President Trump’s growing engagement with former corporate executives in his White House—and business leaders outside of it—helped shape this week’s reversals on several positions that defined his campaign. We report that unlike in the early weeks of his presidency, when his senior staff consisted of a close-knit group of former campaign aides, Mr. Trump has sided recently with a wing of his administration that espouses economic and foreign policies much more in line with the Washington establishment’s traditional view. We look at several of Mr. Trump’s shifts, from the U.S. Export-Import Bank to NATO.
It’s astonishing, isn’t it, how suddenly Donald J. Trump is being viewed, in certain precincts, as—what’s the word?—yes, “Presidential,” and all it took was for him to issue an order to launch fifty-nine cruise missiles
.. Laura Ingraham tweeted, “Missiles flying. Rubio’s happy. McCain ecstatic. Hillary’s on board. A complete policy change in 48 hrs.”), there was wide approval from the foreign-policy establishment. The former Secretary of State John Kerry was said to be “absolutely supportive” and “gratified to see that it happened quickly,” and there’s been non-stop gushing within the Trumpian orbit. Kellyanne Conway, gusher-in-chief and Presidential counsellor, spoke about “our very tough, very resolute, very decisive President.
.. For a television performer, television appearances matter a lot.
.. when Trump started getting intelligence briefings, his briefers were advised that he was “a visual and auditory learner”—in other words, that he should deal with as few words as possible and, instead, get “more graphics and pictures.”
.. preference for pictures over words explains, as Trump might phrase it, so much, so very, very much.
.. “We rushed into Korea with no advance planning, and we stumbled into the ground war in Vietnam with uncertain footing. In neither case did we have any fully thought-out ideas concerning our objectives or the means we would be willing to expend to attain them. As each situation arose we extemporized, unsure what the next step would be, until we were far more committed than we had expected to be.” Our best soldiers never forget that sort of lesson.
.. What’s most worrisome about Trump is what’s been worrisome all along: that he doesn’t think through the consequences of what he says and does, and that he acts without a glimmer of consistency, or guiding principle; he’s a man of constant surprise. In that way, Trump is not unlike another erratic world figure, the North Korean leader, Kim Jong-un, who also seems capable of acting in extremes, without warning, at any time, and at any level of incitement.
With little experience, and against all predictions to the contrary, Kushner had managed Trump’s way to the White House, and was now poised to be his most trusted adviser and enforcer in the West Wing.
.. He had come to offer a message to his old friends: Be unafraid.
.. He thought about immigration in terms of Silicon Valley’s needs, about education the way Robin Hood Foundation philanthropists did, about climate change in terms of carbon emissions, not mining jobs. Then, about a year ago, Kushner said, he had started traveling the country with Trump, going to rallies where thousands of ordinary Americans shouted in fury about government regulations and the Common Core curriculum.
.. David Zaslav, the chief executive of the Discovery cable networks, asked Kushner how it would be possible in the future to have a national discussion based on facts. Kushner replied that it was the media that was deluded about America, claiming his own computer models told him the morning of the election that Trump would capture more than 300 electoral votes.
.. Kushner believes Trump’s victory was a repudiation of the media and both political parties — the entire governing Establishment. He said he was “proud” Trump had won only 4 percent of the vote in Washington, D.C.
.. He predicted the administration would take a “rational” position on immigration and would join with Democrats to invest in infrastructure, which he said could mean not only roads and bridges but high-speed internet and driverless cars. He said Trump had asked Elon Musk why the aerospace industry couldn’t make planes that fly faster, like the Concorde used to, and Musk replied that most CEOs preferred incremental improvements to moon-shot risks.
.. Ten blocks to the north, in his golden tower, Trump was nominating a climate-change skeptic for Interior secretary and tweeting gleefully about Russian hacking, even as his son-in-law said America needed to take a long-term view of the “warfare of the future.”
.. Kushner flattered the Partnership audience by saying the president-elect was happy to be bringing so many billionaires to D.C., asking, “Who else to do you want to see cutting deals?”
.. Kushner’s impact can be seen in the centrist tilt of Trump’s economic team, which is heavy on Goldman Sachs guys. For secretary of State, he preferred Mitt Romney and, later, Rex Tillerson over bomb-throwers like John Bolton and Rudy Giuliani.
.. “For a guy who was a progressive,” Bannon says, “he really gets this grassroots populist movement in a huge way.”
