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Lara Trump, Nepo-Spouse – Mother Jones

Lara Trump, Nepo-Spouse – Mother Jones
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On March 8, the Republican National Committee gathered for its spring meeting and ushered in big leadership changes. Among those voted into a top spot in the party was Lara Trump—the daughter-in-law of former President Donald Trump—who was elected RNC co-chair. “With Eric by my side, I’ve done things I never imagined possible,” Lara said in her acceptance speech. “Believe me, 10 years ago, if you’d asked me if I’d be part of a presidential campaign, I would have said, ‘You’re crazy.’”

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The comment understated just how meteoric Lara’s rise has been since marrying Trump’s middle son in 2014. Indeed, before joining the family, first as Eric’s girlfriend for six years, and then as his wife, nothing in Lara’s rather thin resume would have suggested that one day she’d become the public face of the Republican Party.

Before she met Eric, Lara’s ambitions seemed to lean toward modeling, not politics. While attending North Carolina State University, she worked for four years as a Hooters Girl. During and after college, she entered several bikini contests in her hometown of Wrightsville Beach, North Carolina, including Maxim magazine’s “Hometown Hotties” contest. In 2005, a scantily clad Lara appeared in the now-defunct magazine Stuff, which featured near-naked women to attract readers to consume its gear and gadget content. A year before she met Eric, she posed for a local swimsuit calendar, gracing the page for April.

“Digging up an accomplished woman’s 20-year-old past to lob sexist attacks is vile,” RNC spokesperson Anna Kelly replied when I asked about this early chapter in the new co-chair’s resume. “It’s typical for desperate activists like Stephanie Mencimer, who have nothing positive to cover about Joe Biden.”

There is, of course, no reason someone who was a Stuff model and Hooters Girl in her 20s can’t go on to co-chair the RNC. That’s what feminism is all about, allowing women the freedom to make choices to pursue all sorts of different career paths. Now 41, Lara’s early career might not even warrant a second glance, except that since becoming a prominent surrogate for the former president during the 2016 and 2020 campaigns, and now RNC co-chair, she has used her bully pulpit to impugn the credentials and successes of others not lucky enough to marry the son of a billionaire.

She has attacked efforts to promote racial and gender equality as a threat to American meritocracy. And she has repeatedly deprecated the first woman vice president as an unqualified diversity hire. In a 2022 appearance on Fox News, Lara Trump described Kamala Harris, a former US senator and California attorney general, as “an embarrassment every time she goes out on a national stage…She was not chosen based on merit. She was chosen based on virtue signaling and pandering to get votes from women and minorities.”

The comment was hardly a one-off. In July last year, Lara went on a New York City radio show to cheer the Supreme Court’s decision banning the consideration of race in college admissions—a decision she hoped would make people “work harder.”

“We should never just want to hand something out to someone based on how they look,” said the former model, adding, “Look at our vice president of the United States, Kamala Harris, who Joe Biden and all the Democrats were happy to tell us they only wanted as the vice president solely based on how she looks. It’s ridiculous.” 

“I’ll tell you what. As a woman, do not ever give me a job, a title, a position, an award—anything that I did not earn,” she insisted. “You give me that position because I am the best person for that job, period.”

The hypocrisy all but invited serious scrutiny of Lara’s career trajectory, before and after becoming the former president’s daughter-in-law. It seems fair to ask how Lara Trump earned her new RNC post and whether she is, in fact, the best person for a top job in a national political organization that raised nearly a billion dollars for the 2020 campaign cycle and employs more than 200 people. The answer may be surprising.

“I would argue that she’s going to be a force multiplier the likes of which the party has never had before in that position,” says Sean Spicer, who served as White House press secretary during the first months of the Trump administration and who has spent 30 years working in Republican politics including several stints at the RNC and its related committees. He acknowledges the obvious nepotism involved in her promotion. “If her name was Lara Spicer, I don’t think she would be co-chair,” he concedes. “But the question is: Can she do the job? Not only can she, she’ll crush it.” He predicts that with her ability to raise money and demand attention, Lara will be “the most effective co-chair in modern RNC history.”

