In some dark corners of the internet a debate is raging about who, after President Trump is just a blissful memory, like polio, will emerge as his heir apparent. Will it be his dimwitted son? Or his other dimwitted son? Or some portion/combination of Javanka? Perhaps. But I suggest that if you were looking to engineer the next generation in a lab, you couldn’t do better than the 26-year-old University of Nevada grad, Tomi Lahren.
There’s no one better equipped to sell the gen-2 strain of Trumpism to the youngs than the OG Trumper.
Tomi Lahren has it all: the bleached blond hair, the smoking bod, the obsession with dressing up in stupidly provocative outfits; the unquenchable rage that she has no trouble expressing endlessly on the usual social media platforms. Let’s be honest: At some point, Trump’s punk-rock kamikaze sensibility won’t be much of a draw anymore. Every septuagenarian eventually winds up like late-stage Mick Jagger, no matter how cool they once were. Enter the Lahren.
She’s got all of the rage and racialist attitudes of Ann Coulter but isn’t burdened by any of Coulter’s intellectualism. When she’s not in attack mode, she’s perfected the blank stare of Steve Doocy, which allows her to take on the aspect of tabula rasa conservativism. Is she for free markets? Crony capitalism? Outlawing abortion? Who can say. What matters is that she’s into melting snowflakes. She’s the perfect designated successor for Trumpism.
Tomi didn’t just emerge, fully-formed, from Ann Coulter’s head. No, she was shaped and molded by the awesome power of the conservative media feedback loop mixing with her raw talent and ambition. She got her start in the ecosystem with One America News Network (of course) and then migrated to Glenn Beck’s Blaze, where she was eventually fired for announcing that she was pro-choice while doing a guest spot on The View. The surprise conversion on a network show was a total coincidence and in no way an attempt to get out of her contract with a niche streaming service in order to break into the bigtime.
It’s interesting how smoothly Tomi’s pro-choice views dovetail with the binary-choice pro-lifers who are always trying to talk themselves into believing that they have to support Trump, no matter what, in order to save babies. They seem unperturbed by Tomi’s heterodoxy and not terribly interested in what it says about Trump’s commitment to the cause of life that a pro-choice zealot is one of his biggest apologists. Perhaps this is a signal achievement of Trumpism, which seems to have crafted its own fusionism between the religious right and the libertarian wings of the party. Or maybe it’s an achievement unique to Tomi’s own brand in which she bridges the divide with anti-abortion crusaders by gleefully calling for the gassing of migrant children and rage tweeting about the “pathetic” “snakes” who were upset about a child dying in an ICE detention facility.
She’s a uniter, not a divider.
That ability to unite disparate factions around a unitary political brand is what makes a great politician. Reagan brought free marketeers and people who believed in astrology together. Obama the ultra-rich capitalist ruling class and the poors looking to expand the social safety net together. Trump has been able to bridge the gap between xenophobic isolationists and isolationist xenophobes.
But the successful political leader must also be able to get people to ignore his personal hypocrisies in order to support a broader goal. Look at the way environmentalists were never particularly bothered by Al Gore’s lavish carbon consumption.
In 2017, Tomi debated Chelsea Handler at Politicon, where she savaged Obamacare. Here’s what happened next:
“After Lahren launched a slew of attacks against the law, Handler asked her, “Do you have a health care plan or no?”
“Luckily I am 24 so I am still on my parents’ . . .” Lahren said.
Laugh at Tomi if you like, but the fact that she can revel in how she burns snowflakes while freeloading off her parents’ insurance without it bothering her fans is actually a sign of how good she is at this game.
And she’s only getting better.
Today, Tomi is installed at Fox Nation, a $5.99 a month streaming service that the New York Times’ Michael Grynbaum wryly notes is basically Fox News’ id. (Think about that for a second.) It’s hard to imagine a more perfect platform for Tomi than this Netflix for nationalists. As the boomers accelerate into oblivion, cord-cutting may come to cable news, too. And Tomi has already future-proofed by tying herself to a digital platform. (She’s so crucial to the Fox Nation product that they’ve even built her a studio in her basement.)
When I said that Tomi doesn’t have any of Coulter’s intellectualism, I didn’t mean that she wasn’t smart. She is, in her own way, plenty smart. Her native talent—her superpower, really—is her savant-like understanding of her own brand.
Not a lot of twenty-somethings are clever enough to understand that their personal brands are built on resentment. But Tomi is. She understands that while it looks as though she thrives on manufactured outrages and racist feuds, the deeper secret of her success is clout chasing. Like Trump, Tomi stays in the news cycle by fighting with people. But unlike Trump, she almost always picks her beefs with people more famous than she is, so she can chase their clout and be exposed to their fans and followers.
One of the interesting things about Tomi’s grudge matches is that she often picks people who are African American. Most recently, Tomi got a lot of attention for feuding with Cardi B. Before that she fought publicly with Wale, Kayne, 50 cent, Kendrick Lamar, jay Z, Beyoncé, Lil’ Wayne, and 21 savage. And funnily enough, she’s also feuded with Candace Owens. Who can say why. It’s a mystery.
Interestingly, Tomi does not feud to win. In one respect, this is is lucky because she rarely comes out on top in these exchanges. (Even with the rappers.) But this, too, points to the deeper game she’s playing: While she’s not winning the argument, she’s winning news cycles. And those are even more valuable.
A lot of people seem to assume that Ivanka Trump will one day inherit her father’s kingdom. But I very much doubt that. Ivanka seems to spend most of her time trying to launder her personal brand with nebulous “women who work” initiatives. As if that’s what Trumpkins want.
Meanwhile, Tomi Lahren spends her time fighting with African-American celebrities and delighting in the mistreatment of immigrant children. She’s the daughter Trump always wanted and the true heir to his political dynasty.
Just wait until she starts hitting the tanning bed.