The Trump flags and yard signs are still up. Flags that shout “Impeach Biden” fly on the back of pickup trucks. “Most people here believe Donald Trump is still the president,” says Nancy Allen of her neighborhood in Shelby, North Carolina. “And I call him President Trump.”
Allen might get the chance to vote Trump again sooner than expected. But it will not be for Donald or his politically ambitious daughter Ivanka. Instead the former president’s daughter-in-law, Lara Trump, a North Carolina native, is considering a run for the US Senate next year.
“If she decides to run, I will campaign for her,” added Allen, 74, who used to run a business in Wilmington, where Lara Trump (née Yunaska) was born and raised and where her parents still live. “She’s very approachable: it’s amazing that she’s just like one of us. She has no airs about her at all. She’s a people’s person.
“She is well known all across the state, which is very important, and I think she is good and she would win. Henry, my husband, said yesterday that it would be a landslide if if she ran.”
Lara, 38, a former TV producer who has also worked as a chef and personal trainer, married Eric Trump at his father’s Mar-a-Lago estate in Palm Beach, Florida, in 2014. Since becoming a member of the family, she has displayed the zeal of the convert and proved an ardent champion of the “Make America great again” movement.
Lara played up her local roots when addressing rallies for the president in North Carolina and her bio on Twitter, where she amassed 1.2m followers, says simply: “NC girl in NYC #MAGA.” She also led Women for Trump events, hosted numerous campaign video streams and, after her father-in-law’s defeat, unabashedly pushed false claims of voter fraud.
She told Sean Hannity, a host on the conservative Fox News network, on 5 December: “I want to make it very clear to the American people: this is not over. So don’t for a second think that Joe Biden is going to be sworn in on January 20th.”
This week Lara returned to the spotlight in more ways than one. She conducted Trump’s first on-camera interview since leaving the White House on her online show The Right View, but the conversation was removed from Facebook and Instagram because he has been banned from those platforms for incendiary comments.
It also emerged that Lara is joining Fox News as a paid on-air contributor – a potential boost to her political brand ahead of a possible run for the Senate seat in North Carolina to be vacated next year by retiring Republican Richard Burr. She told the Fox & Friends programme on Monday that she has not “officially made a decision, but hopefully sometime soon”.
Such a move would require her to sever ties with Fox News, according to the network’s policy. It would also represent the first electoral test of the Trump name since 2020 and underline how the former president’s children and their partners have emerged as some of his most influential allies and surrogates.
Don Jr’s girlfriend, Kimberly Guilfoyle, a former Fox News presenter, campaigned vigorously for the president and went viral with a Republican national convention address that ended with a crescendo: “The best is yet to come!” Ivanka’s husband, Jared Kushner, served a senior White House adviser with a portfolio so sprawling that it was ridiculed by critics.
The surprise, perhaps, is that the first standard-bearer would be Lara rather than Ivanka, who amid much speculation has ruled out a run for the Senate in Florida.
Wendy Schiller, a political science professor at Brown University in Providence, Rhode Island, said: “She would be what I think Donald Trump hoped Ivanka would be. She would become the avatar for the Trump family name. She looks like a Trump, she talks like a Trump.
“Every president has wanted his children or grandchildren to run for office for a long time. Trump is no different. This is a daughter-in-law, but it doesn’t matter, and we’ll see. Maybe she can do whatever Ivanka can’t do and appeal to suburban college educated women who defected from Trump.”
How Lara fares in at the ballot box could also offer clues to the presidential election, Schiller added, even if Donald Trump himself decides not to run again. “By Lara Trump running in North Carolina, the Trump brand get tested and, if she’s successful, that’s an indication that the Trump brand might do well in 2024 in the presidential race, which may lead to pushing Don Jr out there to run for president.
“There are a lot of other people who want to run for president in the Republican party in 2024. You’re going to see a very complicated dance between prominent Republicans and the Trump children and Trump himself in the next two years because they want his support but they do not want them to get too successful because that will crowd them all out.”
There is no guarantee that Lara would win a Republican primary where the Trump name might turn from asset into liability. Rivals could include Mark Meadows, a former congressman from North Carolina who became Trump’s chief of staff. Burr, the outgoing senator, voted in favour of convicting Trump at his impeachment trial following the 6 January insurrection at the US Capitol.
Larry Jacobs, director of the Center for the Study of Politics and Governance at the University of Minnesota, said: “There are going to be other candidates on the Republican side in North Carolina and some of them are going to both claim loyalty to Donald Trump to try to neutralise that but also suggest to voters that they have a better chance of beating a fairly competitive Democratic candidate come the general election.
“Because one thing we know about Donald Trump – and this will be part of the political genetics here – is that he’s a turnoff for independents.”
Trump won North Carolina by just 1.3% against Joe Biden, significantly less than his margin in 2016. Democrats hope that the state can trend in the same direction as Georgia and Virginia, where anti-Trump resistance was a rallying point.
Antjuan Seawright, a Democratic strategist based in South Carolina who works in North Carolina frequently, said: “The demographics of North Carolina still would give us real possibilities, real opportunities to do the unthinkable, just like we did in Georgia in January.
“I think that the timing is right, the environment is right and Republicans are going to have a fight on their hands that they did not expect for that Senate seat. The same way Georgia was key to the Senate in the 2020 cycle, I think North Carolina will be just as key for the 2022 cycle.”