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 as the grandson of Holocaust survivors, Kushner said that the tweet was an innocent mistake. “America faces serious challenges,” he wrote. “A broken economy, terrorism, gaping trade deficits. . . . Intolerance should be added to that list. I’m confident that my father-in-law . . . will be successful tackling these challenges.”
In New York, many people were not convinced. Mark Green, the former New York City Public Advocate, a Democrat whose brother is a prominent real-estate developer, said, “When my wife and I saw him on TV, we commiserated with him, assuming that he was embarrassed by his father-in-law’s rants and smears. But that was naïve. He did what in retrospect almost any son-in-law would do in that fraught situation, which is stick with the family, even at a reputational cost. He’s done it unapologetically.”
As for Ivanka, any lingering mystery about her allegiances was cleared up at the Republican National Convention, in Cleveland, where she introduced her father. Smiling and levelheaded, she announced that her advocacy of women’s empowerment and her support of her father were in perfect agreement: “Like many of my fellow-millennials, I do not consider myself categorically Republican or Democrat. More than party affiliation, I vote based on what I believe is right, for my family and for my country. Sometimes it’s a tough choice. That is not the case this time.”
“They’re believers,” Reed Cordish, a friend of the couple, said. “They are all in. They have been all in from the get-go, without hesitation.”
A squat, beige building with tinted windows and “Kushner Companies” on its façade sits just off the Columbia Turnpike, in Florham Park, New Jersey. Not far away are the Joseph Kushner Hebrew Academy and the Rae Kushner Yeshiva High School, which are named for Jared’s grandparents. Joseph and Rae survived the Holocaust in Poland, married in Budapest before going into a displaced-persons camp, and eventually emigrated, landing in Brooklyn. As a carpenter who spoke little English, Joseph worked on construction sites in New Jersey until he scraped together enough money to develop plots of land with partners, who included another refugee family, the Wilfs. (They were part of a group of survivors known as the Holocaust Builders.) By the time he died, in 1985, he had built some four thousand apartments.
The Kushners had two sons and two daughters. Charles, Jared’s father, was the younger son, but, much like Donald Trump, he was his father’s successor. Joseph had been a cautious businessman. Charles, known as Charlie, was a risk-taker, unafraid of loans and leverage. In less than ten years, he created his own firm, Kushner Companies, and made it into one of the largest private landlords on the East Coast, with assets worth an estimated billion dollars, and including twenty-two thousand apartments in New Jersey and Pennsylvania, commercial properties, an insurance company, and a bank.
Charlie Kushner had an outsized presence in New Jersey’s Jewish community. At work, he was meticulous and focussed. He kept his huge desk completely empty and had a closet full of blue and white dress shirts, each hung an inch apart. He was generous, making large donations to charities. “If you met him right now, you’d walk away saying, ‘He’s the most charming, nicest person I’ve ever met,’ ” an associate told me.
But Charlie had another side, which former associates describe as “threatening,” “nasty,” and “vindictive.” One former Kushner Companies executive said, “If you pissed him off, it was like somebody gave him drugs. He was like an animal, cursing and foaming at the mouth.”
A disciplined man who avoided the press, Kushner was no Trump. But he had Trumpian qualities, such as a tendency to withhold payment from venders like contractors, cleaners, and architects, forcing them to accept a fraction of their fee. The former Kushner Companies executive told me, “Every week we’d have meetings at Charlie’s house, and we’d go through the bills—the larger bills and corporate bills. And he’d sign them, or he’d say, ‘Offer them forty per cent.’ Or ‘Offer them fifty per cent.’ ” This was a cost-saving measure, not unheard of among developers. “It was, Why pay someone a hundred per cent when you could pay a lot less?”
