جروانکاکتاب: خشم و آتش / فصل 5
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On the Sunday after the immigration order was issued, Joe Scarborough and his cohost on the MSNBC show Morning Joe, Mika Brzezinski, came for lunch at the White House.
Scarborough is a former Republican congressman from Pensacola, Florida, and Brzezinski is the daughter of Zbigniew Brzezinski, a high-ranking aide in the Johnson White House and Jimmy Carter’s National Security Advisor. Morning Joe had gone on the air in 2007 and developed a following among New York political and media types. Trump was a longtime devotee.
Early in the 2016 campaign, with a change of leadership at NBC News, it seemed likely that the show, its ratings falling, would be canceled. But Scarborough and Brzezinski embraced their relationship with Trump and became one of the few media outlets not only with a positive outlook on him, but that seemed to know his thinking. Trump became a frequent call-in guest and the show a way to speak more or less directly to him.
It was the kind of relationship Trump dreamed of: media people who took him seriously, talked about him often, solicited his views, provided him with gossip, and retailed the gossip he offered them. The effect was to make them all insiders together, which was exactly where Trump wanted to be. Though he branded himself as a political outsider, actually finding himself on the outside wounded him.
Trump believed that the media, which he propelled (in the case of Scarborough and Brzezinski, helping them keep their jobs), owed him something, and the media, giving him vast amounts of free coverage, believed he owed them, with Scarborough and Brzezinski seeing themselves as something like semiofficial advisers, if not the political fixers who had put him in his job.
In August, they had had a public spat, resulting in Trump’s tweet: “Some day, when things calm down, I’ll tell the real story of @JoeNBC and his very insecure long-time girlfriend, @morningmika. Two clowns!” But Trump’s spats often ended in a tacit admission, however grudging, of mutual advantage, and in short order they were back on cordial terms again.
On their arrival at the White House, the ninth day of his presidency, Trump proudly showed them into the Oval Office and was momentarily deflated when Brzezinski said she had been there many times before with her father, beginning at age nine. Trump showed them some of the memorabilia and, eagerly, his new portrait of Andrew Jackson—the president whom Steve Bannon had made the totem figure of the new administration.
“So how do you think the first week has gone?” Trump asked the couple, in a buoyant mood, seeking flattery.
Scarborough, puzzled by Trump’s jauntiness in the face of the protests spreading across the nation, demurred and then said, “Well, I love what you did with U.S. Steel and that you had the union guys come into the Oval Office.” Trump had pledged to use U.S.-made steel in U.S. pipelines and, in a Trump touch, met at the White House with union representatives from building and sheet metal unions and then invited them back to the Oval Office—something Trump insisted Obama never did.
But Trump pressed his question, leaving Scarborough with the feeling that nobody had actually told Trump that he had had a very bad week. Bannon and Priebus, wandering in and out of the office, might actually have convinced him that the week had been a success, Scarborough thought.
Scarborough then ventured his opinion that the immigration order might have been handled better and that, all in all, it seemed like a rough period.
Trump, surprised, plunged into a long monologue about how well things had gone, telling Bannon and Priebus, with a gale of laughter, “Joe doesn’t think we had a good week.” And turning to Scarborough: “I could have invited Hannity!”
At lunch—fish, which Brzezinski doesn’t eat—Jared and Ivanka joined the president and Scarborough and Brzezinski. Jared had become quite a Scarborough confidant and would continue to supply Scarborough with an inside view of the White House—that is, leaking to him. Scarborough subsequently became a defender of Kushner’s White House position and view. But, for now, both son-in-law and daughter were subdued and deferential as Scarborough and Brzezinski chatted with the president, and the president—taking more of the air time as usual—held forth.
Trump continued to cast for positive impressions of his first week and Scarborough again reverted to his praise of Trump’s handling of the steel union leadership. At which point, Jared interjected that reaching out to unions, a traditional Democratic constituency, was Bannon’s doing, that this was “the Bannon way.”
“Bannon?” said the president, jumping on his son-in-law. “That wasn’t Bannon’s idea. That was my idea. It’s the Trump way, not the Bannon way.”
Kushner, going concave, retreated from the discussion.
