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Trump campaign: A family affair

CLEVELAND - Donald Trump's adult children have taken to the convention stage this week to try to shape a softer image of the Republican nominee for president.

CLEVELAND - Donald Trump's adult children have taken to the convention stage this week to try to shape a softer image of the Republican nominee for president.

Last month, they pressed their father to dump his top adviser and reset his political operation for the general election. And as Trump was finalizing his choice of Indiana Gov. Mike Pence as his running mate, he flew the kids to Indianapolis for meetings.

To a degree unheard of in the modern political era, the Trump campaign for president has become a family business. It's like the dry cleaners down the street, only with the leadership of the world's only superpower at stake.

The candidate confides in family, particularly elder daughter Ivanka, who is scheduled to introduce her father Thursday night, and Ivanka's husband, Jared Kushner, a Manhattan real estate developer like his father-in-law. He is said to listen to them more often than to his handful of conventional political advisers.

"This is the Trump Family Campaign," said independent political analyst Stuart Rothenberg, founder of an influential Washington newsletter. "I have never seen a campaign at any level with this much involvement."

Insiders say the younger generation would become a power center outside the normal lines of authority in the West Wing should their father be elected. Already several of the children and Kushner have served as emissaries to Republican leadership, helping to keep lines of communication open during the outsider's sometimes-awkward takeover of the party.

During the convention, Trump's children have served as character witnesses, humanizing the man famous for yelling "You're fired!" at the losers on his reality TV show. At times, their testimony made the strongest affirmative case for Trump in a program dominated by a whirlwind of Hillary Clinton-bashing and anger - at the president, illegal immigrants, Islamic terrorists, and trade deals.

Republicans in public office stepped gingerly around Trump the person. House Speaker Paul Ryan and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, for instance, barely mentioned him by name, choosing instead to dwell on the party's congressional agenda and the need for a GOP president so they can make real changes.

Most of the rest of the programming/infomercial bashed Clinton - "Lock her up!" - rather than making the case for Trump.

"The most effective advocates for Donald Trump this week just happen to share the same blood; they've been much better than the officeholders at portraying him," said Kyle Kondik, a University of Virginia political analyst.

He agreed that the Trump children's involvement in the campaign had been unusually intimate but noted that they helped persuade the candidate to pick Pence, who has been widely praised as a sensible choice to help mend fences with conservatives wary of Trump.

"When your family members are your closest advisers, that generally means that your campaign is going south," said Kondik, who has tracked hundreds of gubernatorial and congressional campaigns. "But the Trump kids appear to have been giving him good, solid advice."

Ivanka, 34, Donald Jr., 38, and Eric, 32, are all vice presidents in the Trump Organization, the New York holding company for the family's properties and investments, including hotels, golf courses, and residential developments.

On Tuesday, Donald Jr. broke through with what even President Obama's former strategist David Axelrod, now a commentator for CNN, said may have been the most effective speech of the convention to that point.

He vouched for his father as a hardworking executive with a common touch, mixing praise for the man he called his "mentor" with red-meat Republican attacks on Clinton and the Democrats. Before the speech, he cast the votes of the New York delegation, which clinched the nomination for his father.

"You want to know what kind of president he'll be? Let me tell you how he ran his businesses, and I know because I was there with him by his side on job sites, in conference rooms from the time I could walk," said Trump Jr.

"He spent his career with regular Americans. He hung out with the guys on construction sites - pouring concrete and hanging Sheetrock," Trump Jr. remarked. "He listened to them, and he valued their opinions as much and often more than the guys from Harvard and Wharton, locked away in offices, away from the real work."

Trump Jr. also spent time on Benghazi and warned that Clinton would appoint judges who would "abolish" the Second Amendment right to bear arms. Delegates roared several times during the speech, especially when he compared public-school teachers to Soviet department-store clerks who run things for their own benefit.

As soon as he left the stage, talk started of a possible political career in the younger Trump's future. He allowed to interviewers that he might be interested.

"There is some sense of Donald is now going to have to live up to his son's speech - but if that's the example of the type of people that Donald Trump and his wife have produced, I think it bodes well," said Brian Westrate, GOP chairman of Wisconsin's Third Congressional District.

Tiffany Trump, 22, told the convention Tuesday about the sweet notes her father wrote on her report cards; she said she's kept them from kindergarten.

"Whatever he does, he gives it his all and does it well," said Tiffany Trump, the only child from her father's second marriage, to Marla Maples. She has not taken as active a role in the campaign as her half-siblings.

On Wednesday, Eric Trump said his father's decision to run for president was a "selfless act" to stand up for working Americans. "Quite frankly, vote for the one candidate who doesn't need the job."

The Trump children got rave reviews on the convention floor.

"You keep looking at his kids and how great his kids are. A man doesn't raise men and women like that by accident," said Drinda Randall, 47, a mother of three and alternate delegate from Plano, Texas.


Staff writers Jonathan Tamari and Maddie Hanna contributed to this article.