Charlie and his wife, Seryl, had four children—Dara, Jared, Joshua, and Nicole—whom they reared in the Orthodox Jewish tradition that Seryl grew up in. The family kept kosher and observed Shabbos; the children went to religious schools. Those who did business with Charlie remember that he often brought along young Jared and, later, Josh, both of whom watched their father’s every move. The former New Jersey senator Robert Torricelli told me, “I would often meet with Charlie to spend some social time or discuss some major issue”—Torricelli was on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee—“and it was not unusual for him to bring Jared simply to listen.” He described Jared as reserved. “He was not necessarily as gregarious as his father,” Torricelli said, “but I think what he got was the same high level of focus.”
As with the defense industry and the financial industry, success on a large scale in real estate often depends on government connections. Tax incentives, licenses, and inspections come more easily that way. As Trump has said, explaining his contributions to Hillary Clinton’s Senate campaigns, “I give to everybody. When they call, I give. And you know what? When I need something from them two years later, three years later, I call them, and they are there for me.” From 1996 to 2004, Charlie Kushner gave more than $1.4 million to Democratic politicians, including Jon Corzine, Frank Lautenberg, and Charles Schumer. After Clinton won the 2000 Senate race, she made a pilgrimage to the Kushners’ house on the Jersey Shore for Shabbos dinner.
In the late nineties, Kushner met James McGreevey, who at the time was the mayor of Woodbridge Township. Kushner began financing his subsequent campaigns, a partnership that culminated in McGreevey’s victory in the 2002 gubernatorial election. A month after the inauguration, McGreevey nominated Kushner to be the chairman of the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, a position that would have put the developer in charge of the rebuilding of the World Trade Center, controlling billions of dollars in state contracts.
It was bad timing: the family had started to unravel. Charlie’s older brother, Murray, filed a lawsuit, accusing him of mismanagement. Then a former Kushner Companies accountant, Bob Yontef, sued, alleging that Charlie’s political and charitable contributions came from company money. Itemized in Yontef’s complaint is a hundred-and-twenty-five-thousand-dollar fee that was paid to Bill Clinton, who spoke at a luncheon for executives of the bank that Kushner Companies owned.
The legal actions caught the attention of Chris Christie, a Republican who was then the U.S. Attorney for the state of New Jersey. He began looking into Kushner’s campaign donations; when the investigation became public, Kushner withdrew himself from consideration for the Port Authority job. Kushner became furious with his younger sister, Esther Schulder, who he believed was coöperating with Christie, and, in retaliation, he set a trap for her husband, Billy Schulder, a former Kushner Companies employee whom he resented for having had an affair at the office. He hired a prostitute, who, posing as a stranded motorist, approached Schulder at the Time to Eat Diner, in Bridgewater. Schulder then met her at the Red Bull Inn, on Route 22, where a camera installed in an alarm clock captured them in a sex act. Kushner mailed images from the tape to his sister, who promptly shared them with federal authorities.
Kushner was arrested, and suddenly the whole family was starring in a baroque scandal—part “Peyton Place,” part “The Sopranos.” McGreevey was forced to apologize for his nomination of Kushner. (Months later, he resigned the governorship, following a sex scandal of his own.) Kushner pleaded guilty to eighteen counts of tax evasion, witness tampering, and making illegal campaign donations—“crimes of greed, power, and excess,” as Christie put it.
Kushner received a two-year prison sentence, and spent eighteen months in a federal penitentiary in Montgomery, Alabama, before being transferred to a halfway house in Newark. Students at the Joseph Kushner Hebrew Academy wore duct tape over their sweatshirts, to hide the family name.
Jared Kushner describes his father’s downfall as the defining event of his life. The man whom he idolized had become a source of humiliation and grief. But he also took Charlie’s view of the crisis: that his father had been a victim. In an interview with the real-estate trade paper the Real Deal, Charlie said, “I don’t believe God and my parents will ever forgive my brother and sister for instigating a criminal investigation and being cheerleaders for the government and putting their brother in jail because of jealousy, hatred and spite.”
