Ivanka and Jared’s power play
Trump’s daughter and son-in-law get a closer look in an interesting profile by Lizzie Widdicombe in the New Yorker. It’s lengthy, but worth reading. It begins:
The modern Presidential campaign may be the world’s most sophisticated pop-up operation, a billion-dollar multilayered organization that, if it hopes to succeed, must be as technologically sophisticated and responsive as any Silicon Valley unicorn. A campaign includes armies of social-media worker bees, data crunchers, messaging experts, policy advisers, media surrogates, fund-raising chiefs, oppo-research teams, volunteers, and, above all, coolheaded managers, who can formulate a coherent position on Chinese trade policy and a plan for how to get out the vote in Hillsborough County in a lightning storm.
Then, there is the Presidential campaign of Donald J. Trump, which has followed this formula about as closely as the candidate follows the South Beach Diet. The Republican Party establishment has, if reluctantly, helped sketch the outlines of an organization. The campaign raised eighty million dollars in July; some of Trump’s friends and donors have been tapped to form a team of economic advisers, who include numerous billionaires and men named Steve. But Trump’s “brain trust” is largely the black box of Donald Trump’s real and existing brain.
Trump’s campaign manager, Paul Manafort, has hinted at the limitations of his own position. “The candidate is in control of his campaign,” Manafort told Fox News recently. “And I’m in control of doing the things that he wants me to do in the campaign.” To Trump’s fans, this is part of his appeal. Politicians can resemble automatons, mouthing the directives of some offstage Svengali. Trump tweets what he wants to tweet. “I’m speaking with myself, number one, because I have a very good brain,” he has said. Preparation is overrated. Clinton staffers spent months detailing the rhetoric and the attacks that were part of this summer’s Democratic National Convention. Trump said, of the Republican version, “I didn’t produce our show—I just showed up for the final speech on Thursday.”
“The Trump campaign is not a bad campaign,” James Carville, who managed Bill Clinton’s 1992 campaign, told me. “It’s not a messed-up campaign. It’s not a dysfunctional campaign. There is no campaign.” Carville continued, “Everybody that’s done this for a living and got paid to do it is, like, ‘Oh, my gosh, suppose this works. We’re all rendered useless.’ He will have destroyed an entire profession.”
But the Trump campaign is not without secondary figures. Rather than a Karl Rove or a David Axelrod, his true inner circle seems to be his family, especially his adult children. It’s nothing new for the children of Presidential candidates to lend a hand. George W. and Jeb Bush worked alongside Lee Atwater in their father’s 1988 campaign. Al Gore’s daughters were well-spoken surrogates. The five Romney boys—those square-jawed Mittlets—gave strategic advice to their father. But it’s different with Trump, because, as the political historian Julian Zelizer observed recently, the Trump kids “seem at points to be the only people in the room.”
For all the goofy charms of Eric (the golf-course expert) and Donald, Jr. (the force behind the unfortunately timed Trump Mortgages, which launched in 2007), Ivanka, who is thirty-four, is Donald’s clear favorite. She lends a veneer of professionalism to the campaign, giving speeches that portray her father, who once told New York, referring to women, “You have to treat ’em like shit,” as a Lean In-style feminist. In early August, Trump, pressed to name a woman he might appoint to his Cabinet, could think of only one: his daughter.
Ivanka’s husband, Jared Kushner, a thirty-five-year-old real-estate developer, who owns the New York Observer, has become what the Times described as Trump’s “de facto campaign manager.” He has acted as a liaison with dozens of influential figures, including Henry Kissinger, Paul Ryan, Rupert Murdoch, and, until recently, Roger Ailes. Ivanka has counselled Trump on his rhetoric and his policy choices, and Jared was instrumental in the running-mate selection.
Ivanka and Jared are an unlikely couple to represent the ticked-off populism that has emerged as Trump’s Presidential theme. Sleek, tall, and patrician, they went to élite schools: he attended Harvard and New York University; she went to Georgetown and Wharton. They live on Park Avenue, where talk of “the wall” refers more rarely to the border with Mexico than to the climbing facility at the local Equinox.
In person, they are known for being almost spookily presentable. Ivanka, the more charismatic of the pair, is a master of the thoughtful baby gift, the heartfelt dinner-party toast. Jared, who has a more stilted bearing, is a listener and a helper-outer: he volunteers to officiate at weddings—he’s done two—and performs pro-bono real-estate work for his friends. Adam Silver, the N.B.A. commissioner, told me that, when the league was looking for a space for its retail store, “Jared was our unofficial, unpaid adviser.”
For young people, Jared and Ivanka’s social circle includes a lot of old people, among them aging media figures such as Barbara Walters, Barry Diller, and Diane von Furstenberg. A friend of Jared’s told me that he’s a bit of a “chameleon”: “He’s really fascinating, in that he is a young, boyishly handsome guy who can act and talk like an old man.” The couple also mix with a younger, aspiring-tech-mogul group, led by Jared’s brother, Josh, who is thirty-one. Josh is a budding venture capitalist, whose company, Thrive Capital, recently raised more than seven hundred million dollars for its third fund. He dates the supermodel Karlie Kloss.
Donald Trump rails against the “rigged” political system that keeps people like Hillary Clinton in power. Yet Kushner’s parents have been among the most prominent funders of Democratic politicians on the East Coast. They were the largest donors to Clinton’s 2000 Senate campaign, and, despite the acrimony of the current campaign, Chelsea Clinton and her husband, Marc Mezvinsky, are close friends of Ivanka and Jared.
It is not rare for Republican political figures to play down their suspected liberal tendencies—witness Mitt Romney’s memories of being a varmint hunter. But the harsher notes of the Trump campaign—its openly nativist and racist appeals—have called into question Jared and Ivanka’s motives. The “Mexican” judge, the Muslim ban, the “joke” about killing Hillary Clinton: these incidents have won Trump plenty of fans, but they’ve appalled many people, including those in the social set that Ivanka and Jared inhabit. People in that circle have begun to wonder: Can they really be going along with all of this?
Tensions came to a head when, in early July, a member of Trump’s campaign staff posted on Twitter a picture of Hillary Clinton against a background of hundred-dollar bills; a six-pointed star branded her the “Most Corrupt Candidate Ever!” The image had been circulating on white-supremacist Web sites that target Jews.
As it happens, Jared and Ivanka are Jewish. Kushner was brought up in the Modern Orthodox tradition, a strain of Judaism that integrates strict observance of religious law and custom with a life in the secular world. Ivanka converted to Judaism, and the couple’s three children are being brought up in the religion.
Dana Schwartz, an entertainment writer at the Observer, wrote for the paper “An Open Letter to Jared Kushner, from One of Your Jewish Employees,” which excoriated Trump for his failure to disavow the illustration as anti-Semitic, and quoted at length the anti-Jewish bile that had been directed at her on Twitter when she criticized him. Then she turned on her boss:
You went to Harvard, and hold two graduate degrees. Please do not condescend to me and pretend you don’t understand the imagery of a six-sided star when juxtaposed with money and accusations of financial dishonesty. I’m asking you, not as a “gotcha” journalist or as a liberal but as a human being: how do you allow this?
In response, Kushner made his first public statement of the campaign, publishing a letter entitled “The Donald Trump I Know.” Citing his background . . .