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Did Their Father Really Know Best?

A couple of weeks later, Don Jr. and I are sitting in his apartment with Ivanka and Eric. All three kids have their own place in a different Trump property. Eric lives in Don’s old rental in Trump Parc on Central Park South. And Don and Ivanka recently bought apartments (they pay their own mortgages) with money that was given to them over the years by Donald’s parents, Fred and Mary, and then wisely invested. Ivanka paid $1.5 million for a two-bedroom at 502 Park Avenue, and Don paid $990,000 for a nice but unassuming two-bedroom at Trump Place, the soon-to-be-sprawling city within a city that will eventually include sixteen high-rises along the Hudson River. One day, not only will it all be theirs, but they will probably have been responsible for building much of it. Ivanka, a Wharton B-school grad, plans to join the Trump Organization after she finishes her stint working for Bruce Ratner, the Brooklyn developer, as does Eric when he graduates from Georgetown next year.

Don has to get to the office, but Ivanka and Eric stay behind. In person, 23-year-old Ivanka is startlingly beautiful. Her poker-straight hair is pulled back into a tight ponytail, and she’s wearing a black pencil skirt and a clingy turtleneck. She speaks with almost too-perfect diction—in a Madonna-like “European” accent. Eric, who is the tallest at six five and youngest at 20, is gangly and a bit shy. Though he lacks the confidence of his brother and the glamour of his sister, he is, like them, unfailingly polite and well-spoken.

The kids agree that there’s a lot of sibling rivalry. “We were sort of bred to be competitive,” says Ivanka. “Dad encourages it. I remember skiing with him and we were racing. I was ahead, and he reached his ski pole out and pulled me back.”

Eric laughs. “He would try to push me over, just so he could beat his 10-year-old son down the mountain.”

Like Don, they seem to have an almost cultlike reverence for the family business, despite the risk of living in their father’s shadow. “We’ve all made peace with the fact that we will never be able to achieve any level of autonomy,” says Ivanka. “No matter how different a career path we choose from our parents, people will always say we wouldn’t have gotten there if it hadn’t been for our name. And in the end, there’s no way to tell if that’s true or not. Maybe it’s not the worst thing for people not to see you coming. If people want to underestimate me, I’m fine with that.”

I ask Ivanka to take a stab at why she and her siblings seem to have avoided the pitfalls inherent in being raised by rich, famous parents. After spinning out a few bromides about how youth and wealth don’t mix, she cuts herself off and levels with me: “Look, none of us are saints. We all like to have fun. But I think our parents have just been pretty tough with us. They’ve always made sure that we lived within some realm of reality.” Despite their personal extravagance, Donald and Ivana managed to filter out the excesses of modern life for their kids. “I don’t know how they figured it out,” says Ivanka, “but they knew the perfect way to give us what we needed without it being gratuitous.”

Inevitably, the conversation turns to The Divorce. “I realized what was going on the least because I was the youngest,” says Eric. “But I do remember friends bringing me newspaper articles—which was worse.”

“One day,” says Ivanka, “I walked out of school and there was a horde of photographers waiting for me. I remember going to get into the car and there were just masses of people coming up and asking my response to comments that people had made and that I did not understand. It was horrible.” She sighs. “In retrospect, I can look back and say, ‘How was it possible that we didn’t have to go to intense therapy for the next eight years?’ ”

Eric, who seems the most inclined to look on the bright side, believes his parents’ breakup cemented a deeper bond between him and his siblings. “Donny, in a way, is like a mentor. He kept tabs on everything that my grandfather taught him over the years and that I was too young to appreciate. And I’m definitely closer to Ivanka because of it. She took me under her wing and raised me, took me shopping, tried to make me cool.”

“I think this,” says Donald. “I’m a really good father, but not a really good husband . . . I didn’t leave for another woman, by the way. I didn’t leave for Marla. I left.”

Ivanka looks at Eric and says, “Bizarrely, it also made us closer to Dad. Don’t you think? Every morning before school, we’d go downstairs and give him a hug and a kiss. We didn’t take his presence for granted anymore.”

They admit that the hardest part was when both parents started dating. “I had a lot of resentment,” says Eric, “especially for those people.”

I ask about Marla and her daughter, Tiffany, who recently turned 11. Ivanka talks about seeing her half-sister last Easter, but does not mention Marla. Eric says nothing.

They are slightly more comfortable discussing Melania, Donald’s fiancée, who is twelve years older than Ivanka. “She’s really nice,” says Ivanka cautiously. “She’s a good person, and we appreciate that. I think we’re all getting to know her a little bit more now.”

Eric pipes up: “We’ve actually seen our father being happy, you know, really enjoying this person and her doing a lot for him, and therefore we appreciate her as opposed to resent her.”

Earlier, I had asked Don if there was anything he would change about either of his parents if he could, and he laughed, aware that he was heading into treacherous territory. He thought for a minute and then said, “My father could be more understanding of things he doesn’t . . . understand. You know? If I want to go fishing rather than play golf, it’s always like, ‘Why would you go fishing all weekend? I don’t get it! It’s crazy!’ ”

When I mention this to Eric and Ivanka, there’s an instant look of recognition. “I went to Hawaii,” says Eric, “and he was like, ‘Oh, don’t go to Hawaii!’ He had disdain.”

“I just came back from Hawaii two weeks ago,” says Ivanka, “and that was exactly his reaction.” They both laugh. Eric, who is now standing and looking out the window, does a bellowing imitation. “‘Why don’t you just go to Palm Beach? We have Mar-a-Lago!’

Is there an equivalent trait in your mother, I ask, something that the three of you laugh about?

“Oh, we laugh at her a lot,” says Ivanka. “Mom’s funny because she’s really, like, exuberant. I’ve never met anyone who has a more effervescent character.”