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What It's Like Being A Trump When Your Name Isn't Donald

The Huffington Post The Huffington Post 23/03/2016 Sam Stein

WASHINGTON -- For many years, Laura has been afforded certain luxuries. When she and her husband traveled to cities like Chicago or Las Vegas, the concierge would put them in a nice suite. Every now and then they'd receive complimentary room service. Sometimes, when they'd arrive at a full restaurant, a table would suddenly become available -- with service that was "always up in the stratosphere you wouldn't expect for normal people."

Laura, who is 60 and lives in Colorado, is not a famous actress, musician or Wall Street trader. She is a Trump. Or, more accurately, her last name is Trump. And on occasion, that surname has opened up doors.

"For a while, people were calling me 'The Laura,'" she said.

But as The Donald has gone from real estate tycoon to reality TV star to leading Republican presidential candidate, the reception that Laura has received has lost that jovial edge.

"It is a bit different," she said. "Some people apologize to us, saying, 'Oh, I'm sorry.' It used to be if you charged something on a credit card, then they'd pause and would say, 'Oh, are you related?' Now … they are kind of sorry you have that last name."

For a while, people were calling me 'The Laura.' Laura Trump of Colorado

Donald Trump has transformed the conventions of American politics, rising to unanticipated heights with sharp elbows and an acid tongue. For voters, it has been either inspiring or frightening, depending on their philosophical disposition. For those who share the Trump name, the experience has been as socially disruptive as it's been politically divisive.

While Laura Trump has seen concerned looks, Joyce Trump of Grand Junction, Colorado, noticed that people have stopped mentioning her last name at all. "It was kind of weird," she said. "They would look at me, but then they wouldn't say anything, like, 'I'm not sure how to deal with this so I just won't bring it up.'"

A supporter of Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) herself, Joyce, 54, is proud of the surname but not because of Donald -- though she would vote for him if he became the GOP nominee. Trump is her husband's name and she's proud of the legacy he's built in their community. That a good chunk of the country associates "Trump" with bigotry and sexism isn't so much a problem at home.

But ...

"I would be a little nervous about going into Chicago or San Francisco or even Denver and saying, 'By the way, my name is Trump,'" she conceded. "I don't know how that would go over. Hopefully, most people would have sense enough to realize that we are all individuals."

Of the dozen or so Trumps interviewed for this story, a surprising number were, like Joyce, conservative-leaning. They also tended to be older (none younger than 50), which makes some sense since we reached them on their landlines via the white pages. 

None of the Trumps said they felt compelled to support Donald because of a shared last name. Some, in fact, really don't like him.

"I can give you my opinion in about two seconds," said Sidney Trump of Michigan. "I think he acts very childish. … That's as far as I'm going to go and thank you for calling."

What stood out, rather, was that Trumps seem to have highly developed opinions about Donald. Years of being asked "the question" -- are you, you know, related? -- have conditioned them to think critically of the man. While the rest of the country is frantically grappling with his sudden impingement on their daily lives, the other Trumps have felt his presence for years.

Take Deborah Trump of Arkansas. She's read all of Donald's books -- he's written more than a dozen -- and is currently diving back into The Art of the Deal. She has a rather unusual take on how people should assess the reality TV star's White House credentials.

"I've said, 'If I was going to date this guy, what am I going to look at?'" she said. "Look at what he's done with his children. They seem to be very well-mannered, well-educated. They seem to be wholesome good kids. He's done a very good job. … When I read his books, I see honesty."

Deborah, 59, is "absolutely" voting for Trump and is even making calls from her house on behalf of his campaign.

I love him. We need someone who can push people around. Elaine Trump of Massachusetts

Elaine Trump of Massachusetts is also a Trump supporter. "I love him," she said. "We need someone who can push people around."

Like other Trumps who spoke to HuffPost, she's experienced the power of the surname. Often, when "the question" is asked by those curious enough, she will casually reply that she was Donald's first wife.

"And they believe me!" she said, taking a certain joy in the fact that at 85 years old, she can pull that off. "If I did that, I would be robbing the cradle!"

The Trump name certainly has the capacity to throw people off balance. One year, when Elaine was ordering a turkey for Thanksgiving, she recycled the spousal history joke, only to be met by giddy supermarket workers who wanted to shake her hand.

"They laughed," she recalled, when she made the big reveal. "I said, 'Do I get my turkey free?' They probably figured if I was a Ms. Trump, I could afford to give them the turkey. Maybe three."

Bobbi Trump of Georgia has also enjoyed the occasional perks of her surname. She and her husband were once upgraded to a suite at a Trump hotel and nearly got to meet Donald himself. And when she recently called Fidelity to talk to a financial adviser, the initial response she received was, "Your name is wonderful. I am so for him."

It hasn't been all fun, though. People sometimes ask Bobbi if she's embarrassed by being a Trump. "I say no, I'm not related to him. If he wants to make a fool out of himself, that's fine," she said.

While many of the non-Donald Trumps have taken innocent advantage of their eponymous connection to his celebrity, they also recognize that the connection is artificial. Like 99 percent of the country, they can't actually relate to or share in the riches.

"I don't live in the Trump Towers," Deborah Trump said.

Bill Trump has worked as a window contractor for 30 years. He never met his father, or Donald, and wouldn't rule out the possibility that they could be distantly related. As a decades-long Republican, he said he'd vote for the New York billionaire (he bought a campaign T-shirt to wear both ironically and un-ironically). But he has some reservations.

"Certainly, he is not politically correct," Bill, 66, said. "He must not have any handlers at all. He is not taking any direction if he has handlers. He's not doing any acting. ... Hell, it is too real."

Elaine from Massachusetts worked as a teacher, a nurse and a secretary and now lives off her Social Security benefits. Joyce from Colorado is a homeschooling mom who, because of her decision not to work outside the home, deals with "tight" finances.

Karlene Trump, 75, faces an uneasy economic situation, too. She was forced to leave the nursing profession 20 years ago after a serious leg injury. She and a partner bought rental and commercial property to fix up and manage, only to watch the market collapse in 2008. She "lost everything." It was only through the help of a neighbor and local attorneys that she was able to keep her house, which she had mortgaged.

Her suburban relatives are aghast that she's stayed at her home in Detroit for nearly 30 years. But now, living off Social Security and her pension, she said she's "snug as a bug in a rug."

It is Trump's divisiveness -- his penchant for pitting groups of people against one another -- that leaves her worried.

"I don't relate to Donald Trump in any way, shape or form. We are not related," Karlene said. "People ask me, 'Are you related to Donald Trump?' And my response is, 'He is not that lucky.'"

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