There’s something about bulldozers and hard hats that brings a family together. It worked for Donald Trump and his father. And it worked for Donald Trump and his children. Long before Donald Trump was a presidential candidate, New York real estate mogul and reality TV star, he was Fred Trump’s kid, sitting at his dad’s knee playing with blocks as his father developed homes and postwar apartment buildings in Brooklyn and Queens.
Fast forward six decades, and Donald Trump’s three oldest children, all thirtysomethings, are vice presidents in his real estate empire as well as top advocates for their father in his presidential campaign. Handed down across the generations was a clear set of Trump family values: work hard, talk big, sell luxury and leave your mark.
Like dad, Don Jr., Ivanka and Eric Trump were the boss’s kids before they were business executives and campaign adjuncts. They tagged along on their father’s visits to Trump construction sites and built Lego skyscrapers on the floor of their dad’s office as he negotiated hardball real estate deals. “This is the third generation of builders,” Don Jr. once said. “I think we’ve been programmed genetically with too much ambition to sit back and collect rent for the rest of our lives.”
It’s not just a love for brick and mortar that runs in the family. Fred Trump built his real estate business by dangling dreams of luxury living to the middle class and showcasing champagne-sipping “bikinied beauties” in the scoop of a bulldozer, as one old news clip recounted. A Trump real estate ad from 1949 describes Fred as “acting as a free and rugged individualist to meet the basic need for shelter.” Many of his ads end with the tagline “another luxury achievement by Fred C. Trump.” Old news articles show him extolling the impressive lobbies of his buildings, the popularity of new space-saving efficiency units and special features of Trump properties such as free supervised day camp services for tenants.
Behind the glamorous veneer was a business model that aggressively worked the system. Fred Trump used tax breaks and subsidies to make his projects profitable, a strategy his son has embraced as well. Donald Trump worked with his father even before he completed college and in no time leapfrogged his dad in the arts of both deal-making and self-promotion. Manhattan beckoned, and the younger Trump answered, against the advice of his more cautious father. “He was from Brooklyn and Queens, where we did smaller things,” Trump said of his father during a town hall in New Hampshire last year. “He said, ‘Don’t go to Manhattan. That’s not our territory.’ But he was very proud of me.”
One of Donald Trump’s first big projects: Armed with guaranteed loans from his father and generous tax abatements, Trump transformed the defunct Commodore Hotel into a glimmering Grand Hyatt adjoining Grand Central Station that opened in 1980. Trump’s three oldest children, there are two more from his second and third marriages, clearly inherited their father’s and grandfather’s love of the deal. They’re all executive vice presidents, directing development and acquisitions as a team.
At 38, Don Jr.’s recent work includes hotel and commercial projects in Vancouver, Rio de Janeiro and India. Ivanka, 34, has been overseeing conversion of the Old Post Office Building in Washington into a luxury hotel. Eric, 32, has focused on expanding the Trump collection of golf courses and created the Eric Trump Foundation to benefit St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital.
The kids are expected to keep managing the Trump Organization should their father win the White House. One of the big head-scratchers about Trump is how the candidate so prone to hype, bluster and insult managed to produce children who seem so even tempered. Trump offered this explanation during a 2004 interview with CNN’s Larry King: “I worked at it. I was tough. I was firm with them. I didn’t give them too much money.”
His children largely agree. Don Jr. once said: “We weren’t spoon fed and handed anything we wanted. If we wanted something, we could have it, but we had to work for it. We always had to have jobs.” For all the talk of familial love, admiration and discipline, the Trumps are no prototypical Norman Rockwell family. By his children’s own admissions, the thrice-married Trump was never the kind of dad who played baseball with them, built sand castles and read bedtime stories. “We were definitely a more go-look-at-property kind of family,” Eric once told CNN. Trump himself has struggled to recall when he ever changed a diaper.
And there was plenty of turmoil when Trump’s 1990 divorce from first wife, Ivana, played out like a tawdry serial in the New York tabloids and word of his affair with Marla Maples became public. Nine-year-old Ivanka found out her parents were divorcing when she saw a picture of them with a rip down the center splashed across the front of the New York Post. After their parents split, the children lived with their mother in Trump Tower, tended to by nannies, while their father moved to another floor in the building.
In the heat of the divorce battle, Ivana Trump was quoted as saying of her husband, “Donald has gone weeks on end without seeing the children at all.” But Ivanka, in a 2004 interview with New York magazine, said the breakup ultimately brought the three kids closer to their father. “Every morning before school, we’d go downstairs and give him a hug and kiss,” she said. “We didn’t take his presence for granted anymore.”
Maples had already given birth to Trump’s fourth child, daughter Tiffany, by the time she and Trump married late in 1993. Tiffany, 22 and a recent graduate of the University of Pennsylvania, was largely raised by her mother in California. She was 5 when her parents divorced in 1999. “I don’t know what it’s like to have a typical father figure,” she told DuJour magazine last year. “He’s not the dad who’s going to take me to the beach and go swimming, but he’s such a motivational person.”
A typical father, for one, wouldn’t be likely to speculate on the future breast size of his toddler, as Trump once did on “Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous” when he was asked what Tiffany had inherited from her mother. Maples once said of her marriage to Trump: “There weren’t any sacred moments. Everything had to be done in front of a camera, or everything was for the business.”
Trump’s youngest child, son Barron, 10, was born to his third and current wife, Melania, who has largely stayed off the campaign trail to raise their son. “I want to thank Barron for putting up with the fact that I never see him anymore,” Trump said in May.
Trump’s other children are making the most of their moment in the spotlight. There’s been speculation that Don Jr. has his own political aspirations, and he hasn’t ruled out running for office. But his father was clear there will be no 2017 run by Don Jr. for New York mayor. The day after she delivered a speech vouching for her dad at the Republican National Convention, Ivanka Trump’s fashion line marketed the dress she wore at the podium: “Shop Ivanka’s look from her(hash)RNC speech.”