Trump, changing the topic, said to Scarborough and Brzezinski, “So what about you guys? What’s going on?” He was referencing their not-so-secret secret relationship.
Scarborough and Brzezinski said it was all still complicated, and not public, officially, but it was good and everything was getting resolved.
“You guys should just get married,” prodded Trump.
“I can marry you! I’m an Internet Unitarian minister,” Kushner, otherwise an Orthodox Jew, said suddenly.
“What?” said the president. “What are you talking about? Why would they want you to marry them when I could marry them? When they could be married by the president! At Mar-a-Lago!”
Almost everybody advised Jared not to take the inside job. As a family member, he would command extraordinary influence from a position that no one could challenge. As an insider, a staffer, not only could his experience be challenged, but while the president himself might not yet be exposed, a family member on staff would be where enemies and critics might quite effectively start chipping from. Besides, inside Trump’s West Wing, if you had a title—that is, other than son-in-law—people would surely want to take it from you.
Both Jared and Ivanka listened to this advice—from among others it came from Jared’s brother, Josh, doubly making this case not only to protect his brother but also because of his antipathy to Trump—but both, balancing risk against reward, ignored it. Trump himself variously encouraged his son-in-law and his daughter in their new ambitions and, as their excitement mounted, tried to express his skepticism—while at the same time telling others that he was helpless to stop them.
For Jared and Ivanka, as really for everybody else in the new administration, quite including the president, this was a random and crazy turn of history such that how could you not seize it? It was a joint decision by the couple, and, in some sense, a joint job. Jared and Ivanka had made an earnest deal between themselves: if sometime in the future the time came, she’d be the one to run for president (or the first one of them to take the shot). The first woman president, Ivanka entertained, would not be Hillary Clinton, it would be Ivanka Trump.
Bannon, who had coined the Jarvanka conflation now in ever greater use, was horrified when the couple’s deal was reported to him. “They didn’t say that? Stop. Oh come on. They didn’t actually say that? Please don’t tell me that. Oh my god.”
And the truth was that at least by then Ivanka would have more experience than almost anybody else now serving in the White House. She and Jared, or Jared, but by inference she, too, were in effect the real chief of staff—or certainly as much a chief of staff as Priebus or Bannon, all of them reporting directly to the president. Or, even more to the organizational point, Jared and Ivanka had a wholly independent standing inside the West Wing. A super status. Even as Priebus and Bannon tried, however diplomatically, to remind the couple of staff procedures and propriety, they would in turn remind the West Wing leadership of their overriding First Family prerogatives. In addition, the president had immediately handed Jared the Middle East portfolio, making him one of the significant international players in the administration—indeed, in the world. In the first weeks, this brief extended out to virtually every other international issue, about which nothing in Kushner’s previous background would have prepared him for.
Kushner’s most cogent reason for entering the White House was “leverage,” by which he meant proximity. Quite beyond the status of being inside the family circle, anyone who had proximity to the president had leverage, the more proximity the more leverage. Trump himself you could see as a sort of Delphic oracle, sitting in place and throwing out pronouncements which had to be interpreted. Or as an energetic child, and whomever could placate or distract him became his favorite. Or as the Sun God (which is effectively how he saw himself), the absolute center of attention, dispensing favor and delegating power, which could, at any moment, be withdrawn. The added dimension was that this Sun God had little calculation. His inspiration existed in the moment, hence all the more reason to be there with him in the moment. Bannon, for one, joined Trump for dinner every night, or at least made himself available—one bachelor there for the effective other bachelor. (Priebus would observe that in the beginning everyone would try to be part of these dinners, but within a few months, they had become a torturous duty to be avoided.) Part of Jared and Ivanka’s calculation about the relative power and influence of a formal job in the West Wing versus an outside advisory role was the knowledge that influencing Trump required you to be all in. From phone call to phone call—and his day, beyond organized meetings, was almost entirely phone calls—you could lose him. The subtleties here were immense, because while he was often most influenced by the last person he spoke to, he did not actually listen to anyone. So it was not so much the force of an individual argument or petition that moved him, but rather more just someone’s presence, the connection of what was going through his mind—and although he was a person of many obsessions, much of what was on his mind had no fixed view—to whomever he was with and their views.