The jail sentence interrupted Jared’s trajectory. He had attended Harvard, a circumstance that, as the Pulitzer Prize-winning writer Daniel Golden described in “The Price of Admission,” may have been connected to a gift of $2.5 million that his parents pledged to the university, in 1998. According to the book, Charlie Kushner also asked Frank Lautenberg to persuade his fellow-senator Edward Kennedy to put in a word with William Fitzsimmons, Harvard’s dean of admissions. (A Kushner family spokesperson said, “The Seryl and Charles Kushner Family Charitable Foundation has given away more than a hundred million dollars to universities, hospitals, day schools, and charities of all kinds.”)
I overlapped with Kushner at Harvard, where he cut a noticeable figure. On a campus full of T-shirts and cargo shorts, he wore dress shirts and jeans from the then trendy label 7 for All Mankind. And he drove a Range Rover around campus. “He didn’t do it with a sense of humor,” one classmate recalled. “He did it, like, ‘I’m fucking rich.’ ”
As a freshman, Kushner joined the I.O.P.—the Institute of Politics, where future D.C. types hang out—but he drifted away after a semester, eventually becoming a member of the Fly, a “final” club (Harvard’s version of a fraternity). Still, he was not a party animal. His friend and roommate Nitin Saigal told me, “One of the first times I met him was sitting in Annenberg,” a campus dining hall. “Everyone was goofing around. He was reading Crain’s New York Business.” As a sideline to his classes, Kushner bought buildings in nearby Somerville, converted them into condominiums, and sold them, for a reported profit of more than twenty million dollars.
For a college student, Kushner was uncommonly pious and devoted to his family. He called his parents every day. On Fridays, he ate in a kosher dining hall, either Hillel or the Chabad house, which is affiliated with the Lubavitcher Hasidim. At the Fly, new members are subjected to initiation hazing: seniors will demand that they clean a dorm room, or drink warm gin. Kushner encouraged them to come to Shabbat dinner at Chabad. Hirschy Zarchi, the rabbi at Chabad, said, “Can you imagine? New initiates. He said, ‘You have to come and have dinner and be exposed to Jewish ideas.’ ”
Saigal said that Jared’s reaction to his father’s downfall, which came after he graduated, with honors, and began pursuing a joint M.B.A. and law degree at N.Y.U., was straightforward: “Head down, focus.” He spent Mondays through Fridays studying and working at the family business and, on weekends, flew to Alabama to visit his father in prison.
At twenty-four, Jared started running Kushner Companies. He pushed to make an audacious move: get out of New Jersey and try to make it in New York. In 2007, soon after Charlie was released, the Kushners bought an office building, 666 Fifth Avenue, for $1.8 billion, much of it borrowed*. Later that year, the company sold its entire portfolio of rental apartments for roughly the same amount. The market subsequently tanked, and by 2008 the cash flow from 666 Fifth Avenue wasn’t enough to cover its debt service. The Kushners had to sell off the building’s retail space. The 666 deal was a rocky one, but, in many ways, its financial success was beside the point. In the span of a few years, with Jared at the helm, the Kushners had managed a Gatsbyish reinvention—emerging from disgrace in New Jersey as up-and-comers in the glitzier world of Manhattan real estate. Recently, Jared and a group of partners acquired several vast properties in Brooklyn from the Jehovah’s Witnesses, for two billion dollars; they are filling them with hip, techie tenants such as Etsy and WeWork.
Jared himself had a new profile, owing in part to another investment. In 2006, while his father was in prison, Jared bought, for ten million dollars, the Observer, a weekly paper founded by the investment banker Arthur Carter, which was known for its curdled take on the New York power élite. (I was an intern there in 2004.) The paper had a tiny circulation, and routinely lost money, but it was devoured by insiders in the industries it covered: media, politics, and real estate.
Kushner had a honeymoon period with the paper’s longtime editor, Peter Kaplan, but the partnership grew strained. “They had a tortured, love-hate relationship,” David Michaelis, a friend of Kaplan’s, said. “Peter was always saying to me, it was like asking your son for the car keys.” Kaplan resigned in 2009, and Jared went through a succession of editors; according to several of them, his opinion of the product—the articles themselves—ranged from lack of interest to disdain. One former editor said, “He hates reporters and the press. Viscerally.”
