Donald Trump will not find satisfaction as the 45th President of the United States of America. He really wants to be king. Just look at the gilded-bling madness of his penthouse on the 66th floor of Trump Tower in Manhattan, or the sprawling exuberance of his holiday palace in Mar-a-Lago, Florida: Trump aspires to be an American emperor, the Big Mac Rex with triple cheese. Winning the White House is great, but it’s not enough.
Trump now seems determined to treat the Oval Office as just one of his courts — the principal court, perhaps, at least for four years, but one of many. He wants to lord it over Washington DC in partnership with his daughter princess, Ivanka, and her dashing husband, Mr Jared Kushner.
Hear Freddy Gray discuss the court of King Donald on the Spectator podcast
Trump’s loyal third wife, Melania, intends to stay in New York to look after Barron, their ten-year-old princeling, at least until he leaves prep school. She will rule the roost from there. Jared and Ivanka, by contrast, have severed their business ties in the Big Apple — officially, at least — and are moving to Washington. They will quickly become the capital’s most powerful couple. In Melania’s absence, Ivanka will perform a lot of ceremonial first-lady duties, much as Anna Roosevelt did for her father because FDR’s brilliant wife, Eleanor, was too busy being a political operator.
In Donald’s head, Ivanka is far more than, as he puts it, ‘one of the great beauties of the world’. He loves her brains, her poise, and her personalised global brand. She is said to be his closest adviser, his ‘Svengali’ and supposedly played the part of ‘proxy wife’ during the election campaign when Melania was unavailable. Trump believes she would make a tremendous vice -president.
She’s popular, too, in a way that Donald can’t match. As a former model turned mother of three, as a high-flying fashion entrepreneur, and as executive vice president of Daddy’s real estate empire, Ivanka is an American dreamgirl. She may come across in interviews as CEO Barbie — ‘I’m always trying to leverage myself to the best of my abilities,’ she says, when you press a button on her bottom — but Americans like that. On her ‘Fashion, Family & Lifestyle’ website, she offers not just yoga tips but life-enhancing epigrams such as ‘Success doesn’t come to you: you go to it’, ‘Work smarter not harder’ and, most instructive of all, ‘Fill the Void.’
She’s also a ‘female empowerment advocate’, meaning she makes speeches at those elite feminist gabfests where rich women tell other rich women how strong they are. This gives her a politically correct appeal which Donald conspicuously lacks. Sources close to the family often report that Ivanka is a ‘moderating’ force on her angry father, and Ivanka herself often lets slips that she disagrees with the President-elect’s more controversial views.
Husband Jared, meanwhile, is fast emerging as a sort of prince regent. On Monday, Trump named Kushner as one of his senior White House advisers, with particular responsibility for the Middle East. The announcement might have been a typically Trumpy birthday present; Kushner turned 36 the following day. But Jared’s power within Team Trump is very real, as anybody who followed the election knows. It was Kushner who facilitated the relationship between the Trumps and the Mercers, the Republican super-donors who brought Donald closer to the Grand Old Party machine. It was Kushner who asked conservative intellectuals to draft Trump’s more coherent speeches. It was Kushner who pushed out Corey Lewandowski, Trump’s combustible campaign manager, and later ushered in Steve Bannon, the right-wing media guru who is now Trump’s chief consigliere. And it was Kushner who brought in Cambridge Analytica, the British data firm which is now credited with micro-targeting Trump’s path to victory.
Kushner has also been a key figure in the Trump transition. When Boris Johnson visited New York on Sunday, for instance, he met Bannon and Kushner to discuss the future of the special relationship.
Jared is Jewish, which explains why Trump thinks he will be able to fix the Middle East. The Kushner family have close ties to Israel. They have given money to support Israeli settlements in the West Bank, and it’s understood that Jared engineered Trump’s meeting in September with Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Some might argue that those facts don’t make him the ideal man to solve the Palestinian question, but don’t expect Donald to listen. ‘[Jared] knows the region, knows the people, knows the players,’ he says.
Kushner is the upwardly mobile scion of a major New York real estate family, which means the President-elect identifies with him. Just as the young Donald moved his family’s property interests from unfashionable Queens to upmarket Manhattan, Jared sold holdings in the Kushners’ New Jersey empire and bought a tower at 666 Fifth Avenue (Satan-watchers are having fun with all the sixes in the Trump story).
Trump sees in Kushner a version of himself. He likes his son-in-law’s entrepreneurial guts. It also helps that Jared understands what Trump calls ‘the cyber’ — that is, the internet. With his brother Josh, Jared set up a hi-tech real estate selling platform called Cadre. He and Ivanka talk a lot about bandwidth and connectivity.
Better still, Jared and Ivanka command respect in elite Democratic circles — something that has eluded Trump since he turned populist rabble-rouser. Fame-worshipping hacks on magazines such as Vanity Fair and Esquire discuss the young couple in the same adulatory tones they use for Hollywood stars and Silicon Valley billionaires — whereas they only ever sniff at vulgar old Donald.
It’s not surprising, then, that Jared and Ivanka are often compared to Jackie and John Kennedy. They are young and pretty — and suddenly powerful. Jared has nice dimples and Ivanka wears impressive dresses. For now, most Americans will gloss over the creepy nepotism of their roles in the coming administration because they look so nice. In wonky Washington, moreover, where the smart set still wear bowties, Jared and Ivanka will seem fantastically glamorous. They will, as Americans like to say, rule.
Hear Freddy Gray talk Trump.