Ultimately Trump may not be that different in his fundamental solipsism from anyone of great wealth who has lived most of his life in a highly controlled environment. But one clear difference was that he had acquired almost no formal sort of social discipline—he could not even attempt to imitate decorum. He could not really converse, for instance, not in the sense of sharing information, or of a balanced back-and-forth conversation. He neither particularly listened to what was said to him, nor particularly considered what he said in response (one reason he was so repetitive). Nor did he treat anyone with any sort of basic or reliable courtesy. If he wanted something, his focus might be sharp and attention lavish, but if someone wanted something from him, he tended to become irritable and quickly lost interest. He demanded you pay him attention, then decided you were weak for groveling. In a sense, he was like an instinctive, pampered, and hugely successful actor. Everybody was either a lackey who did his bidding or a high-ranking film functionary trying to coax out his attention and performance—and to do this without making him angry or petulant.
The payoff was his enthusiasm, quickness, spontaneity, and—if he departed for a moment from the nonstop focus on himself—an often incisive sense of the weaknesses of his opponents and a sense of their deepest desires. Politics was handicapped by incrementalism, of people knowing too much who were defeated by all the complexities and conflicting interests before they began. Trump, knowing little, might, Trumpers tried to believe, give a kooky new hope to the system.
Jared Kushner in quite a short period of time—rather less than a year—had crossed over from the standard Democratic view in which he was raised, to an acolyte of Trumpism, bewildering many friends and, as well, his own brother, whose insurance company, Oscar, funded with Kushner-family money, was destined to be dealt a blow by a repeal of Obamacare.
This seeming conversion was partly the result of Bannon’s insistent and charismatic tutoring—a kind of real-life engagement with world-bending ideas that had escaped Kushner even at Harvard. And it was helped by his own resentments toward the liberal elites whom he had tried to court with his purchase of the New York Observer, an effort that had backfired terribly. And it was, once he ventured onto the campaign trail, about having to convince himself that close up to the absurd everything made sense—that Trumpism was a kind of unsentimental realpolitik that would show everybody in the end. But most of all, it was that they had won. And he was determined not to look a gift horse in the mouth. And, everything that was bad about Trumpism, he had convinced himself, he could help fix.
As much as it might have surprised him—for many years, he had humored Trump more than embraced him—Kushner was in fact rather like his father-in-law. Jared’s father, Charlie, bore an eerie resemblance to Donald’s father, Fred. Both men dominated their children, and they did this so completely that their children, despite their demands, became devoted to them. In both instances, this was extreme stuff: belligerent, uncompromising, ruthless men creating long-suffering offspring who were driven to achieve their father’s approval. (Trump’s older brother, Freddy, failing in this effort, and, by many reports, gay, drank himself to death; he died in 1981 at age forty-three.) In business meetings, observers would be nonplussed that Charlie and Jared Kushner invariably greeted each other with a kiss and that the adult Jared called his father Daddy.
Neither Donald nor Jared, no matter their domineering fathers, went into the world with humility. Insecurity was soothed by entitlement. Both out-of-towners who were eager to prove themselves or lay rightful claim in Manhattan (Kushner from New Jersey, Trump from Queens), they were largely seen as overweening, smug, and arrogant. Each cultivated a smooth affect, which could appear more comical than graceful. Neither, by choice nor awareness, could seem to escape his privilege. “Some people who are very privileged are aware of it and put it away; Kushner not only seemed in every gesture and word to emphasize his privilege, but also not to be aware of it,” said one New York media executive who dealt with Kushner. Both men were never out of their circle of privilege. The main challenge they set for themselves was to enter further into the privileged circle. Social climbing was their work.
Jared’s focus was often on older men. Rupert Murdoch spent a surprising amount of time with Jared, who sought advice from the older media mogul about the media business—which the young man was determined to break into. Kushner paid long court to Ronald Perelman, the billionaire financier and takeover artist, who later would host Jared and Ivanka in his private shul on Jewish high holy days. And, of course, Kushner wooed Trump himself, who became a fan of the young man and was uncharacteristically tolerant about his daughter’s conversion to Orthodox Judaism when that became a necessary next step toward marriage. Likewise, Trump as a young man had carefully cultivated a set of older mentors, including Roy Cohn, the flamboyant lawyer and fixer who had served as right-hand man to the red-baiting Senator Joe McCarthy.