But the Observer gave Kushner a kind of access that money alone couldn’t. Soon after buying the paper, he had dinner with Rupert Murdoch, and asked for guidance. Thereafter, the two spoke on the phone several times a week. Bob Sommer, who was president of the Observer Media Group from 2007 to 2009, said that he became accustomed to hearing things like “Here’s Rupert’s business model,” “Rupert does it this way,” “We’re going to turn it into a profitable media business, and Rupert knows how to run a media business.” Kushner and Murdoch became friends, and Murdoch passed on books by such conservative thinkers as Charles Murray and Niall Ferguson. (After Murdoch and Wendi Deng divorced, in 2014, Kushner helped set him up with an architect for his bachelor pad.) The friendship might have had something to do with Kushner’s political awakening: readers of the Observer’s editorial page noticed a shift, from a Clinton-Cuomo-esque, centrist liberalism to a more conservative view, reminiscent of the editorial page of the Wall Street Journal. (The Kushner spokesperson said, “Jared is not involved in running the paper day-to-day.”) In turn, a former associate of Murdoch’s told me, “I think Jared’s been the key in getting Rupert to come around to the idea of a Trump Presidency.”
These days, the Observer’s coverage of the rich and powerful includes stories like “21 Young New York Socialites You Should Know,” and the occasional negative article about people whose ties to the Kushners have frayed; targets have included the Wilf family, whom the Observer took to task for having a “broken moral compass,” and Murray Huberfeld, a former business partner of Charlie Kushner’s, who was recently indicted for bribery. (Huberfeld pleaded not guilty.)
Owning the Observer made Kushner an arbiter of status in the city. A former business associate recalled, “I’m sitting in Jared’s office, and he’s ranking the one hundred most powerful people in real estate. Trump was No. 38. A secretary came in with a Post-it note that said, ‘Donald Trump on line one.’ He looked at it and smiled and said, ‘Tell him I’ll call him back.’ ”
An acquaintance of Jared and Ivanka’s told me, “Jared, he’s human. He’s got people he likes and doesn’t like and is plotting and scheming. But Ivanka’s unusual. She’s a little bit like Bill Clinton. She seems to be on message one hundred per cent of the time.” It’s a comparison that Ivanka’s friend Chelsea Clinton has made as well. “She’s always aware of everyone around her and insuring that everyone is enjoying the moment,” Chelsea told Vogue last year. “It’s an awareness that in some ways reminds me of my dad.”
Like Chelsea Clinton, Ivanka had an exceptionally public childhood. Her mother is Trump’s first wife, the Czech-born skier and socialite Ivana Trump. The settings of Ivanka’s childhood were the golden landscapes of the New York tabloids in the late twentieth century: the rococo splendor of Mar-a-Lago, the former Marjorie Merriweather Post estate, in Palm Beach, which Trump bought in 1985; a forty-seven-room mansion in Greenwich, Connecticut; a triplex in Trump Tower, with faux Titian murals and an indoor waterfall. When Ivanka was nine years old, she learned that her parents were divorcing, and a crowd of paparazzi began staking out her after-school pickups at the Chapin School. The photographers followed her for weeks, and even asked her to weigh in on a headline in the Post, quoting Trump’s girlfriend, Marla Maples: “best sex i’ve ever had!” “You know, the media is vicious, they’re brutal—present company excluded,” she told GQ, in 2007. “It taught me not to trust anyone,” she said. “You can never let your guard down, and I never really have since that time.”
In “The Trump Card,” a memoir-cum-marketing manual published in 2010, Ivanka writes that her father’s divorce made her realize that “I could no longer take him for granted.” A Trump family friend told me, “It’s a close family in many ways—except it’s all about Donald all the time.” He went on, “Donald only thinks of himself. When you say, ‘Donald, it’s raining today,’ he says, ‘It doesn’t matter, I’m indoors.’ ” To get on his parental radar, it appears, you had to go to him. When he moved into an apartment ten floors below Ivana and the children, Ivanka developed a new routine: “I now went down to see him every morning before school, and I also started dropping by his office on my way home in the afternoon.” In an interview with CNN, she told a story about hiding in a janitor’s closet during recess at school, so that she could call her father. “I was probably ten years old and I’d call collect to the Trump Organization,” she said. According to a onetime associate of the Trump family, “If anyone else—even the boys—called, they wouldn’t necessarily be put through.” He added, “He never did not take a call from Ivanka. It was like a standing order.”“Nobody reads anymore.”
