But Don wasn’t always his father’s Mini-Me. An angry and petulant youth, he actually didn’t fully buy into Trumphood until after college. Don had been a preteen when his parents’ separation and divorce began to consume the New York tabloids. After his mother, Ivana, got full custody, he left for boarding school and didn’t speak to his dad for a whole year. In college, at the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School, Don was known mostly for drinking and picking fights. He didn’t care about being one of the cool kids, a contemporary told New York magazine, but he had the hottest girlfriend.
After graduation, Don moved to Colorado, where he worked as a bartender, fly-fished, and ski-bummed for more than a year. He wanted to make sure he didn’t wake up in the family business 10 years down the road full of regret about the road not taken. But after a while, he hankered for a faster-paced world. He returned to New York, quit drinking, and started to act like a Trump. By the time his father ran for president, he was brokering hotel deals and co-hosting The Apprentice.
The campaign, like the Trump Organization, was a family affair. Don was in the inner circle. It was Don who broke the news to Trump’s first campaign manager, Corey Lewandowski, that he was being fired. Don was the most comfortable of the children on the hustings, introducing his father at rallies and stumping for him solo. (I met him when Don and Eric hosted a Super Bowl party at a Buffalo Wild Wings in Manchester, New Hampshire, just before that state’s primary.) Whatever ambivalence he might once have had about his birthright was gone—Don wanted to win.
Last month, when the former FBI director James Comey testified before the Senate, President Trump stayed quiet, but his namesake wasn’t about to let the family’s newest enemy off the hook. Don rebutted Comey in real time on Twitter, jeering, jousting, and picking apart Comey’s testimony. He questioned Comey’s “character,” accused him of leaking, and declared the whole investigation “10 months of nonsense whose only apparent goal was to take down #POTUS & stop him from doing what he was elected to do.”
Don was in his element—the taunter, the brawler, the freelance troll. In politics, the Trump family troublemaker had found his perfect niche. But now he may have earned a very different role: the fall guy. The New York Post editorial board rendered the most brutal verdict on the would-be political savant in a headline in Wednesday’s paper. “Donald Trump Jr.,” it proclaimed, “is an idiot.”