If it’s true that Lara Trump might be one of the most qualified people ever to co-chair the RNC, that may say more about the job than about her. Spicer, who knows Lara and said he was texting with her just before he called me, says the job of RNC co-chair is often misunderstood. Party rules don’t lay out specific responsibilities or experience for the co-chair. The position functions more like the vice president, someone who fills in at state Lincoln Day dinners when the chair can’t make it. The job comes with only a small staff and does not involve running the day-to-day party operations. (Lara has said she will focus on fundraising and media appearances.)

Historically, the co-chair has often come up through the party ranks—some have worked on campaigns and others haven’t. It has never been a particularly high-profile job. “If you talk to anybody who isn’t an RNC dork,” Spicer said, “they couldn’t name a co-chair.” Lara Trump is replacing Drew McKissick, the chairman of the South Carolina GOP, who has spent 30 years in Republican politics and working on campaigns. By contrast, in 2023, McKissick replaced Tommy Hicks, a private equity investor and hunting buddy of Donald Trump Jr.’s who came from a family of Texas GOP donors. His father bought the Texas Rangers from George W. Bush, and Hicks has spent most of his career working for his father’s various investment funds or sports teams. (Hicks’ tenure running his father’s soccer team in Liverpool, England, famously ended in 2010 after he sent a heckling fan an email telling him, “Blow me fuck face. Go to hell. I’m sick of you.” His subsequent apology did not save his job.)

After working on both the 2016 and 2020 presidential campaigns, Lara “knows exactly what she’s doing,” Spicer says. “She will be in more demand than any co-chair in history. That’s a huge, huge win.”

When West Virginia RNC Committeewoman Beth Bloch formally nominated Lara for the RNC post in March, she said, “In a world where qualifications are often measured by titles and years of experience, we’re reminded of a powerful truth: God does not call the qualified, he qualifies the called. Lara Trump is the embodiment of this truth.” Lara tends to give more credit to Eric than to the good lord for her success, but there’s no doubt that she seized the opportunities her marriage created.

Lara Lea Yunaska was born in 1982 and grew up in Wrightsville Beach, North Carolina. Her parents, Bob and Linda, still live there in a Modernist house on the water that, according to Zillow, is now worth more than $3 million. Her father’s company built yachts, including one for the late great news anchor Walter Cronkite. Lara graduated from North Carolina State in 2005 with a degree in communications and interned at some local TV stations.

Politics don’t seem to have factored into her post-graduation plans. Instead, she participated in various bikini contests. An online modeling portfolio she created from that time touts her C-cup and 5’11 stature. “I am a very versitle [sic] model,” her page says. “I have an athletic look since I do so many sports.” Among her additional skills she included on the page: singing, acting, and “extreme sports.”

She didn’t list an agent, as most professional models on the site do, and indicated that she handled all her own bookings. The short list of modeling gigs on her portfolio includes four years as a “Hooters Girl,” and her turn in the July 2005 issue of Stuff, the US edition of a British publication known as a “laddie” magazine, with photos of nearly nude young women in erotic poses—but not so nude and not so erotic that the magazine couldn’t be sold at Walmart.

With her back to the camera, “Lara” from Raleigh sported a tiny bikini and cast a seductive, come-hither look over her left shoulder in a section called the “Stuff Little Black Book,” where readers were invited to “make an appointment with ecstasy!” The feature resembled the phone sex hotlines of the era, inviting readers to email the women—via a Stuff address—and suggesting that the models would read through these messages to pick out their dream dates. “Then buy breakfast!” it exclaimed.

Who was this blond bombshell? Next to her photo, Lara writes, “I’m a pretty hilarious person, so a guy’s sense of humor is definitely a high priority.” Turn-ons? “Something as simple as opening a jar of pickles can be REALLY sexy!” she writes. “WOW!” She describes her perfect date as one in which a guy takes her to the batting cages or out fishing—a hobby enjoyed by her future husband. The magazine allowed readers to download the women’s images directly to their phones. 

