After delivering a blistering speech critiquing Donald Trump’s performance as president at a recent conference, I was challenged by an audience member to say something nice about our commander in chief. I answered without a second’s hesitation.
For almost a decade, Mika Brzezinski and I had the pleasure of occasionally crossing paths with Ivanka, Don Jr. and Eric Trump. I explained that in those encounters, the president’s children were unfailingly deferential and polite. Long before their father’s election, the Trump children enjoyed a stellar reputation among most Manhattan influencers for being hard-working and well raised. They possessed few of the flaws too easily recognizable in other wealthy and well-connected kids. Often, conversations that centered on the boorish behavior of Trump himself would end with someone citing his children as a mitigating factor against whatever severe judgments were being handed down.
I once told Trump that a good way to judge most people is by the children they raised, and that by that measure, he seemed to be an unqualified success. The Donald’s response was uncharacteristically humble.
“Anything good you see in my children is the result of them having a great mother,” he quietly said, with no cameras rolling to catch this fleeting glimpse of humility.
Much has changed in the five years since Trump delivered that self-aware confession. The Manhattan developer is now the least popular first-year president in the history of presidential polling. His oldest son is caught up in a federal investigation involving attempts by Russia to undermine American democracy. Federal prosecutors are also reportedly investigating the finance and business dealings of Trump’s son-in-law, Jared Kushner, who has repeatedly been forced to amend federal disclosure forms to add omitted information on his financial assets and contacts with foreign nationals, including from Russia. Even Trump’s daughter Ivanka, despite her concerted efforts to keep a low profile during the campaign and to round off her father’s roughest edges inside the White House, has become the subject of controversy.
Her decision to sit alongside foreign leaders at the recent Group of 20 summit in Hamburg was slammed as “grotesque” and “banana-republicky.” In a recent tweet, she declared that she would be “serving alongside John Kelly,” just as the retired four-star Marine general let it be known that all access to the Oval Office would go through him. The real estate heiress not only appeared to be claiming the West Wing as her territory, but she also betrayed a troubling sense of entitlement that one might expect from other billionaires’ daughters but not this one. Kelly and White House insiders know that Ivanka Trump is as ill-prepared to face the brutish realities of Washington as her father. And tragically, neither seems to know what they do not know.
Which brings us back to Kushner.
Though Donald Trump might be loath to admit it, Kushner did much to elect his father-in-law. By quietly building a successful online fundraising and targeting operation far beyond his candidate’s comprehension, Kushner gave Trump a fighting chance to keep the 2016 presidential race close, in the hope that lightning would strike at the right time. It did. And that’s when Kushner’s problems began.
The quiet diplomacy Kushner employed so effectively during the campaign gave way to the sort of stubborn arrogance that often infects the winning side of presidential campaigns. Trump’s shocking victory led his son-in-law to believe he could reinvent government like Al Gore, micromanage the White House like James Baker and restructure the Middle East like Moses. Kushner’s confidence seemed to reach its apex whenever the subject turned to Middle East peace. His bizarre belief that the world began anew the day Trump was inaugurated was exposed again this week when a leaked audiotape caught Kushner telling White House interns: “We don’t want a history lesson. We’ve read enough books.”
Americans have seen enough headlines over the past six months to better understand why nepotism does not work in the White House. Though my words may suggest otherwise, I genuinely like Jared and Ivanka. I also love Joey, Andrew, Katherine and Jack Scarborough. But I wouldn’t let them run my morning show any more than Trump should let his children run roughshod over White House operations. Vice presidents, not daughters, should sit in G-20 summits. And a secretary of state should broker Middle East peace. Not an inexperienced 36-year-old son-in-law.
I have no doubt that Trump’s daughter and son-in-law believe they are working hard to make America and the world a better place. But now the best thing they can do for their country is to move back to New York and let professionals run the White House.
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