And then there was the harsh fact that the world of Manhattan and particular its living voice, the media, seemed to cruelly reject them. The media long ago turned on Donald Trump as a wannabe and lightweight, and wrote him off for that ultimate sin—anyway, the ultimate sin in media terms—of trying to curry favor with the media too much. His fame, such as it was, was actually reverse fame—he was famous for being infamous. It was joke fame.
To understand the media snub, and its many levels of irony, there is no better place to look than the New York Observer, the Manhattan media and society weekly that Kushner bought in 2006 for $10 million—by almost every estimate $10 million more than it was worth.
The New York Observer was, when it launched in 1987, a rich man’s fancy, as much failed media often is. It was a bland weekly chronicle of the Upper East Side, New York’s wealthiest neighborhood. Its conceit was to treat this neighborhood like a small town. But nobody took any notice. Its frustrated patron, Arthur Carter, who made his money in the first generation of Wall Street consolidations, was introduced to Graydon Carter (no relation), who had started Spy magazine, a New York imitation of the British satirical publication Private Eye. Spy was part of a set of 1980s publications—Manhattan, Inc., a relaunched Vanity Fair, and New York— obsessed with the new rich and what seemed to be a transformational moment in New York. Trump was both symbol of and punch line for this new era of excess and celebrity and the media’s celebration of those things. Graydon Carter became the editor of the New York Observer in 1991 and not only refocused the weekly on big-money culture, but essentially made it a tip-sheet for the media writing about media culture, and for members of the big-money culture who wanted to be in the media. There may never have been such a self-conscious and self-referential publication as the New York Observer.
As Donald Trump, along with many others of this new-rich ilk, sought to be covered by the media—Murdoch’s New York Post was the effective court recorder of this new publicity-hungry aristocracy—the New York Observer covered the process of him being covered. The story of Trump was the story of how he tried to make himself a story. He was shameless, campy, and instructive: if you were willing to risk humiliation, the world could be yours. Trump became the objective correlative for the rising appetite for fame and notoriety. Trump came to believe he understood everything about the media—who you need to know, what pretense you need to maintain, what information you could profitably trade, what lies you might tell, what lies the media expected you to tell. And the media came to believe it knew everything about Trump—his vanities, delusions, and lies, and the levels, uncharted, to which he would stoop for ever more media attention.
Graydon Carter soon used the New York Observer as his stepping-stone to Vanity Fair—where, he believed, he might have access to a higher level of celebrity than Donald Trump. Carter was followed at the Observer in 1994 by Peter Kaplan, an editor with a heightened sense of postmodern irony and ennui.
Trump, in Kaplan’s telling, suddenly took on a new persona. Whereas he had before been the symbol of success and mocked for it, now he became, in a shift of zeitgeist (and of having to refinance a great deal of debt), a symbol of failure and mocked for it. This was a complicated reversal, not just having to do with Trump, but of how the media was now seeing itself. Donald Trump became a symbol of the media’s own self-loathing: the interest in and promotion of Donald Trump was a morality tale about the media. Its ultimate end was Kaplan’s pronouncement that Trump should not be covered anymore because every story about Donald Trump had become a cliché.
An important aspect of Kaplan’s New York Observer and its self-conscious inside media baseball was that the paper became the prime school for a new generation of media reporters flooding every other publication in New York as journalism itself became ever more self-conscious and self-referential. To everyone working in media in New York, Donald Trump represented the ultimate shame of working in media in New York: you might have to write about Donald Trump. Not writing about him, or certainly not taking him at face value, became a moral stand.
In 2006, after Kaplan had edited the paper for fifteen years, Arthur Carter sold the Observer—which had never made a profit—to the then twenty-five-year-old Kushner, an unknown real estate heir interested in gaining stature and notoriety in the city. Kaplan was now working for someone twenty-five years his junior, a man who, ironically, was just the kind of arriviste he would otherwise have covered.
