to model Vanessa Haydon a year later.
He also began to cautiously open up to the media.
“When I was younger, it was parental celebrity status and being the kids thereof. It just wasn’t my thing,” he told Real Estate Weekly. “Now that I am doing stuff on my own I am really adding value to the company, there’s a place for me.
“If that can benefit our projects and really help us out and not necessarily impede too much on my personal life, that’s fine. I don’t know whether that is possible, but we’ll find out soon enough. It’s not as bad as I thought.”
Every media misstep, however, was seized upon by his father.
When Trump Jr. proposed to his girlfriend at a jewelry store in a New Jersey mall — in exchange for a free $100,000 ring, according to the New York Post — his father slammed it as a tacky PR stunt.
“I wasn’t thrilled with what he did. … I certainly don’t like it with respect to a wedding ring,” Trump Sr. told CNN’s Larry King in late 2004. “I said, you have a big obligation, you have a name that’s hot as a pistol, you have to be very careful with things like this.”
The elder Trump then upstaged his son, giving his soon-to-be third wife Melania a $2 million ring, also allegedly discounted according to the Post.
Despite their once distant, occasionally competitive relationship, the two have grown closer as Trump Jr. has become his father’s right-hand man.
Although Trump Sr. likes to tell reporters that he’d fire his son if weren’t doing a good job, he also praises his quieter, more contemplative son.
“Don has a very analytical mind, learns quickly and has a good eye design-wise,” Trump Sr. told Real Estate Weekly.
“I’m sure I will pick up a lot of his habits and a lot of his traits,” Trump Jr. told the publication. “I think in real estate there could be a lot worse things than that. He’s a great teacher. And he’s great at what he does, arguably the best.”
For the past decade, Trump Jr. has kept a fairly low profile, even as his father has become a reality television star and a politician. Although Trump Jr. did appear in some episodes of “The Apprentice” and judged some of his father’s Miss USA competitions, he has preferred hunting to headlines.
In recent months, as it became clear that his father had a serious shot at becoming president, Trump Jr. was eased into the campaign by accompanying at least one journalist on a hunting trip.
Even then, he seemed less interested in politics than hunting.
“Growing up as a kid in the city, it kept me out of trouble,” he told The Washington Post’s David Weigel. “I was in a tree stand or a duck blind instead of doing all that other stuff I could have been doing. When my brother, Eric, got married, instead of doing that usual, no-upside Vegas bachelor party, we took a lodge in Alaska and went fishing for king salmon. I even brought my 5-year-old along.”
His contemplative streak was also on display during the January pheasant hunt in Iowa.
“A lot of it’s just the relationship between man and dog,” he said. “I wish I got as excited as anything as much as a bird dog going after a pheasant.”
In the past two weeks, however, Trump Jr. has become a much more visible face on the campaign trail.
During a Feb. 29 campaign rally in Valdosta, Ga., Trump Sr. called his son onto stage.
“Where is Don?” he said. “Where’s my boy? He’s done such a great job. Come here Don … Say something.”
“I really love what my father is doing here,” Trump Jr. said in a speech that lasted less than a minute. “He really loves this country. He loves the family it’s given him, the opportunity it’s given him, the businesses it’s given him and he wants to give back…
“He’s going to fix the mess. He’s going to cut the nonsense. And he’s going to make America great again. And I couldn’t be more proud of him.”
He struck a more aggressive tone, however, in his interview with Edwards, the white nationalist.
When Edwards said that, thanks to Trump Sr., “the white working class is going to come out, which is really the base of the Republican party,” Trump Jr. agreed, saying his father’s campaign appealed to traditionally Democratic voters.
“By the way, I can’t tell you, we’ve built more jobs, union and stuff like that, than anyone,” he said. “But those traditional voting blocks that are union guys, you think they are voting for Hillary? What have the Democrats done for the unions, for the hard-working guys? Absolutely nothing. They keep allowing everyone who doesn’t belong in the country, ‘Let them in, give them jobs, give them this, give them healthcare, let them undercut your wages.’ Those guys are going to come out for a Republican for the first time ever. It’s a movement.”
As outrage mounted over the interview, however, the Trump campaign initially said the interview didn’t happen. Then Trump Jr. said Edwards hadn’t really interviewed him, since he wasn’t the official host of the radio program.
“I never knew he was in the room so he didn’t interview me,” Trump Jr. told Bloomberg. “He did apparently ask a question or two though. I had no idea.”
When asked about Edwards’s background — “Edwards has probably done more than any of his contemporaries on the American radical right to publicly promote neo-Nazis, Holocaust deniers, raging anti-Semites and other extremists,” according to the SPLC — Trump Jr. echoed something he had said to Edwards in the controversial interview.
He blamed the media, just like his dad.
“This is clearly the mainstream media trying to turn a story into something, much like they did with my father, who I witnessed denouncing David Duke and any KKK endorsement on multiple occasions,” Trump Jr. said.
“The way the media is spinning it is as though I voluntarily spoke with this guy and I knew his background, rather than I was essentially duped by him being in the room and asking an inane question where I clearly could not have ever known what or whom I was talking to. It’s very unfair, and typical of the way much of the media has handled us.”
Read more about Donald Trump: