Jared Kushner is emerging as the smoothest, slickest operator in the Court of King Donald. He is also, by far, the busiest – and the hardest to fire.
President Donald Trump is apparently convinced that his son-in-law, who serves officially as a senior adviser, can fix anything. Make that everything: In less than three months, Trump has given Kushner, 36, the following assignments:
▪ Reinvent the federal government, one of the biggest and most complex organizations in the world. As head of the “White House Office of American Innovation,” Kushner is supposed to bring the mindset and practices of the business world to the public sector. Given that his father went to jail for crimes including tax evasion, and that his boss declared four business bankruptcies, we can only hope Kushner looks far afield for role models.
▪ Resolve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The greatest diplomatic minds of the century all failed at this Sisyphean task, but at least Trump gave Kushner instructions. Asked about a two-state solution, Trump said: “I am looking at two-state, and one-state, and I like the one that both parties like.” That must be what negotiators call latitude.
▪ Manage the U.S. relationship with Mexico, a nation Trump repeatedly maligned during his campaign. Trump still claims Mexico will pay for the wall he promises to erect along the border. Those who want to see some hideous, unnecessary barrier actually built should wish Kushner good luck with that.
▪ Manage the U.S. relationship with China, another nation Trump has repeatedly maligned. The president continues to insist that China keeps the value of its currency artificially low, to boost exports, but presently that is not the case. If anything, the Chinese government is propping up the yuan. I’m sure President Xi Jinping will understand when Kushner explains the discrepancy.
▪ Assess how the fight against the Islamic State is going. Kushner landed in Iraq Monday along with Gen. Joseph Dunford, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, to get a firsthand look at the situation. “The more appreciation you could have for what’s actually happening on the ground, the more informed you are when you start talking about the strategic issues,” Dunford said.
Those words reflect Dunford’s understanding that on all sorts of “strategic issues” facing the Trump administration, Kushner has a seat at the table. I mean literally: According to The New York Times, at a Situation Room meeting of the National Security Council’s “principals committee” last month to discuss North Korea, Dunford was late to arrive; the only open seats were among the backbenchers along the wall. Kushner gallantly rose from his tableside seat and offered it to Dunford. Such a polite young man.
When you think about it, Kushner’s outsized role should be no surprise. The only kind of business Trump knows is family business; he started out working for his father, and now his children are his top lieutenants at the Trump Organization. In the way they put family above all else, there is a bit of the Corleones in the Trumps. Minus all the homicides.
Trump’s daughter Ivanka is also taking a senior – and unpaid – advisory post in the White House. This will put her in good position to cover her husband’s flank – and he’ll need it. Given all the ambition and jealousy in the West Wing, Kushner might think about employing a food taster.
Chief strategist Steve Bannon and his band of “economic nationalists” are trying to pull the president along the populist path he outlined during the campaign. Chief of Staff Reince Priebus, a former chair of the Republican Party, represents the views of the GOP establishment. But Bannon and Priebus are willing to put aside their rivalry and join forces against a group known as “the New Yorkers” or “the Democrats,” a faction that includes Council of Economic Advisers chief Gary Cohn and the Kushners.
Kushner was reportedly disappointed with the bill House Republicans came up with to replace the Affordable Care Act. Nothing said “washing my hands of this whole mess” like taking a skiing trip out West while Bannon and Priebus desperately tried, and failed, to keep the legislation alive. But that’s just what Jared and Ivanka did.
Access to the president equals power, and none of Kushner’s rivals can compete on that score. He is a callow young man who cannot possibly accomplish all that is being asked of him. But think what being Trump’s son-in-law must be like. Maybe peace in the Middle East doesn’t look so hard.
Eugene Robinson can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.