For Kushner, owning the paper soon paid off, because, with infinite ironies not necessarily apparent to him, it allowed him into the social circle where he met Donald Trump’s daughter, Ivanka, whom he married in 2009. But the paper did not, irksomely for Kushner, pay off financially, which put him into increasing tension with Kaplan. Kaplan, in turn, began telling witty and devastating tales about the pretensions and callowness of his new boss, which spread, in constant retelling, among his many media protégés and hence throughout the media itself.
In 2009, Kaplan left the paper, and Kushner—making a mistake that many rich men who have bought vanity media properties are prone to making—tried to find a profit by cutting costs. In short order, the media world came to regard Kushner as the man who not only took Peter Kaplan’s paper from him, but also ruined it, brutally and incompetently. And worse: in 2013, Kaplan, at fifty-nine, died of cancer. So, effectively, in the telling, Kushner had killed him, too.
Media is personal. It is a series of blood scores. The media in its often collective mind decides who is going to rise and who is going to fall, who lives and who dies. If you stay around long enough in the media eye, your fate, like that of a banana republic despot, is often an unkind one—a law Hillary Clinton was not able to circumvent. The media has the last word.
Long before he ran for president, Trump and his sidekick son-in-law Kushner had been marked not just for ignominy, but for slow torture by ridicule, contempt, and ever-more amusing persiflage. These people are nothing. They are media debris. For goodness’ sake!
Trump, in a smart move, picked up his media reputation and relocated it from a hypercritical New York to a more value-free Hollywood, becoming the star of his own reality show, The Apprentice, and embracing a theory that would serve him well during his presidential campaign: in flyover country, there is no greater asset than celebrity. To be famous is to be loved—or at least fawned over.
The fabulous, incomprehensible irony that the Trump family had, despite the media’s distaste, despite everything the media knows and understands and has said about them, risen to a level not only of ultimate consequence but even of immortality is beyond worst-case nightmare and into cosmic-joke territory. In this infuriating circumstance, Trump and his son-in-law were united, always aware and yet never quite understanding why they should be the butt of a media joke, and now the target of its stunned outrage.
The fact that Trump and his son-in-law had many things in common did not mean they operated on a common playing field. Kushner, no matter how close to Trump, was yet a member of the Trump entourage, with no more ultimate control of his father-in-law than anybody else now in the business of trying to control Trump.
Still, the difficulty of controlling him had been part of Kushner’s self-justification or rationalization for stepping beyond his family role and taking a senior White House job: to exercise restraint on his father-in-law and even—a considerable stretch for the inexperienced young man—to help lend him some gravitas.
If Bannon was going to pursue as his first signature White House statement the travel ban, then Kushner was going to pursue as his first leadership mark a meeting with the Mexican president, whom his father-in-law had threatened and insulted throughout the campaign.
Kushner called up the ninety-three-year-old Kissinger for advice. This was both to flatter the old man and to be able to drop his name, but it was also actually for real advice. Trump had done nothing but cause problems for the Mexican president. To bring the Mexican president to the White House would be, despite Bannon’s no-pivot policy from the campaign’s harshness, a truly meaningful pivot for which Kushner would be able to claim credit (although don’t call it a pivot). It was what Kushner believed he should be doing: quietly following behind the president and with added nuance and subtlety clarifying the president’s real intentions, if not recasting them entirely.
The negotiation to bring Mexican president Enrique Peña Nieto to the White House had begun during the transition period. Kushner saw the chance to convert the issue of the wall into a bilateral agreement addressing immigration—hence a tour de force of Trumpian politics. The negotiations surrounding the visit reached their apogee on the Wednesday after the inaugural, with a high-level Mexican delegation—the first visit by any foreign leader to the Trump White House—meeting with Kushner and Reince Priebus. Kushner’s message to his father-in-law that afternoon was that Peña Nieto had signed on to a White House meeting and planning for the visit could go forward.
The next day Trump tweeted: “The U.S. has a 60 billion dollar trade deficit with Mexico. It has been a one-sided deal from the beginning of NAFTA with massive numbers . . .” And he continued in the next tweet . . . “of jobs and companies lost. If Mexico is unwilling to pay for the badly needed wall, then it would be better to cancel the upcoming meeting . . .”
