As the fuzzy strains of the Beatles’ Revolution filled the room, Donald Trump took the stage on Feb. 9 in Manchester, N.H., to celebrate his victory in the state’s Republican presidential primary. Before reiterating his campaign promises to do away with Obamacare, construct a wall along America’s border with Mexico, and rebuild the nation’s military so that “nobody is going to mess with us, believe me, nobody,” Trump thanked his family members, including his daughter Ivanka, who stood beside him in an elegant black dress with a white floral print, and her husband, the lanky, boyish New York real estate developer and newspaper publisher, Jared Kushner.
“Jared is a very, very successful real estate entrepreneur in Manhattan,” Trump proudly declared. “But he likes this better than real estate, I think.” By this, Trump clearly meant politics. Ivanka beamed like a guest on a late-night talk show. Kushner grinned sheepishly, as if he were mildly embarrassed by his father-in-law.
Kushner, 35, has become a frequent presence at Trump’s campaign events and a member of the candidate’s inner circle. In his effort to portray himself as a staunch supporter of Israel, Trump likes to mention that he has Jewish grandchildren. He has Kushner to thank for that. When Ivanka Trump and Jared Kushner married in 2009, Ivanka converted to Judaism. “Give Trump some credit,” says Shmuley Boteach, a New Jersey Jewish leader and Jerusalem Post columnist who calls himself “America’s Rabbi.” “I mean, he’s got a Jewish daughter. He has orthodox Jewish grandchildren. He could easily have said when Ivanka was marrying Jared and going through the rigorous Jewish conversion process, ‘You know, you have a famous last name. You’re a beautiful, famous woman. Do you need this?’ ”
Kushner’s involvement in his father-in-law’s unexpectedly successful presidential campaign is the latest step in a rapid ascent. He began making major decisions at his family’s real estate company, then based in Florham Park, N.J., when he was 23 in 2004, around the time his father, a prominent Democratic fundraiser and aspiring kingmaker, pleaded guilty to tax fraud, misleading federal election officials, and retaliating against a witness. The younger Kushner expanded the business, purchasing almost $7 billion in property in less than a decade, much of it in New York City.
A decade ago he bought the New York Observer, at the time a money-losing but influential newspaper known for its dishy, withering coverage of the city’s billionaire class that conferred on Kushner a bit of the reflected glow of the peach-colored broadsheet. “Jared understands being a newspaper owner moves you into a different league,” says Mitchell Moss, a professor of urban policy and planning at New York University and an acquaintance of Kushner’s. “Politicians have to cultivate you. The elite come to you for attention, as opposed to you going to them. It reverses the relationship.”
It didn’t hurt that Kushner married into one of the city’s most famous real estate dynasties. By all accounts, Kushner has a warm relationship with his father-in-law. If Trump, now the presumptive Republican nominee, wins the general election, Kushner will be a regular White House visitor if for no other reason than he, his wife, and their three young children will be frequent dinner guests.
Myers Mermel, managing partner of Mermel & McLain Management, a New York real estate development firm, and a friend of Kushner’s, sees him as a contemporary Jack Kennedy, the attractive son of a rich family with the resources to become a force behind the scenes in Washington and even a potential candidate for national office. “He has a beautiful, brilliant wife,” says Mermel, a Trump booster. “He is clearly a man of faith. These are all values that contradict the negative image put forth by the Republican Party as New York values. He has the values that the Republican Party espouses.”
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