Over there at the Vanity Fair, Gabriel Sherman has a frightening article titled Inside Donald Trump and Jared Kushnerâ€™s Two Months of Magical Thinking. Going past the headline, the piece is a tale of Jared Kushner, an unelected family member with no real-life experience in any job other than slumlord, pretty much running the show at White House, Inc. With Kushner in one ear and Stephen Miller in the other, Trump is truly in a â€œClowns to the left of me, Jokers to the rightâ€ situation, though unlike Gerry Rafferty, Trump is no innocent victim.
Hereâ€™s some stuff from Shermanâ€™s piece that will set you off:
Jared Kushner, Trumpâ€™s son-in-law, shared Trumpâ€™s view that the media and Democrats were hyping the crisis for political purposes. And for both of them, the biggest worry was how the response to the coronavirus might impact the health of the economy. According to sources, White House trade adviser Peter Navarro, a fierce China hawk, and deputy national security adviser Matt Pottinger, a former China-based Wall Street Journal reporter whoâ€™d covered the 2003 SARS pandemic, argued to officials in mid-January that the White House needed to shut down incoming flights from China.
Kushner pushed back. â€œJared kept saying the stock market would go down, and Trump wouldnâ€™t get reelected,â€ a Republican briefed on the internal debates said (a person close to Kushner denies this). Kushnerâ€™s position was supported by Treasury secretary Steven Mnuchin and National Economic Council chief Larry Kudlow. Trump sided with them. At the World Economic Forum in Davos, Trump minimized the threat in his first public comments. â€œItâ€™s one person coming in from China, and we have it under control,â€ he told CNBC.
And this hereâ€¦.
Florida was a test case of his magical thinking about the novel coronavirus: That it was temporary, that warm weather would make it disappear. But eight Florida residents had already died from COVID-19 and more than 400 had been diagnosed. â€œGiven the elderly population, if that took off, it would be a nightmare,â€ a person close to Trump told me. At an adviserâ€™s urging, Trump called DeSantis to tell him to shut down the beaches.
â€œRon, what are you doing down there?â€ Trump said, according to a person briefed on the call.
â€œI canâ€™t ban people from going on the beach,â€ DeSantis snapped, surprising Trump.
â€œThese pictures look really bad to the rest of the country,â€ Trump said.
â€œListen, weâ€™re doing it the right way,â€ DeSantis said.
DeSantisâ€™s intransigence backed Trump into a corner. The 41-year-old governor was a Trump protÃ©gÃ© and a crucial ally in a must-win state. â€œTrump is worried about Florida, electorally,â€ said a Republican who spoke with Trump around this time. Trump did something he rarely does: He caved. He told DeSantis the beaches could stay open.
â€œI understand what youâ€™re saying,â€ Trump said, and hung up.
There is thisâ€¦
When the coronavirus exploded out of China, Kushner was the second most powerful person in the West Wing, exerting influence over virtually every significant decision, from negotiating trade deals to 2020 campaign strategy to overseeing Trumpâ€™s impeachment defense. â€œJared is running everything. Heâ€™s the de facto president of the United States,â€ a former White House official told me. The previous chief of staff John Kelly, whoâ€™d marginalized Kushner, was long gone, and Mick Mulvaney, a virtual lame duck by that point, let Kushner run free. â€œJared treats Mick like the help,â€ a prominent Republican said.
Kushner advocated for the iconoclastic public-private approach he had used for his Mideast peace plan. He reached out to business leaders like Jeff Bezos and Mark Zuckerberg, according to a source. With bravado only partly grounded in reality, he promised Trump that Google was rolling out a testing website. He also made a point of bypassing normal channels, phoning Wall Street executives and asking for advice on how to help New York, people briefed on the conversation said. A former West Wing official said Kushnerâ€™s involvement wrought chaos: business leaders wanting to contribute masks or ventilators didnâ€™t know who in government to call. According to two sources, Kushner told Trump about experimental treatments heâ€™d learned of from executives in Silicon Valley. â€œJared is bringing conspiracy theories to Trump about potential treatments,â€ a Republican briefed on the conversations told me. (A person close to Kushner said he brought COVID testing ideas to Trump.) Trump could be a receptive audience. Another former West Wing official told me: â€œTrump is like an 11-year-old boy waiting for the fairy godmother to bring him a magic pill.â€
Oh and donâ€™t forget thisâ€¦
During his time in the West Wing, Kushner had become hardened to a degree that was sometimes shocking. The days of selling the notion that he and Ivanka were moderating forces were long goneâ€”combat was everything. A New York business executive recalled a meeting with Kushner at the White House last fall. â€œI told Jared that if Trump won a second term, he wouldnâ€™t have to worry about running again and you can really help people. Jared just looked at me and said, â€˜I donâ€™t care about any of that.â€™â€ The executive came away shaken. â€œI wanted to tell Jared you donâ€™t say that part out loud, even in private,â€ he later said.
The country is in the hands of inheritance princes, people who have never had to do an honest dayâ€™s work in their life, and who believe that their being born into wealth means so much more than being the lucky result of one specific sperm finding one specific egg in two people who were loaded with cash.