The time with her father had an effect. The associate said, “I remember returning a call to Donald at home. Ivanka answers the phone.” The man lived in New Jersey, and he told her about a flyer he’d received in the mail, advertising a suburban boutique called Ivanka’s. Ivanka was exasperated. “She was, like, ‘I told Dad we should copyright my name! I told him!’ She was about fourteen at the time.”
At the age of fifteen, Ivanka was sent to boarding school at Choate Rosemary Hall, and during her first year there she modelled a black leather catsuit by Thierry Mugler at the VH1 Fashion and Music Awards. She moved on to Versace, Tommy Hilfiger, and the cover of Seventeen. She describes her modelling career as an aberration—a way to get some spending money and independence while at boarding school. But, by all accounts, Donald was delighted. He loved when his children were in the press. In 2003, he told Howard Stern, “You know who’s one of the great beauties of the world, according to everybody? And I helped create her? Ivanka. My daughter, Ivanka. She’s six feet tall, she’s got the best body. She made a lot of money as a model—a tremendous amount.”
But the real way to connect was through Trump’s deeper passion. In 2005, Ivanka joined the Trump Organization, and after five years she became the executive vice-president for acquisitions and development. Friends describe her adjustment to her new career as remarkably smooth. “I can remember being on a weekend with her,” Maggie Cordish, a friend of Ivanka’s, told me. “Everybody was sleeping in. She slipped out. She’d gone to meet her dad on a job site.”
Though Trump describes himself as a builder, in recent years he hasn’t been as active as he once was, owing to a string of bankruptcies and failed projects. Much of his income today comes from licensing deals, in which developers pay to put the Trump name on their buildings and have the Trump Organization manage their properties. Ivanka’s task was to expand the franchise: flying to Dubai and Las Vegas to scout out partners, advising on construction, and assisting with marketing and promotion.
In this last category, the Trump Organization had a unique asset: “The Apprentice,” a TV show that began airing in 2004, and featured a group of aspiring businesspeople, living communally in Trump Tower. Ivanka joined the show in 2006, and displayed a surprising talent for firing people. (“I don’t see you fitting in with our company,” she told one male contestant, firmly. “I don’t see you working side by side with me and my father.”)
“The Apprentice” was a feat of unparalleled brand-building—which, in Ivanka’s telling, is the point of celebrity. In her book, she writes, “Why buy an ad in a magazine when we can grant an interview to that same publication and possibly land a cover story? That’s the kind of exposure no amount of advertising dollars can buy.” To promote condo projects, Ivanka posed for sexy magazine spreads—Maxim, GQ, even Atlanta Peach—and fielded interview questions about her life. She was central in developing the company’s “brand book,” which is full of Ivanka’s more positive takes on Trump slogans: “Subtlety is not our strength. Indulgence is”; “Never settle.”
Over the years, Donald has attempted to leverage the Trump name to promote not just real estate but all manner of consumer products: steaks, wine, bottled water, cologne. (In 2013, he tweeted, “Many people have commented that my fragrance, ‘Success’ is the best scent & lasts the longest.”) Ivanka has pursued this route more effectively. In 2007, she started Ivanka Trump Fine Jewelry, after Moshe Lax, a young diamond-district merchant, approached her about a real-estate deal. She ended up lending her name to his family’s business. She has since become a life-style brand: Ivanka Trump clothing, shoes, and sunglasses sell briskly at department stores like Nordstrom and Dillard’s.
In these licensing deals, Ivanka is entitled to only a fraction of the wholesale revenue, typically a little less than ten per cent. And she doesn’t spend her days designing clothes. Instead, she’s in charge of her “master brand,” which is based on her image as a chic working woman.
When Ivanka’s not on the twenty-fifth floor of Trump Tower, working alongside her brothers, she’s on the twenty-second floor, with her all-female brand team, running ivankatrump.com, a site that offers advice on beauty and parenting, and a series of profiles called #womenwhowork. Her many social-media accounts provide a gauzy window into her world: handbags, babies, construction sites. But politics are absent. In early August, when cable news channels were awash in coverage of Trump’s suggestion that “Second Amendment people” could do “something” about Hillary Clinton were she to be elected, Ivanka’s Instagram account was discussing work-to-evening wear (“From your desk to #datenight in a flash”).
It’s a balancing act that’s getting harder to pull off. Michael Stone, the chairman of Beanstalk, a brand consultancy, told me, “She was taking advantage of a name that stood for wealth and luxury and a high style of living. . . . I think the brand, the name Trump, has changed.”
Jared and Ivanka were introduced to each other in 2005, by a real-estate broker, who thought they could do deals together. Jared had previously been with Laura Englander, the daughter of the billionaire hedge-fund manager Israel Englander; Ivanka had dated the socialite Bingo Gubelmann. “They had an instantaneous crush,” Maggie Cordish told me, of Jared and Ivanka. Friends say that Ivanka was wary of the sort of flash she had grown up around. She told Vogue, “It was nice finding someone who is a genuinely good person. I don’t take that for granted. I feel really lucky to have met, like, a great New Jersey boy.”
The lingering issue was religion. The Kushners hoped that Jared would marry a Jewish woman. “I know he loved Ivanka dearly,” Jared’s friend Nitin Saigal told me. “But the religious thing was important to him.” Donald Trump is Presbyterian, and Ivanka—who in the documentary “Born Rich” appears wearing a necklace with a silver cross—was not what they’d had in mind. Ivanka, for her part, was hurt that Jared didn’t unequivocally take her side against his parents. In 2008, the couple broke up.
Then the hand of fate interceded, in the form of Wendi Deng. According to a story that the couple tells, Deng called Jared and said, “You’re working so hard. Come with Rupert and me on the boat for the weekend.” He arrived on the Murdoch family yacht to find that Ivanka had been invited as well.
Jared bought Ivanka a 5.22-carat cushion-cut diamond engagement ring—set by Ivanka Trump Fine Jewelry. (They married in 2009.) Ivanka converted to Judaism under the instruction of Rabbi Haskel Lookstein, of the Congregation Kehilath Jeshurun, known as K.J., a Modern Orthodox synagogue on the Upper East Side. The conversion process is rigorous. It involves extensive study of the Torah, the laws and traditions of Judaism, and a deep commitment to religious observance. It culminates in an appearance before a three-judge religious panel known as a beth din, and a trip to a mikvah, the ritual bath. Ivanka reportedly applied herself diligently to the process, winning Charlie and Seryl over with her devotion. She took the Hebrew name Yael.
Ivanka and Jared and their children are shomer Shabbos: they adhere to the laws of the Sabbath. Between sundown Friday and sundown Saturday, the couple shut down their phones and computers, and spend time with their children. Ivanka has said that she appreciates the traditional rituals and holidays of Judaism. “I remember the first Purim after they were married, I got invited to Charlie and Seryl’s house in New Jersey,” a friend of the family told me. “The men are speed-reading the Megillah, and the women and Ivanka are serving food and taking food away, and she was in a long dress, dressed extremely conservatively.”
The family often spends weekends with Charlie and Seryl in their mansion at the Jersey Shore, and they have a home at the Trump National Golf Club, in Bedminster, New Jersey**, where they’re joined by Ivanka’s Czech grandmother. Until recently, Jared and Ivanka’s friends tended to gush about how “normal” they are. Adam Silver told me, of Kushner, “We’ve been to many sporting events together, not just N.B.A. events. We’ve been to Mets games together. We took the subway. He really raves about the hot dogs.”
