DONALD TRUMP gazed upon his infant daughter, Tiffany, and wondered about the kind of future she’d inherit, the sort of person she’d grow up to be.
Would her world be a safe one? Would she find happiness?
At least I’m assuming that he asked himself those questions. I know that he asked this one: Would she have large breasts?
He did that on television, in 1994, when he appeared on “Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous” and was quizzed about how Tiffany resembled him and how she took after her mother, Marla Maples, who sat next to him.
“She’s got Marla’s legs,” he said, in a video clip shown recently on “The Daily Show.” Then he moved his hands toward his chest, cupped them and added: “We don’t know whether or not she’s got this part yet, but time will tell.”
Dads will be dads. And Trump will be Trump, his oversexed outlook and quickness to objectify women manifest even in the way he talks about his daughter. Excuse me: daughters. Over the years he has marveled repeatedly — and publicly — over what a babe he finds Tiffany’s older half sister, Ivanka, to be, suggesting on two of those occasions that if she weren’t the fruit of his loins, she might be the candy on his arm.
Trump trotted out nearly the entire orchard of his loins last week, during a CNN town hall. His Republican rivals, John Kasich and Ted Cruz, did likewise. Each of the three appeared onstage on sequential nights with their spouses and offspring, who were presented as character witnesses and supposed proof of the men’s softer, more sensitive sides.
Cruz’s two daughters wore matching yellow dresses. The older one, who was about to turn 8, spoke of chocolate birthday cake, while Cruz said that the younger one, 5 years old, doles out the sweetest “marshmallow hugs.” That clinched it. From now on, when I think of Cruz, I’ll think of sugar and spice and everything nice.
The CNN town halls were apt, given the front-and-center placement of family members in this presidential campaign in particular. There has been less of a signal from candidates that kin generally, and kids especially, are off limits, in a media no-fly zone. There has been more of an invitation to peer and parachute in.
Seemingly a quarter of the emails I get from Hillary Clinton’s media shop are about where Chelsea will pop up to stump for her mother next. Although one of Jeb Bush’s well-known hesitations about a presidential run was its possible exposure of family problems, he ended up volunteering stories about his daughter’s struggle with substance abuse.
And while Carly Fiorina, during her failed 2010 campaign for the United States Senate, wouldn’t discuss the circumstances of her 35-year-old stepdaughter’s death the year before, she invoked it repeatedly during her campaign for the G.O.P. nomination, saying at one debate: “I buried a child to drug addiction.”
Considering how prominent progeny have been, it’s entirely fair to measure candidates by their offspring, and the Trumpkins and their father’s interactions with them are as singular as everything else about him. For starters, his five children are by three different wives (Ivana, Marla and now Melania), a presidential-campaign anomaly in and of itself.
Only Barron Trump, his 10-year-old son with Melania, was absent from the town hall. But Tiffany, now 22, was there, along with his and Ivana’s three children: Donald Jr., 38; Ivanka, 34; and Eric, 32.
They were a preternaturally polished lot, especially Ivanka, who can deflect potentially messy questions and pivot to gauzy banalities with the best of them. Time and again, people who’ve had business dealings with the three oldest Trump kids have described them to me as intelligent, even-keeled and relatively grounded in light of the media circus that surrounded their upbringing. That’s a reminder that for all of their father’s willful buffoonery, he has real smarts, real skills and a real place in polite society that they’ve all been exposed to.
THEY’RE an obedient lot, too, versed in the relevant talking points. They slipped in a reference to the self-funding of Trump’s campaign. They digressed to note that he was no poll-tested, focus-grouped political automaton.
“I mean, he’s so authentic,” said Eric. That’s what all dads yearn to hear, a compliment scrawled on Father’s Day cards through the ages.
Ivanka mentioned Trump’s legendary “deals” right off the bat, describing her admiration as she “watched him do these deals at the Trump Organization.”
Donald Jr. mentioned them twice, summoning the storybook memory of “playing with trucks as a 6-year-old while he’s negotiating deals with presidents of major companies.”
“He’s always been there,” Donald Jr. assured Americans. “It’s usually been on his terms.” He repeated “on his terms” just 30 seconds later, noting that time with Dad was often “at job sites.”
But honestly, it was hard to focus on what they said because of how they looked. Has a whole family ever smiled so gleamingly? There is either extraordinary dental DNA or serious cosmetic intervention at work. In the realm of incisors and molars, Trump really is making America great again.
Scratch that: He’s making it “amazing.” That was an adjective that his wife and kids, emulating his hyperbole, used 20 times during the town hall to describe Trump the man, Trump the mission, Trump the moment.
They’re 24-karat chips off the solid gold block. His proneness to complain about unjust rules was echoed in Ivanka’s remarks that she and Eric couldn’t vote for him in the New York primary because of an “onerous” obligation to register as Republicans before the last minute. Who knew?
His flamboyant virility and contempt for political correctness were mirrored in a trophy hunt by Donald Jr. and Eric in Zimbabwe five years ago. They posed for photographs with their kill, including an elephant, a leopard and a crocodile, which dangled by a noose from a tree.
And talk about unabashed excess: Melania once divulged that she routinely slathered Barron with the caviar-infused moisturizer from her skin care line.
Donald Jr. proposed to his fiancÃ©e at a jewelry store in a New Jersey shopping mall to which TV cameras had been summoned, and there was chatter about his getting the ostentatious ring for free in the bargain. Those Trumps and their deals!
At the town hall, Donald Jr.’s 8-year-old daughter, Kai, surprised him and other family members by joining them onstage. “She insisted on sitting on my lap,” he explained, “because she got the shy gene, obviously.”
Generations of apples, so close to the tree. It’s amazing.