The Associated Press

SAN ANTONIO — The shout of “2024!” from the crowd was unmistakable. It stopped Donald Trump Jr. cold.

President Donald Trump’s eldest son had been in the midst of a humor-laced screed in which he decried Joe Biden as too old and Elizabeth Warren as too liberal and insisted his father’s 2016 campaign was too disorganized to possibly collude with the Russians. As many in the crowd of several hundred laughed, Trump Jr. held a dramatic pause before exclaiming his response:

“Let’s worry about 2020 first!” he yelled.

The son has become the prime warm-up act for the father at political rallies, often appearing more than an hour before the president speaks, another bombastic provocateur who revels in the tribal loyalty of the supporters who pack Trump rallies. It is a call to arms to a fawning crowd and Donald Jr. has become a master preacher.

His speeches are laced with the same incendiary, sometimes false rhetoric as his father’s, at times, even questioning whether Democrats can call themselves Christians. But in these venues, his word is gospel.

The “2024” call from the audience at a San Antonio convention center room on Tuesday underscored the rising stardom of the president’s eldest son, who has become the swaggering embodiment of the “Make America Great Again” ethos.

By far the presidential scion with the closest connection to conservative voters, Trump Jr. is already key in his father’s re-election effort, especially in deep red Republican districts. But where he was once under the scrutiny of special counsel Robert Mueller, now he is drawing criticism for seemingly hypocritical attacks on another son of a famous politician.

And he doesn’t seem to care at all.

“In 2016, my father said something very serious. He goes: ‘What do you have to lose?’ And he was right,” said Trump Jr, broadening a pitch the president first made to black voters to reach the entire electorate. “So America, you gave him a chance and he has delivered on those promises. Now, what do you have to lose? A lot.”

And then Trump Jr, who was the headliner on this warm October day, gleefully skewered one of the president’s Democratic foes. “Joe Biden, when on the campaign trail, his whole thesis was that government has failed. No s--t, Joe!”

Trump Jr. was one of the campaign’s potent tools in 2016, frequently sent out to small towns and rural areas where the Republican candidate looked to turn out disaffected voters who hadn’t cast ballots in years. An even more aggressive campaign schedule is in the works for 2020.

“He’s the future,” said Annie Davidson, 65, of Alamo Heights. “He’s just like his father, and I can’t wait to vote for him someday too.”

By far the most outspoken of his siblings, Trump Jr. has never shied away from a political fight, even when it leads some to question his own sense of self-awareness.

He has been one of the loudest critics of Biden’s son, Hunter, suggesting Hunter Biden only had opportunities in other countries, including Ukraine, because of family connections.

“When you’re the father and your son’s entire career is dependent on that, they own you,” Trump Jr. told Fox News this past week.

Some critics could not resist noting that Donald Trump Jr. shares both the first and last names of a man who gave him his high-paying corporate job and elevated his standing during the 2016 presidential campaign. It was the president’s push for Ukraine to investigate the Bidens that prompted House Democrats to launch an impeachment investigation.

“We’re left with a situation where every presidential action is under a cloud of suspicion for corruption, and that suspicion increasingly seems justified,” said Noah Bookbinder, executive director of Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington.

Trump Jr. has pushed back, suggesting that his criticism of Hunter Biden was not for having a famous father, but rather for trading access to his father’s office to enrich himself. But neither Biden has been charged with wrongdoing.

Hunter Biden told ABC this past week that while his decision to take the job was not unethical, it showed “poor judgment.” But he also made clear that “Trump Jr. is not somebody that I really care about.”

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