Matt Schneiderman was a Stuff editor shortly before Lara’s photo appeared. He didn’t remember the Little Black Book feature, which also ran as a special supplement in other editions of the magazine, but said Stuff frequently utilized women who weren’t professional models, often without paying them. “This is the MySpace era,” he recalls. “When I started at the magazine, I couldn’t believe that people wanted to be featured in the magazine the way we featured them. But then again, we didn’t have TikTok.”

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Lara is not the only Trump to have appeared in Stuff. Her future sister-in-law Ivanka was featured on the cover wearing far more clothes than Lara did, in 2006 (“The Apprentice’s Red-Hot Taskmaster!”) and 2007 (“The World’s Sexiest Boss!”), the year the magazine folded.

In 2007, Lara seemed to have left modeling behind when she moved to New York to attend the French Culinary Institute. After graduating with a pastry arts degree, she launched Lara Lea Confections, a cake-baking business she operated out of her apartment for about a year. She also worked as a personal trainer. Her fortunes took a significant turn in 2008 when she met Eric Trump. Their meet-cute story goes like this: Lara and Eric were both out with friends in New York. She noticed him because they were the tallest people in the room. Three months later they went on their first date. They wouldn’t marry until 2014.  

She continued to bake cakes and also volunteered with the charity Hero Portraits, which provides oil paintings of fallen veterans and first responders. The nonprofit was founded by a wealthy Tennessee businessman who served on the board of Eric Trump’s foundation. Lara told a local newspaper that her work with Hero Portraits rekindled her interest in a media career. In 2012, she was hired as a story coordinator with the CBS news program Inside Edition, despite having little media experience beyond her communications degree. The Trump campaign did not respond to a request for comment about her work history before she joined the network.

The evolution of Lara Yunaska Trump: July 2005 Stuff magazine; CBS’s Inside Edition 2015; Conservative Political Action Conference 2024  Mother Jones; Inside Edition; Michael Brochstein/Sipa USA/AP

With its mix of investigative reporting and celebrity profiles, Inside Edition just happened to be a longtime favorite of Donald Trump, who had been a regular on the show for years before Lara was hired. He was such a feature of the program that he wrote the forward to the 2013 book The Way We Are: Heroes, Scoundrels, and Oddballs From 25 Years of Inside Edition, by anchor Deborah Norville.They tell me I’ve appeared on Inside Edition more than 300 times—far and away, more than anyone else,” Trump boasted. “People tune in in hopes of seeing me. (Kidding!)”

Promoted to associate producer, Lara worked on episodes about such things as “pelvage”—the “pelvic cleavage” then dominating the red carpet thanks to dresses slit up the thigh. She did at least two shows involving dogs—rescue animals have been one of her longtime causes. Somehow, Lara’s brother Kyle Yunaska was selected for an Inside Edition competition in 2013 to identify the “hottest bachelors in Washington, DC.” (Then an accounting manager for a nonprofit, the hot bachelor did not win the contest, but he would later score plum jobs in the Trump administration, first at the Energy Department, despite having no discernable background in energy policy, and later as NASA’s deputy chief of staff.)

Lara’s former colleagues I contacted were reluctant to speak publicly about her time at the network, but she was reportedly good at her job. “She was really positive,” one former co-worker told me. “She always had a lot of energy. She got along really well with her colleagues. She was on top of it and hard-working. Any time there was a story involving some kind of athleticism, they asked her about it. She did lots of sports. She wasn’t a diva or anything.”

While working at the network, Lara joined the board of her boyfriend’s charitable foundation. The Eric Trump Foundation was later accused of having for years diverted donations raised for St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital, a children’s cancer charity, to entities associated with the Trump Organization, including Trump National Golf Club in Westchester County, New York. Once Lara joined Eric’s foundation board, the Associated Press reported, it started making donations to the animal welfare groups that Lara had visited or volunteered with, to the tune of $181,250 between 2012 and 2014, including the Lucky Orphans Horse Rescue, which pictured her on its Facebook page riding a horse. 

