As President Donald Trump tries to nullify the 2020 election, pardons perpetrators of one of the most infamous atrocities of the Iraq War, and throws a last-minute wrench into government funding and COVID relief legislation, his most trusted adviser has been half a world away.
Jared Kushner, Trump’s son-in-law and senior White House aide, has spent a significant amount of time after the election overseas, including championing the work he’s done in the Middle East. He’s planted an olive tree at the Jerusalem Grove of Nations, elbow-bumped with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netenyahu, and taken the first direct flight between Morocco and Israel, after orchestrating a formal detente between the two nations—a detente lubricated by arms sales and a de facto go-ahead for territorial annexation of Palestinian land.
The trip has been celebratory. On Monday, U.S. Ambassador to Israel David Friedman announced that the courtyard in front of the U.S. embassy in Jerusalem would be named in Kushner’s honor. But it’s also struck individuals back home as wildly, almost comically, ill-timed; and, they suspect, deliberately so. Jared, after all, has a habit of getting out of dodge at the most problematic moments and few times are as problematic as the current one.
“This is just what Jared does,” said one senior Trump aide.
Among the Trump faithful, resentment at Kushner has risen in the past couple weeks. Two other sources close to the president respectively described Kushner as “nowhere to be found” and having “run for cover.” At the start of these efforts, Kushner was at least nominally supportive of his father-in-law’s legal and public-relations blitz, with top Trump adviser Jason Miller saying in early November, “Jared has been more hardcore in fighting back on this than anybody.” But several of the president’s confidants do not believe that the senior White House adviser has faith in Trump’s flailing push to undo the election results now.
The White House did not respond to requests for comment on this story.
At the dawn of the Trump administration, the conventional wisdom around Kushner had been that he would be a moderating influence on the president—the one person among the high-ranking group of aides who could tell the boss the unequivocal truth; or, if not that, at least something not driven by pure right-wing id. It wasn’t just that Kushner was a product of elite institutions and cosmopolitan society. It’s that, unlike everyone else, he didn’t suffer from a fear of being fired; the perks, one supposes, of being the son-in-law.
But the CW was wrong. Those who have observed the Trump-Kushner relationship, say the latter enjoys a rare status inside the president’s orbit. And, because of that, he’s been handed tremendous responsibilities, bounced from pet initiative to initiative, and bailed on them when too much bad PR emerged or when he simply got bored. But he’s never been the moderating influence that Democrats (and many Republicans) had long ago hoped he’d be. Often, in fact, he prefers to keep peace rather than pursue confrontation.
“Jared might have this aura about him,” said one Trump adviser. “But what he does well is he knows when to come in and out. He is not some Trump whisperer that the president is listening to on shit like [the post election conspiracies]. There is a reason he does what he does. There is a reason he floats in and out and goes when the going gets bad. He doesn’t want to play that role. The entire reason he is gone right now is because he knows the president would probably erupt on him.”
Kushner’s miraculous ability to be out of sight – with his wife and fellow White House adviser Ivanka at his side—during the times when Trump is at his most volatile has become something of a punchline in Trumpland.
In the first year of the Trump era, when some Democrats hoped that Ivanka and Kushner would serve as a socially-liberal check on the administration’s anti-LGBTQ policy rollouts, the couple—as one senior White House official observed at the time—quickly decided that their “political capital be spent elsewhere.” In early 2017, during high-stakes talks between the Trump White House and Republican lawmakers on the attempted Obamacare repeal, the two went skiing in Aspen. And during the pandemic, Kushner first positioned himself as the savior of the Trump administration’s early response, only to become less visible and involved as the promises he made around testing and medical supplies proved inaccurate.
And yet, few moments seem as in need of someone to soberly talk the president through his options as the one Trump is in now. The president has, over the past few weeks, latched on to a variety of wild conspiracy theories to explain his election loss away. And he’s given some of the biggest purveyors of disinformation and lies the most valuable commodity he possesses: his attention and interest.
The result has been chaos. One competing faction of advisers—the president’s lawyer Rudy Giuliani, and his chief of staff Mark Meadows, chief among them—has been actively working to entice Trump with a set of election-overturning ideas in an effort to distract him from a more extreme batch of democracy-canceling ideas pushed to Trump by diehard supporters such as MAGA lawyer Sidney Powell and former national security adviser Michael Flynn.
“I guess you could call it a form of fighting fire with fire,” said one close adviser to the president.
Trump has, at least as of now, decided to rebuff Powell’s calls for him to make her “special counsel” to investigate allegations of voter fraud. And the military has sent signals objecting to the martial law that Flynn advocates to re-run the election in key swing states.
Since the summer, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Gen. Mark Milley, has registered repeated objections to involving the military in the election— an atonement, of sorts, for Milley, who has expressed regret over giving Trump a military imprimatur for the infamous Lafayette Square assault on peaceful Black-liberation protesters in June.
“We do not take an oath to a king or a queen or a tyrant or a dictator. We do not take an oath to an individual. No, we do not take an oath to a country, a tribe or a religion. We take an oath to the Constitution,” Milley said on Nov. 11, as it began to look clear, to all but Trump’s loyalists, that Trump had lost the election.
But as the coup talk intensified in the past several days, Milley had not reiterated his objections or made them more explicit. His allies believe his position is sufficiently clear. On Friday, Ryan McCarthy, the secretary of the Army, and Gen. James McConville, its chief of staff, said publicly that there is “no role for the U.S. military in determining the outcome of an American election.” Milley’s spokesperson would not comment for the record and it is unclear whether the chairman knew about McCarthy and McConville’s remarks in advance.
Still, there is uncertainty within Trump’s own party as to whether he will take these comments as actual repudiations. There’s also fear that he may lash out further as it becomes clear that his options are extinguished. On Tuesday, the president threatened to derail a $900 billion bipartisan COVID relief and government funding bill because he wanted it to include bigger checks to Americans and didn’t like some of the spending provisions on more esoteric items. On Wednesday, the White House re-called a notice it had sent to aides advising them that they should begin the process of moving out of the premises on the week of January 4.
And Trump’s more eccentric and hardline boosters seem eager to keep his defiance of reality going.
“I think the president’s got some people who are right in there next to him, who are trying to give up and I think they have their own personal agendas, including people in his party,” MyPillow CEO Mike Lindell, a staunch Trump ally who is funding several of the efforts to challenge the election outcome, told The Daily Beast. “And once everything is revealed, and all the personal agendas come out, there will be a great cleansing. These people, like the lawyers in the White House [including Pat Cipollone] who are telling him to give up on our country…they should be ashamed of themselves.”
Whether Kushner could do anything about this is highly unlikely. Nor is it clear if he would even feel opposed to it enough to actually do anything constructive. On Wednesday, The New York Times reported that he’d been approached by “people seeking his help with Mr. Trump” and rebuffed their entreaties “by saying that the president is his children’s grandfather, implying there are limits to what he can do to help.”
It is, as several Trump aides say, classic Jared.
“Jared is doing a fantastic job of caring about himself and his own image and reputation [this month],” one of the sources close to Trump said. “This is how many of us expected him to behave during this fight in the first place.”