(JTA) – Are Jared Kushner and Ivanka Trump conflicted moderates straining to contain a bombastic U.S. president? Or are they ambitious opportunists with grand visions of their future?
According to a new, explosive book about the first months of the Trump presidency, the answer is both.
“Fire and Fury: Inside the Trump White House,” written by Michael Wolff and excerpted in New York Magazine, portrays “Javanka” as a power couple struggling to gain influence in a chaotic administration while fighting Steve Bannon along the way.
Along with its insider’s view of Trump’s first year, “Fire and Fury” is full of colourful anecdotes and choice quotes. Here’s a selection of the juiciest, Jewiest passages from the book.
Ivanka Trump says she’ll be the first woman president.
According to the book, Jared and Ivanka’s friends warned them not to take jobs in the Trump White House. But they did, Wolff writes, for two reasons: because of Ivanka’s close relationship with her dad and “the hope that Trump’s unexpected victory would catapult them into a heretofore unimagined big time.”
In Ivanka’s case, that “big time” included inheriting her dad’s job and becoming the first woman president. Wolff writes:
Balancing risk against reward, both Jared and Ivanka decided to accept roles in the West Wing over the advice of almost everyone they knew. It was a joint decision by the couple, and, in some sense, a joint job. Between themselves, the two had made an earnest deal: If sometime in the future the opportunity arose, she’d be the one to run for president. The first woman president, Ivanka entertained, would not be Hillary Clinton; it would be Ivanka Trump.
Wolff also writes that Ivanka has no problem trashing her dad to friends, going so far as to describe the anatomy of his comb-over – “a contained island after scalp-reduction surgery surrounded by a furry circle of hair around the sides and front, from which all ends are drawn up to meet in the center and then swept back and secured by a stiffening spray.”
Jared Kushner said he’s a Unitarian minister – and was almost chief of staff.
Kushner has captured the attention of many American Jews in part because he’s been an observant Jew for his entire life. But according to the book, he’s also a Unitarian minister, ordained online, who offered to marry MSNBC co-hosts Joe Scarborough and Mika Brzezinski. But Kushner’s offer to officiate was immediately shot down by Trump himself:
“I can marry you! I’m an internet Unitarian minister,” Kushner, otherwise an Orthodox Jew, said suddenly.
“What?” the president said. “What are you talking about? Why would they want you to marry them when I could marry them? When they could be married by the president! At Mar-a-Lago!”
(The Unitarian Universalist Association doesn’t offer quickie online ordinations, but the Universal Life Church does. Kushner, or the source, might have confused the two denominations.)
Another role Kushner nearly got, but didn’t, was White House chief of staff. Before becoming president, Trump entertained the idea of appointing his son-in-law to one of the most powerful positions in the executive branch – only to be disabused of the idea by none other than conservative firebrand Ann Coulter.
But Trump had no interest in appointing a strong chief of staff with a deep knowledge of Washington. Among his early choices for the job was Kushner – a man with no political experience beyond his role as a calm and flattering body man to Trump during the campaign.
It was Ann Coulter who finally took the president-elect aside. “Nobody is apparently telling you this,” she told him. “But you can’t. You just can’t hire your children.”
Kushner instead became a senior adviser to the president, arguably more powerful at first than the chief of staff, and with a sprawling portfolio. But his attempts to moderate Trump weren’t always successful. Wolff writes that Kushner managed to set up a meeting between Trump and Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto – only to see Nieto cancel after Trump berated Mexico on Twitter.
Steve Bannon wanted to move the U.S. Embassy to Jerusalem on day one.
Much of the excerpt concerns Bannon’s efforts to influence Trump’s presidency. And the book has led to a total falling-out between the president and his former chief strategist: On Wednesday, Trump said in a statement that Bannon has “lost his mind” and just wants to “burn it all down.”
Bannon reportedly was behind some of the administration’s most controversial moves, including the travel ban and withdrawing from the Paris climate accords. But the book says another of Bannon’s top priorities was something that hasn’t happened yet: moving the U.S. Embassy in Israel to Jerusalem from Tel Aviv.
That would surely please some of Trump’s right-wing Jewish supporters. But they probably wouldn’t like what Bannon proposed next – ceding the West Bank to Jordan and giving control of the Gaza Strip to Egypt. Wolff quotes a conversation between Bannon and Roger Ailes, without divulging his source:
Bannon plunged on with the Trump agenda. “Day one we’re moving the U.S. Embassy to Jerusalem. Netanyahu’s all-in. Sheldon” – Adelson, the casino billionaire and far-right Israel defender – “is all-in. We know where we’re heading on this … Let Jordan take the West Bank, let Egypt take Gaza. Let them deal with it. Or sink trying.”
Trump did recently delight his Jewish supporters by recognizing Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and beginning the process of moving the embassy. But a grand peace deal sending the West Bank back to Jordan looks … less than likely.
The White House was in a war between Jews and non-Jews, according to Henry Kissinger.
Another major theme of the excerpt is the competition among Kushner, Bannon and former Chief of Staff Reince Priebus. The shifting web of alliances can sometimes be hard to follow, but it was described succinctly in the book by Henry Kissinger:
“It is a war between the Jews and the non-Jews,” the former secretary of state said.
One year into the Trump administration, with Priebus fired and Bannon sent packing, Kushner appears to be winning.