Eric Trump suspended operations of the foundation in 2016 after a series of unflattering news stories suggesting that it was engaging in influence-peddling by selling access to the Trump family through its fundraisers, and Lara left the board. She also left her network job to go on the campaign trail. “When they’re reporting on your family on the show you work for, it’s a little challenging,” she told Port City Daily at the time.

In 2017, Lara and Eric had their first child, a son, and a daughter arrived in 2019. As Trump was gearing up to run for reelection in 2020, Lara was involved with reaching out to the LGBTQ community and communities of color to help blunt criticism that Trump’s administration was hostile to them and their interests. She made Facebook videos for the campaign with people such as Brandon Straka, the gay founder of the #Walkaway Campaign that attempts to convince liberals to walk away from the Democratic Party. (The effort seems to have been only marginally successful. Exit polls showed that about 80 percent of LGBTQ voters voted for Biden in 2020.)

A prominent member of the “Stop the Steal” movement that sought to overturn the results of the 2020 election, Straka was arrested and pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor charge for participating in the riot at the US Capitol on January 6. Lara herself appeared at the January 6 rally at the Ellipse where President Trump spoke before the attack on the US Capitol. “This fight has only just begun,” she told the cheering crowd before her husband declared, “We need to march on the Capitol today!”

Barely two months after the ensuing insurrection, she considered a run for the US Senate in North Carolina in 2021. With the Trump brand in trouble thanks to the riot, she instead became a paid contributor at Fox News. There, she defended her father-in-law’s performance on January 6, at one point falsely claiming that Donald Trump “warned” House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and other Democrats about the coming riot. “They all know Donald Trump did not orchestrate this whole thing,” she said, adding falsely again, “He tried to warn them, so why didn’t they have the adequate security there?”

Such analysis made her a popular guest on the network. Lara appeared on “Hannity” 25 times during the first seven months of the Biden administration. But once again, her father-in-law’s political ambitions interfered with her TV career. Fox News generally prohibits people running for office or closely connected to a candidate from working for the network, and it parted ways with Lara in 2022, when Trump announced he was running for president again. She was allowed to appear in an unpaid capacity.

She found new outlets to build her brand. Along with working on the 2024 campaign, Lara has started a podcast called The Right View, where she interviews luminaries such as Duck Dynasty’s Willie Robertson. She also joined Eric on Michael Flynn’s “ReAwaken America” tour, a QAnon-adjacent spectacle featuring evangelical prophets, anti-vaxxers, MyPillow guy Mike Lindell, and many other promoters of the lie that Donald Trump won the 2020 election. “We know the one in charge up above, and I can tell you that I believe that he has his hand now on Donald Trump, that no weapon formed against him shall prosper,” Lara said at one such event in Nevada in October. “God is a part of this race.” Last year, she released a cover of Tom Petty’s “I Won’t Back Down,” a song that Trump had used at a 2020 campaign rally, prompting Petty to send his campaign a cease-and-desist letter.

The conservative Salem Media Group had just signed Lara to its podcast network when Trump announced his desire for her to join the RNC as co-chair, along with election denier Michael Whatley, who was replacing Ronna McDaniel as national chair. When Trump endorsed his “very talented daughter-in-law” for the post, he touted her skills as a communicator. “She is dedicated to all that MAGA stands for,” he declared.

 

 

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About a week later, Lara showed off those skills at the Conservative Political Action Conference outside of DC. She told the MAGA-friendly crowd that she and Eric make their children recite the Pledge of Allegiance before going to bed. She expressed her desire for her son to grow up to be a “masculine man,” and she said she makes sure her 4-year-old daughter understands that “In the United States of America, we get ahead and succeed by merit and merit alone.” And then, without irony, she thanked her father-in-law for endorsing her as RNC co-chair.



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