.. “We have no formal chain of command around here,” Trump said
.. the depth of Kushner’s commitment to Trump’s reactionary agenda was surrounded by a bit of what Henry Kissinger — a Kushner admirer — would call constructive ambiguity.
.. he had always been quick to champion Trump to his many detractors and expressed admiration for his knack for self-promotion and his impish ability to play the press for suckers. But Kushner never gave the impression that he had anything more than a grudging son-in-law’s level of tolerance for Trump’s more radical positions.
.. Back when Trump was spinning birther conspiracy theories, which were lapped up by gullible Republicans, one person who talked to Kushner says he offered assurances that his father-in-law didn’t really believe that stuff.
.. His voice is just literally soft. His opinions are anything but deferential. “He’s very aggressive,” says Zelnick, who says that once Kushner makes up his mind, “it may look like he’s barreling down a path.”
.. Above all, he and Trump share a clannish outlook on life, business, and politics. Trump prizes loyalty, especially when it flows upward, and no defender has been more steadfast during his turbulent struggle than Kushner. Neither forgets when he’s been wronged. They both appear to enjoy the metallic taste of payback, although of the two, Trump may be the more forgiving.
.. In fact, “family first” is his paramount value, a personal principle instilled in him through bitter history.
.. Rae Kushner, the family’s matriarch, was born in Novogrudek, in what is now Belarus. When the Nazis arrived in 1941, they executed the town’s Jewish doctors, lawyers, and intellectuals on the square, as an orchestra played. Rae, a teenager, was one of 50 girls selected to scrub their blood from the cobblestones.
.. They ended up in a displaced-persons camp, where they spent three and a half years while the family waited for a visa to immigrate to the United States. “Nobody wanted to take us in,” Rae said in The Miracle of Life. At the time, the United States had immigration quotas based on ethnicity. “For the Jews, the doors were closed. We never understood that. Even President Roosevelt kept the doors closed.”
.. “You cater to the masses, you eat with the classes.”
.. He has also served as a bridge to the government of Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who has known the Kushners for years.
.. Through Jared’s teenage years, his father became increasingly involved in politics, becoming a top Democratic Party donor. Politicians with national aspirations, including Hillary Clinton, would regularly pay visits to the Kushners.
.. Charlie wanted more than just zoning approvals. He aspired to be a kingmaker.
.. that was Charlie’s flaw: his craving for a public role.
.. Chris Christie, the ambitious U.S. Attorney for New Jersey, who appeared to relish the idea of pursuing Governor McGreevey’s patron.
.. Jared saw his father as a victim of injustice. “It’s an outrage that Charlie’s brother and sister cooperated with the government against him; that’s the lowest thing a Jew can do in my book,”
.. The youthful staff at the Observer made subsistence wages, but the writers didn’t seem bothered about money. They competed instead for the fickle approval of the paper’s charismatic editor, Peter Kaplan, who cultivated an air of intellectual eccentricity punctuated by sarcastic exclamation points.
.. If Kushner, then 25, was seeking to confirm a suspicion that the media was made up of socially insecure smartasses who glory in the human failings of the rich and powerful, he couldn’t have picked a better place to educate himself.
.. Kaplan told friends that Kushner’s favorite book was The Count of Monte Cristo, the story of a wronged man who escapes prison, becomes rich, and uses his wealth to stealthily visit vengeance upon his unsuspecting enemies.
.. Wildstein was hired by Christie and engineered the politically retributive traffic jam at the George Washington Bridge. After the scheme came to light, Kushner sent an email to Wildstein, who had resigned amid the investigation. “That’s another thing we have in common I guess with my Dad having done the same,” he wrote. “For what its worth, I thought the move you pulled was kind of badass.”
.. Ray Kelly, the former NYPD commissioner, who got to know Kushner as a donor to the New York City Police Foundation
.. he saw Kushner as a “law-and-order person” who was supportive of the Bloomberg administration’s technocratic approach to government. Kushner was also close to Joel Klein, the schools chancellor, who influenced his views on education reform
.. In 2006, Jared negotiated the purchase of 666 Fifth Avenue for $1.8 billion, a record sum for a Manhattan office building at the time. The transaction was financed by an onerous amount of debt. The following year, the Kushner Companies liquidated its apartment portfolio for $1.9 billion. The shift was akin to trading a fleet of taxicabs for a single Formula 1 race car. “It wasn’t my idea to buy a New York building,” says Hammer, who was chairman of the company during Charlie’s absence. “That was really the idea of a very aggressive, ambitious young man.”
