Following the Oct. 4 vice- presidential debate, Donald Trump’s son Eric was asked how Mike Pence had done. He answered as a Corleone — maybe not the storied Michael because he was the youngest, and not Fredo since he was weak and destined to be fired in the manner of those times, but possibly Sonny since Eric looked CNN’s Wolf Blitzer hard in the eye and said of Pence, “I really think he represented the family, and I think he represented the party incredibly, incredibly well tonight.” So spoke the Godfather’s son.
I don’t want to overdo this family analogy but I don’t want to ignore it, either. After all, the kids are now all over the place, taking the occasional seat in the occasional meeting with a head of state and almost always accompanying their father as, in the wonderful movie containing all of life’s truths (and its best quotes), various Republican pooh-bahs venture out to Jersey to ask a favor (What about Commerce?) and honor the newest Godfather, the one with the nuclear codes, who would permit torture and yet wants the theater to be a safe place.
Just as in the movie, we are not sure what business the Godfather is in. He is about to be president of the United States, yet we have never seen his taxes — all his taxes — and now, during the traditional expressions of loyalties from Republicans who actually went to the mattresses to fight Trump but who now vow loyalty and just plain awe — the meetings were interrupted for some deal relating to apartments in Pune, India. They will be called Trump Towers Pune.
Are there other business interests elsewhere in the world? Are any in Russia? Are any Russians Trump investors? Are any of them linked to Vladimir Putin? Never mind, how could they not be?
When at the close of the second presidential debate, the candidates were asked if there was something they could praise about the other, Hillary Clinton said she respected the way Trump had raised his children. Indeed, in a Manhattan world in which Trump is generally loathed, his kids are considered swans produced by an ugly duckling. Yet, they participated in Trump’s business, getting the steady promotions and praise duly accorded the progeny of the boss. How could they not have picked up Trump’s business ethics, which in his case is an oxymoron?
Jared Kushner, our Tom Hagen, who married Trump’s daughter Ivanka, has lately lost some of this Boy Scout aura. It turns out Kushner’s admission to Harvard was preceded by his father’s $2.5 million pledge.
After Kushner bought the New York Observer in 2006 (for $10 million), he demanded that its longtime editor, Peter Kaplan, do pieces critical of certain political or real estate figures, notably Chris Christie. As New Jersey’s U.S. attorney, Christie had sent Kushner’s father to jail for campaign law violations, among other things. (Those “other things” included setting up his brother-in-law with a prostitute so as to blackmail him.) Kushner apparently wanted revenge.
Kaplan, a storied figure in New York journalism, refused. Eventually his relationship with Kushner got so contentious that Kaplan abruptly quit. Even so, when Kaplan’s mother died and Kushner and his father went to the Kaplan family home in South Orange, N.J., to pay a condolence call, Kaplan intercepted them outside of the house and would not let them in.
Frankly, I think the nepotism law that may bar Kushner from working with Trump in the White House is ridiculous. If Trump wants him, he should get him. (Robert Kennedy was invaluable to John Kennedy.) Maybe Kushner can occasionally muster the gumption to stand up to his bullying father-in-law — and he could not possibly be a worse appointment than the volcanic anti-Muslim zealot Michael Flynn as national security adviser. But it would be unrealistic to expect Kushner to be anything other than a malleable Trump son-in-law.
If Donald Trump were a candid man, if the lie were not his usual first response, if he had shown us his taxes and if he had not compiled a record and reputation as a deadbeat, then his admixture of businesses and family and their convergence in the White House would be troubling enough. But in his head, Trump did not win the White House as the leader of the Republican Party. He won as the head of a family.
Read more from Richard Cohen’s archive.