From The New Yorker, May 16, 2016, issue
Last Monday afternoon, in Trump Tower, twenty floors up from the Trump campaign headquarters, Donald Trump, Jr., surveyed his desk, on which sat a bronze statue of Theodore Roosevelt, a rifle cradled in his arm and a Cape-buffalo skull at his feet. “He was a big hunter and started much of the conservation movement in this country, which is why we have as much public land as we do,” Trump, Jr., said, adding that, as “a brash New Yorker,” Roosevelt might seem “an unlikely advocate” for such things. “But he was all about getting away from the city and out into the woods.” On a table lay a camo cap bearing the words “MAKE AMERICA GREAT AGAIN.”
Trump, Jr., the thirty-eight-year-old eldest son of the presumptive Republican candidate for President, and an executive vice-president of the Trump Organization, has been running the family business while his father makes a case for why he should run the country. He had spent Saturday night at the White House Correspondents’ Association dinner, catching a 5 A.M. flight home for an archery tournament. Although he is more mild-mannered than his father, he has a trace of the family braggadocio. “I won both the traditional-bow category and the compound-bow category,” he said.
He took the elevator down to Fifth Avenue and headed to Central Park, walking faster and talking more loudly than everyone in his path. Trump, Sr., has been courting the votes of the nation’s nearly forty million sportsmen, and Trump, Jr., a less bronzed but amply gelled reflection of his father, often serves as his proxy. The son has given interviews to Bowhunter and Deer & Deer Hunting, and frequently appears in full camo. He and his brother Eric shot pheasants in Iowa and talked with reporters while wearing neon-orange vests, shotguns slung over their shoulders. In 2012, photographs of the brothers posing with animals they’d killed in Zimbabwe caused a stir, particularly one in which Trump, Jr., held a severed elephant tail in one hand and a knife in the other. (PETA referred to the killings as “two young millionaires’ grisly photo opportunity.”)
Trump, Jr., owns “dozens” of firearms, which he keeps “in a gun safe or two.” For shooting waterfowl, he uses a Benelli Super Black Eagle II, a utilitarian twelve-gauge shotgun; when hunting big game or shooting competitively, he favors a modified Remington Model 700 rifle, or an AR-platform semiautomatic rifle. He considers proposed measures to curb the easy availability of weapons like the AR to be un-American. “If someone wants to commit mass homicide, that person is going to do it whether he drives a car into a crowd or builds a bomb,” he said.
Like his father, he breaks with Republican orthodoxy when he feels like it. Trump, Jr., is a defender of keeping public land public, a contentious issue among sportsmen. “I’m in the fortunate position to be able to buy some land on my own, but not everyone has that ability,” he said. Near the zoo, he bought a Diet Coke from a hot-dog vender. “As it stands, if the states get the lands back, they could remain public or they could be sold off. So, say you have a ten-thousand-acre area. Well, a state could turn that into fifty golf courses that would be private and exclusive.”
Trump, Jr.,’s affinity for the outdoors comes from his mother, Ivana’s, side of the family. It bloomed during summer visits with his maternal grandfather, Miloš Zelniček, in Czechoslovakia. “He was a blue-collar electrician,” he said. “In Communist Czechoslovakia, in the eighties, hunting was reserved for Party élites. But he was a fisherman, and he taught me woodsmanship. He’d say, ‘There are the woods—I’ll see you at dark.’ ” He added, “He taught me how to shoot an air rifle; I was a total natural.”
After graduating from the University of Pennsylvania, Trump, Jr., spent a year working in a Colorado bar, hunting in his free time. He has pursued Cape buffalo in Zimbabwe, caribou and Dall sheep in the Yukon, and sockeye salmon in Alaska. He and his wife, a former model named Vanessa, who have five children, live on the Upper East Side (he used to have an archery range in his apartment) and spend weekends in the Catskills, where he likes to go trout fishing. “I don’t want my kids growing up to be city kids,” he said. “You can’t stay out all night partying if you’re waking up at four or five to head to the tree stand.”
Trump the candidate has flip-flopped on gun control and doesn’t share his son’s sportsmanship. “He’s shot before, but his only real thing is work, with some golf mixed in,” Trump, Jr., said. “To try something new and to be an amateur again, that doesn’t appeal to his competitive side. He knows what he’s good at, and he likes to win.”