.. Kushner’s loans were premised on the assumption that office rents would rise; instead, the economy crashed.
.. Vulture investors bought the debt, threatening foreclosure. Kushner felt besieged, with few friends and no leverage.
.. Kushner didn’t forget who had been unkind to him along the way.
.. Kushner emerged from the crisis with a reputation as a gutsy dealmaker.
.. “He’s very uncluttered in his mind,”
.. “I think that simplicity allows him to filter some things out.”
.. Kushner managed to tune out the doubts of those who thought the prices he and his partners had paid, more than $1 billion in all, were hard to justify.
.. Kushner’s public identity underwent its own conversion. In the newspapers, he was no longer inevitably identified as a felon’s son — he was Ivanka’s husband, an auxiliary Trump.
.. Kushner and a local partner developed the building on a site they bought out of foreclosure in 2011. As is his practice, Trump lends his name via a branding and management deal, while Kushner’s partnership owns and financed the development.
.. The partnership raised about a third of its projected $193 million cost via the federal EB-5 program, which offers green cards to foreign investors. Bloomberg News reported that it was marketed to would-be Chinese immigrants
.. he would return to New York, which was dwelling in its comfortable delusions. “Nobody has less credibility than the people in this town,” he recently told an associate. “If you want to talk with yourselves all day and convince yourselves that you’re right, that’s what people in this town do all day.” Trump was giving voice to authentic grievances, Kushner thought
.. For all the criticism he has encountered, though, Kushner has displayed supreme confidence in his own judgment.
.. “If the campaign was proof of anything, it was that neither prior campaign experience nor, perhaps especially, presidential-campaign experience was required,”
.. “Pollsters are total thieves,” he said in his speech to the Partnership. Kushner pushed the campaign to use direct-marketing strategies employed by private tech companies.
.. “Why did he have to do it that way, why did he say it this way? Et cetera,” he says. “And I would always get a typical Jared response from him that was, ‘Look, there’s a bigger picture here, you know, I know what he said maybe didn’t look good, but he really didn’t mean it that way.’
.. Kushner received more scorching emails, too, some of them from people he respected. He viewed these as useful data points — he now knew who his loyal friends were. “I call it an exfoliation,”
.. The criticism seemed to trigger a practiced defense mechanism. In private conversations, he would return to the prior experience of his father’s arrest and his brush with financial ruin at 666 Fifth. “I’ve been in quite a few foxholes in my life,”
.. Kushner found in Bannon a strategist just as disdainful as he was of the traditional campaign playbook. “He threw the whole thing out,” Bannon says. “That’s why I bonded with him.”
.. Kushner arguably has more in common with Bannon — an insurgent attitude, a disdain for the GOP Establishment, a background in digital media — than with anyone in Trump’s orbit besides Ivanka.
.. Kushner, as a family member, was often the person called on to broach difficult conversations with Trump, such as firing Lewandowski or talking him out of offering the vice-presidency to Governor Chris Christie.
.. in its final days, the campaign needed $10 million to buy advertising in several key states, which analysts gave Trump little chance of winning, Kushner made the ask. “He appealed to him by saying, ‘I know this is family money and personal wealth, I get it, and I also know that you can win and we need that extra infusion,’ ”
.. Kushner recruited Bill Stepien, the ruthless campaign manager that Christie fired for his role in the bridge plot, to be Trump’s political director.
.. If Trump’s administration is anything like his campaign, or the rest of his life, it is likely to be split along lines of clan, with the conservative Republicans — Pence, Conway, and chief-of-staff Reince Priebus — competing for influence with the cadre of outsiders who are loyal to Trump, foremost among them Kushner and Ivanka
.. “Certainly a president needs someone to say, ‘Look, this isn’t helpful to you, this isn’t helpful to the country,’ ” Reed says. “I think Jared will play that role.” Still, there’s little evidence that anyone can moderate Trump, other than Trump himself
.. Some of the same Manhattan liberals who ostracized him during the campaign were rattled afterward, and they sent him emails, trying to offer healing words of congratulations and conciliation. These went right in the trash. Kushner is in no mood to offer comfort
Mr. Trump is specifically evaluating whether to keep his chief of staff, Reince Priebus, and his chief strategist, Steve Bannon, in their current positions.