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NEW YORK (AP) — An image of an American flag waves and the graphic promises "Real News Update." The re-election campaign of President Donald Trump, already sprung to life two-and-a-half years before his name is back on the ballot, is pushing its own online news source to counteract what it believes is an oppositional media.
And its face is a rising star in the president's orbit: his daughter-in-law Lara Trump.
Lara Trump, married to Eric Trump, was viewed by many on the last campaign as a secret weapon after helping deliver her home state of North Carolina for her father-in-law, and she has become a central figure in a nascent re-election bid that already is fundraising, staging rallies and helping the president challenge the credibility of the news media.
"People who voted for Donald Trump want to hear about the things he's doing for the country and they deserve to hear the things he is doing for the country," she said in a recent interview. "Part of the reason the campaign is still here is to let them know what is going on so they don't have to just rely on the mainstream media."
The videos, available on the campaign's Facebook, Twitter and YouTube accounts, take on the feel of a newscast while delivering the campaign's message. In the most recent, Lara Trump delivered a rosy update on the administration's response to the California wildfires before recapping the president's speech to truckers in Pennsylvania and urging viewers to contact their representatives to make "the middle-class miracle a reality this year." She then saluted the administration's efforts to repeal the Clean Power Plan, calling the environmental protection order "a federal overreach."
She signed off by saying "and that is the real news." In less than 24 hours, the video had been viewed more than 1.5 million times on Facebook.
"Those videos are doing really well and are really important for us," said Brad Parscale, the campaign's digital media guru and a key player in Trump's win. "Lara has a great personality and a great following, and continuing to get the president's message out helps drive donations to our war chest."
The videos are shot in a ragtag studio at campaign headquarters on the 15th floor of Trump Tower. They've gotten enough attention to be spoofed on "The Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon." And while other Trump allies have taken turns in front of the camera, particularly after Lara gave birth to the couple's first child last month, she is the central figure of an effort meant to complement the at-times haphazard communications strategy emanating from the White House.
"There is a space out there for this," she said. "There is no one on television talking about the accomplishments of the president because there is always other news the media would prefer to focus on."
It's not unusual for presidents to try to go around the traditional media, but Trump is being "strikingly overt," said Tobe Berkovitz, a communications professor at Boston University.
"Trump, being the modern, mobile president with a media background, sets up his own channel," said Berkovitz. "It makes a lot of sense. He complains the media misinterprets, misquotes. But if you have your own channel, you have total control, and you get to claim to be the authentic news source."
Lara Trump, who married Eric in 2014, was working as a producer at "Inside Edition" when her father-in-law announced his candidacy for president. After helping along the campaign's edges, she dove headlong into the effort in August 2016 when she accompanied the Republican nominee to a rally in her home state.
Trump was frustrated about something that happened in the state, so "he asked my opinion and I told him what I thought," she recalls. "And, in only the way that Donald Trump can, he said, 'You know what, I want to put you in charge of winning North Carolina.'"
Deeming the opportunity "amazing and frightening at the same time," Lara Trump split her time between the Tarheel State and other battlegrounds, organized a "Women for Trump" bus tour and pushed back against the perception that her father-in-law was going to fare poorly with women voters, particularly after the release of the 2005 "Access Hollywood" video.
"I don't think I've ever been as relieved as the second when they called North Carolina for Donald Trump," she said. "In the moment after they called the state, my father-in-law turned to me and said, 'We won because of you.'"
She never returned to "Inside Edition," instead going to work for Parscale's company on the burgeoning re-election bid. The campaign, though still small, is aggressively fundraising and selling merchandise, and has staged a half dozen rallies, with another tentatively slated for Michigan in the coming weeks. As activity increases in the months ahead, Lara Trump expects to play an even larger role than she did a year ago.
"Lara truly believes in my father's message and is passionate about fighting for the American people," says Eric Trump. "She is authentic and is truly one of the hardest working people I know."
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