A Solution to the Mystery of Jared

#33: Why did he survive in Trump's White House?

What's the basis for Donald Trump's enduring faith in his son-in-law, Jared Kushner? From the time Trump locked up the nomination in early 2016, to the present, Kushner has had a strange indestructible power within Trump's political world. Kushner’s outlasted (and in many cases, defenestrated) a list of rivals that might intimidate even a seasoned infighter: Corey Lewandowski, Paul Manafort, Chris Christie, Steve Bannon, Reince Priebus, Rex Tillerson, Jeff Sessions, John Kelly and Don McGahn are just the ones we know about.

All while delivering results to Trump that ... well, let's call them mixed.

— Jared threw his arch-enemy** Christie's transition planning into the trash. Result: Difficulty staffing up the new administration.

— Jared advised his father-in-law to fire FBI Director James Comey, arguing that Democrats would approve! Result: the Mueller special counsel investigation.

— Jared urged Trump to endorse Luther Strange in Alabama's 2017 special senate election. Result: Strange lost in the primary to a flawed candidate and Dems won the seat.

— Jared wanted Trump to hire Anthony Scaramucci. Result: Scaramucci lasted 11 days and soon turned on the administration with a vengeance.

— Jared oversaw theTrump 2020 reelection campaign, which ran through almost $1 billion, then found itself short of money. Result: Trump lost after following Jared's advice and deemphasizing the issues and voters that got him elected in the first place.

— Don’t stop there: Jared was also in charge of hiring and organizing the campaign's post-election legal team! Result ....

There's more,***  but you get the picture. Any one of these blunders might be enough to get an ordinary aide fired, or assigned to negotiate the next law of the sea treaty. Yet Jared endured, gaining power as he moved from debacle to debacle. Why? The standard explanation -- Trump's affection for his daughter Ivanka, who's married to Jared — hardly seems enough. Was there really no way to keep Ivanka happy without letting Jared run everything, especially the campaign. Does Jared have naked photos of Donald or something?

There's an alternative, though speculative, explanation: It's not love. It's not blackmail! It's money. 

The theory goes like this: Trump's empire has always been built on insecure ground, specifically a mountain of debt. The brand took a hit when half the nation decided to go into the Trump-hating business. Then came the pandemic, which struck hotels and office buildings, core Trump specialties, especially hard. In the near future Trump faces large, urgent, financial and legal challenges. “He has hundreds of millions of dollars coming due” and ”doesn't have an apparent stream of cash coming in.” Trump is “personally responsible” for $421 million, according to the NYT. And there’s no more Apprentice.

By comparison, Jared's businesses -- the empire built by his father, Charles Kushner--are probably in better shape. I'd rather be renting out apartments than high-rise offices, wouldn't you? The major existential threat to the Kushners' fortune had been the 666 Fifth Avenue tower for which they’d paid an exorbidant price. But they've now been bailed out of 666 by Canada’s Brookfield investment firm in a deal that may or may not have relied on funding from Qatar (which Jared, coincidentally, is now  visiting, trying to resolve a boycott against it by Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, among others). The Kushner companies have been able to obtain loans -- including large U.S. government-backed loans -- that Donald might never have managed to get without damaging adverse publicty.

Jared was worth $324 million in 2018, according to the New York Times,. The Times also says he and his wife have “investments, mostly in real estate … worth at least $204 million and as much as $783 million.” But that's just Jared & Ivanka. The Kushners are a close-knit family; it's probably best to view them together, as a family empire -- hence the title of Vicky Ward's revealing takedown, Kushner Inc.. Along with Jared there's Charles, who got rich developing New Jersey garden apartments before going to prison for a lurid attempt to silence his brother-in-law -- but who then returned, with some of his new prison buddies, to pull the strings on the 666 deal and other projects. If that's not enough financial heft, add in Jared's brother Josh, who may be the family's biggest business success -- he has started companies like Thrive (media), Oscar (health care) and Cadre (real estate). According to Ward, there's some evidence -- in the form of an alleged profit-sharing agreement between Josh and Jared -- that millions flow, family-style, from one Kushner to another. Presidential pardons also, in all probability.

If you're Trump, looking ahead, you are thinking of how you're going to keep your gold-logo enterprise going — or maybe even start a personal media empire (which will require billions in capital). And Jared begins to look less like the son-in-law you didn't really want and more like a potential savior who might help keep the entwined families afloat in a way nobody else can. Think of it this way: you were a bank, would you rather loan more millions to Trump himself -- who brings scrutiny and, often, embarrassment, and who doesn't seem wildly diversified -- or to the implicit combined might of Trump-Kushner-Kushner-Kushner?

That financial reality couldn't help but give Jared a lot of power in the White House over the last four years.  If Jared didn't want to ignominiously retreat back to NYC -- if he wanted to control all the important personnel and the important, high-impact initiatives ... it wasn’t easy to tell him no. Trump needs him at least as much as he needs Trump. Who's going to prop Trump up in 2021, or 2025? Tom Brady?

You got a better explanation?

P.S.: This isn't my theory. (I’m stealing it from someone.) I don't know if it's true. But if you buy it, and you’re in a monomaniacal, conspiracy-minded, speculative mood, other things potentially fall in place. For example, why does Trump  not want to reveal to whom he owes as much as $650 million (Mother Jones)?  (Because he owes a lot of it to ….) … Update: Ted Frank critiques this last suggestion, arguing that Trump did too disclose his lenders on his financial disclosure forms, just as he has claimed. (There is a chart.) Russ Choma, who wrote the Mother Jones piece, says there’s still one mystery loan. …


**—Christie had been the federal prosecutor who sent Jared’s father to prison.

***—E.g. Jared was at least partly responsible for hiring Paul Manafort, a notoriously sketchy character, as (short-lived) campaign manager in 2016; he buddied up to Mohammed bin Salman (MBS), Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince, and was accused of giving MBS intelligence on his enemies, whom MBS was rounding up, imprisoning and interrogating in a Ritz-Carlton hotel. Jared’s reaction to the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi (allegedly on orders from MBS) was weak. There were also some wins — Rich Lowry argues Jared effectively handled the ventilator crisis early in the pandemic.