The Trump Organization has a unique culture. Everyone calls the boss “Mr. Trump.” Employees often eat lunch at the Trump Grill, in the lobby of Trump Tower, which offers a dish called Ivanka’s Salad. The higher you get in the company, the more the family and business blur. Michael Cohen, the executive vice-president of the Trump Organization, told the Jewish Chronicle, “To those of us who are close to Mr. Trump, he is more than our boss. He is our patriarch.”
It’s not clear that Jared was ever Trump’s vision of an ideal suitor for his daughter—temperamentally, the two men couldn’t be more different. But they have reportedly become close, bonding over business. Reed Cordish said, of Kushner, “He’s found it very important to be reachable and accessible.” This quality proved helpful, early in the campaign, when Trump began leaning on Jared for research-related tasks, looking into, say, voter data in Iowa.
One day last November, he suggested that Jared join him on his plane, often referred to as Trump Force One, as he travelled to a rally in Springfield, Illinois, where Trump addressed a crowd of more than ten thousand people. He spoke at length, touching on many of the campaign’s central themes: the wall with Mexico, the corruption of “the system.” He asked, “Who do you want negotiating for you?,” and the crowd chanted, “Trump!” Then the candidate did a little role-playing, acting out a negotiation between the “head of Ford” and “President Trump”:
Head of Ford: Mr. Trump, this is the head of Ford.
President Trump: Are you the one that’s building a plant in Mexico? It’s not a good idea! It’s bad!
The crowd went wild. Kushner was struck by the vast chasm between the received notions in his world—populated by C.E.O.s, media moguls, and the children of the rich—and those of the people in the audience. This new perspective appears to have energized him. He began to derive a certain feeling of righteousness from the idea that, by allying himself with his father-in-law, he was taking the side of the people. In his letter to Dana Schwartz, in the Observer, he wrote, “I encourage Ms. Schwartz—and all reporters—to get out there and meet some of those people ‘outside their ken.’ ” (Schwartz didn’t appreciate receiving that advice from her billionaire employer. “I’m from Illinois!” she said.)
Despite Kushner’s mild-mannered behavior, friends say that he has a stubborn streak—once he’s made a decision, he tends to dig in. The disapproval heaped on his father-in-law by both liberal and conservative élites, rather than causing him to question himself and his choices, has only hardened his commitment.
There is something Murdochian in the way that Kushner seems to be relishing his newfound role as a billionaire outsider, tweaking the more delicate sensibilities that he was once immersed in. Responding to Trump’s left-wing critics, especially in the media, Kushner makes familiar arguments about the reverse intolerance of liberalism, warning, in his Observer letter, about the dangers of political correctness run amok: “If even the slightest infraction against what the speech police have deemed correct speech is instantly shouted down with taunts of ‘racist’ then what is left to condemn the actual racists? What do we call the people who won’t hire minorities or beat others up for their religion?”
To conservative critics, Kushner’s argument is different: the Cruzes and the Bushes of the world may be skeptical of Trump’s policies and shocked by his outbursts—but they didn’t win. And, in the Trump universe, winning is paramount, as he has repeatedly reminded us.
Ivanka appears to take less delight in the campaign; by all accounts, she truly believes in the causes she championed at the Convention—paid family leave, government-subsidized child care. She also believes that the best way to enact them would be in a Trump Administration. According to friends, she disagrees with things her father has said during the campaign, but she prefers to register her complaints in private. Isn’t that how any loyal daughter would behave?
To publicly break with one’s father—or father-in-law—isn’t easy. And for Ivanka and Jared it would be more than just awkward. It would be intolerable: viewed as a betrayal, grounds for banishment and reprisal. They would lose their position and their fortunes. Doing so would require acting against their own self-interest, as well as the interest of their families. And that’s not something that they tend to do. ♦
*An earlier version of this article mischaracterized $1.8 billion as the highest price ever paid for a building in Manhattan.
**An earlier version of this article misidentified the location of the Trump National Golf Club Bedminster.