At which point Peña Nieto did just that, leaving Kushner’s negotiation and statecraft as so much scrap on the floor.
On Friday, February 3, at breakfast at the Four Seasons hotel in Georgetown, an epicenter of the swamp, Ivanka Trump, flustered, came down the stairs and entered the dining room, talking loudly on her cell phone: “Things are so messed up and I don’t know how to fix it. . . .”
The week had been overwhelmed by continuing fallout from the immigration order—the administration was in court and headed to a brutal ruling against it—and more embarrassing leaks of two theoretically make-nice phone calls, one with the Mexican president (“bad hombres”) and the other with the Australian prime minister (“my worst call by far”). What’s more, the day before, Nordstrom had announced that it was dropping Ivanka Trump’s clothing line.
The thirty-five-year-old was a harried figure, a businesswoman who had had to abruptly shift control of her business. She was also quite overwhelmed by the effort of having just moved her three children into a new house in a new city—and having to do this largely on her own. Asked how his children were adjusting to their new school several weeks after the move, Jared said that yes, they were indeed in school—but he could not immediately identify where.
Still, in another sense, Ivanka was landing on her feet. Breakfast at the Four Seasons was a natural place for her. She was among everyone who was anyone. In the restaurant that morning: House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi; Blackstone CEO Stephen Schwarzman; Washington fixture, lobbyist, and Clinton confidant Vernon Jordan; labor secretary nominee Wilbur Ross; Bloomberg Media CEO Justin Smith; Washington Post national reporter Mark Berman; and a table full of women lobbyists and fixers, including the music industry’s longtime representative in Washington, Hillary Rosen; Elon Musk’s D.C. adviser, Juleanna Glover; Uber’s political and policy executive, Niki Christoff; and Time Warner’s political affairs executive, Carol Melton.
In some sense—putting aside both her father’s presence in the White House and his tirades against draining the swamp, which might otherwise include most everyone here, this was the type of room Ivanka had worked hard to be in. Following the route of her father, she was crafting her name and herself into a multifaceted, multiproduct brand; she was also transitioning from her father’s aspirational male golf and business types to aspirational female mom and business types. She had, well before her father’s presidency could have remotely been predicted, sold a book, Women Who Work: Rewriting the Rules for Success, for $1 million.
In many ways, it had been an unexpected journey, requiring more discipline than you might expect from a contented, distracted, run-of-the-mill socialite. As a twenty-one-year-old, she appeared in a film made by her then boyfriend, Jamie Johnson, a Johnson & Johnson heir. It’s a curious, even somewhat unsettling film, in which Johnson corrals his set of rich-kid friends into openly sharing their dissatisfactions, general lack of ambition, and contempt for their families. (One of his friends would engage in long litigation with him over the portrayal.) Ivanka, speaking with something like a Valley Girl accent—which would transform in the years ahead into something like a Disney princess voice—seems no more ambitious or even employed than anyone else, but she is notably less angry with her parents.
She treated her father with some lightness, even irony, and in at least one television interview she made fun of his comb-over. She often described the mechanics behind it to friends: an absolutely clean pate—a contained island after scalp reduction surgery—surrounded by a furry circle of hair around the sides and front, from which all ends are drawn up to meet in the center and then swept back and secured by a stiffening spray. The color, she would point out to comical effect, was from a product called Just for Men—the longer it was left on, the darker it got. Impatience resulted in Trump’s orange-blond hair color.
Father and daughter got along almost peculiarly well. She was the real mini-Trump (a title that many people now seemed to aspire to). She accepted him. She was a helper not just in his business dealings, but in his marital realignments. She facilitated entrances and exits. If you have a douchebag dad, and if everyone is open about it, then maybe it becomes fun and life a romantic comedy—sort of.
Reasonably, she ought to be much angrier. She grew up not just in the middle of a troubled family but in one that was at all times immersed in bad press. But she was able to bifurcate reality and live only in the uppermost part of it, where the Trump name, no matter how often tarnished, nevertheless had come to be an affectionately tolerated presence. She resided in a bubble of other wealthy people who thrived on their relationship with one another—at first among private school and Upper East Side of Manhattan friends, then among social, fashion, and media contacts. What’s more, she tended to find protection as well as status in her boyfriends’ families, aggressively bonding with a series of wealthy suitors’ families—including Jamie Johnson’s before the Kushners—over her own.
The Ivanka-Jared relationship was shepherded by Wendi Murdoch, herself a curious social example (to nobody so much as to her then husband, Rupert). The effort among a new generation of wealthy women was to recast life as a socialite, turning a certain model of whimsy and noblesse oblige into a new status as a power woman, a kind of postfeminist socialite. In this, you worked at knowing other rich people, the best rich people, and of being an integral and valuable part of a network of the rich, and of having your name itself evoke, well . . . riches. You weren’t satisfied with what you had, you wanted more. This required quite a level of indefatigability. You were marketing a product—yourself. You were your own start-up.
This was what her father had always done. This, more than real estate, was the family business.
She and Kushner then united as a power couple, consciously recasting themselves as figures of ultimate attainment, ambition, and satisfaction in the new global world and as representatives of a new eco-philanthropic-art sensibility. For Ivanka, this included her friendship with Wendi Murdoch and with Dasha Zhukova, the then wife of the Russian oligarch Roman Abramovich, a fixture in the international art world, and, just a few months before the election, attending a Deepak Chopra seminar on mediation with Kushner. She was searching for meaning—and finding it. This transformation was further expressed not just in ancillary clothing, jewelry, and footwear lines, as well as reality TV projects, but in a careful social media presence. She became a superbly coordinated everymom, who would, with her father’s election, recast herself again, this time as royal family.
And yet, the larger truth was that Ivanka’s relationship with her father was in no way a conventional family relationship. If it wasn’t pure opportunism, it was certainly transactional. It was business. Building the brand, the presidential campaign, and now the White House—it was all business.
But what did Ivanka and Jared really think of their father and father-in-law? “There’s great, great, great affection—you see it, you really do,” replied Kellyanne Conway, somewhat avoiding the question.
“They’re not fools,” said Rupert Murdoch when asked the question.
“They understand him, I think truly,” reflected Joe Scarborough. “And they appreciate his energy. But there’s detachment.” That is, Scarborough went on, they have tolerance but few illusions.
Ivanka’s breakfast that Friday at the Four Seasons was with Dina Powell, the latest Goldman Sachs executive to join the White House.
In the days after the election, Ivanka and Jared had both met with a revolving door of lawyers and PR people, most of them, the couple found, leery of involvement, not least because the couple seemed less interested in bending to advice and more interested in shopping for the advice they wanted. In fact, much of the advice they were getting had the same message: surround yourself—acquaint yourselves—with figures of the greatest establishment credibility. In effect: you are amateurs, you need professionals.
One name that kept coming up was Powell’s. A Republican operative who had gone on to high influence and compensation at Goldman Sachs, she was quite the opposite of anyone’s notion of a Trump Republican. Her family emigrated from Egypt when she was a girl, and she is fluent in Arabic. She worked her way up through a series of stalwart Republicans, including Texas senator Kay Bailey Hutchison and House Speaker di@k Armey. In the Bush White House she served as chief of the personnel office and an assistant secretary of state for educational and cultural affairs. She went to Goldman in 2007 and became a partner in 2010, running its philanthropic outreach, the Goldman Sachs Foundation. Following a trend in the careers of many poiitical operatives, she had become, as well as an über networker, a corporate public affairs and PR-type adviser—someone who knew the right people in power and had a keen sensitivity to how other people’s power can be used.
The table of women lobbyists and communications professionals in the Four Seasons that morning was certainly as interested in Powell, and her presence in the new administration, as they were in the president’s daughter. If Ivanka Trump was a figure more of novelty than of seriousness, the fact that she had helped bring Powell into the White House and was now publicly conferring with her added a further dimension to the president’s daughter. In a White House seeming to pursue a dead-set Trumpian way, this was a hint of an alternative course. In the assessment of the other fixers and PR women at the Four Seasons, this was a potential shadow White House—Trump’s own family not assaulting the power structure but expressing an obvious enthusiasm for it.
Ivanka, after a long breakfast, made her way through the room. Between issuing snappish instructions on her phone, she bestowed warm greetings and accepted business cards.
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