Analysis

Sleazy Debate Maneuver Stains Ivanka and Jared's Squeaky Clean Image

Donald Trump's Orthodox Jewish daughter and her husband have served as a type of kosher stamp for their scandal-ridden father(-in-law) - until the second presidential debate came along.

Donald Trump talks to his daughter Ivanka and son Donald, Ivanka's husband Jared Kushner and wife Melania after the second presidential debate, St. Louis, U.S. October 9, 2016.
Rick T. Wilking, AP

For Republican Jews who haven’t wanted to abandon the party despite misgivings about Donald Trump, his Orthodox daughter Ivanka and her husband Jared Kushner have served as a form of kosher stamp. 

Their carefully burnished attractive public face: a high-end Upper East Side Orthodox Jewish lifestyle, balancing traditional family values with high-society glamour, has been well-documented in the press and on social media has served as a counterweight to Trump’s multiple marriages and sleazy escapades. 

That squeaky clean image now has a dark stain after son-in-law Jared has been directly credited with one of the lowest point of the campaign, the darkest aspect of a second debate marred by insults and viciousness from Trump. Kushner, according to the Washington Post, was a key figure in flying three women who have accused former U.S. President Bill Clinton’s of sexual harassment to the debate, along with a woman whose rapist Hillary Clinton represented as a public defender to the debate. First, the four women were displayed publicly at an impromptu press event held just before the event, and then they were seated in the audience. The intention was presumably two-fold: to rattle Hillary Clinton and deflect attention from the devastating effects of the 2005 Access tape in which Trump described kissing and groping women that was published on Friday and threw the Trump campaign into crisis. 

“The gambit to give Bill Clinton’s accusers prime seats was devised by Trump campaign chief executive Stephen K. Bannon and Jared Kushner, the candidate’s son-in-law, and approved personally by Trump. The four women — three of whom have alleged Bill Clinton sexually assaulted or harassed them years ago — were to walk in the debate hall at the same time as the 42nd president and confront him in front of a national television audience,” the Post reported.

Originally, according to the account, the plan had been to seat the women in the elevated Trump family VIP box, which would have given them the opportunity to attempt to shake hands with Bill Clinton in what would have surely been an embarrassing scene designed to humiliate both Clintons. It was only after the Commission on Presidential Debates objected — warning the Trump representatives that if they sat there, they would be removed by security — that the women were seated with the rest of the audience, further from the candidates’ line of sight. 

Former U.S. President Bill Clinton greets Ivanka Trump, daughter of Donald Trump, before the start of the second U.S. presidential in St. Louis, Missouri on October 9, 2016.
Jim Young, Reuters

Citing the report, Mother Jones editor-in-chief Clara Jeffries tweeted: “Do not let stand the idea that Jared and Ivanka are moderating forces in Trump universe. They are the masterminds.”

Until now, somewhat miraculously, the narrative of Jared and Ivanka as being the good angels on one of Trump’s shoulders, whispering sensible advice that wasn’t always heeded, survived much of the rough seas of the campaign. 

Of all of Trump’s offspring, Ivanka has been the most bullet-proof, softening her father’s rough edges at key junctures like her well-received speech at the fiery Republican National Convention. In press coverage, both Ivanka and Jared have been consistently portrayed as a positive influence on the controversial populist candidate, part of the chorus trying to convince him to be more “presidential” and opposing advisers who preferred to “Let Trump Be Trump,” particularly firebrand campaign manager Corey Lewandowski.

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Even Hillary Clinton has found little enough fault with Ivanka — and her siblings — to choose them as Trump’s most redeeming quality in the last question in the second debate, after the candidates were challenged, marriage-therapy style, to mention something they admired in their rival. 

Rising above scandal-scarred fathers while ambitiously participating in their family business dynasties seemed to be something that Ivanka and Jared had in common, which drew them together from early in their relationship. Jared’s father, New Jersey real estate mogul Charles Kushner, served jail time for the crime of foiling an investigation into an alleged illicit activity through obstruction of justice and witness tampering. Behind the legal language was a sordid story: Kushner hired a prostitute to entrap his brother-in-law and sent the tape to his sister, Esther, in an alleged effort to stop her from being a witness against him in a civil inter-family suit. 

Donald Trump, though not originally thrilled about Ivanka’s decision to convert to Judaism in order to marry Jared, seems to have come to accept it and occasionally publicly embraces it, mentioning in his speech at the AIPAC conference that then-pregnant Ivanka was “about to have a beautiful Jewish baby.”

In this May 2, 2016, file photo, Jared Kushner, left, and Ivanka Trump arrive at The Metropolitan Museum of Art Costume Institute Benefit Gala in New York.
Evan Agostini, AP

Kushner has been a key element when it comes to Trump’s outreach to the Jewish community. The couple belongs to Modern Orthodox Congregation Kehilath Jeshurun, led by the well-respected Rabbi Haskel Lookstein, who converted Ivanka. (Lookstein was invited by Ivanka to deliver an invocation at the Republican convention nominating her father, but withdrew after protests from his congregation who saw his participation as a Trump endorsement.)

Kushner, who runs a media company that publishes the New York Observer, displayed a degree of non-Trumpish open-mindedness by permitting one of his employees, Dana Schwartz, to publish an opinion piece headlined “An Open Letter to Jared Kushner From One of Your Jewish Employees.” in which she describes how she was bombarded by anti-Semitic tweets from Trump supporters after she objected to the GOP nominee’s posting an image of Hillary Clinton in front of dollar bills and a Jewish star, challenging her boss: “What are you going to do about this? Look at those tweets I got again, the ones calling me out for my Jewish last name, insulting my nose, evoking the Holocaust, and tell me I’m being too sensitive.”

Kushner responded in a piece of his own, declaring as “the grandson of Holocaust survivors” that “my father-in-law is not an anti-Semite” and is instead “an incredibly loving and tolerant person who has embraced my family and our Judaism.”

It was a classic example of the way that the young Kushner-Trump couple has delicately walked the tightrope between respectability and family loyalty — both are practiced at the exercise having performed it since childhood. 

But the gloves-off atmosphere at Trump Tower on Friday seems to have tipped the scales, where, the New York Times reported “an increasingly upset and alone” Donald Trump huddled into the next day with a “small circle of loyalists” that included Kushner — but not Ivanka. 

The Times noted that “Mr. Trump’s son-in-law, Jared Kushner, an observant Jew who normally does not work on the Sabbath, was among those who gathered with him on Saturday.” 

In the aftermath of the Times story, there was teasing in Jewish circles on the Internet that Kushner had permitted himself to work under the religious exception of “pikuach nefesh” — that violating Shabbat was justified if one was saving a life and that his father-in-law was indeed fighting for his political life. 

But it turns out that the biggest sin that Kushner should be atoning for on the impending holiday of Yom Kippur wasn’t the violation of the Sabbath, but the despicable debate sideshow he was helping to plan. 

If Kushner’s participation in the plan for Sunday put a damper on things for either Jared or his wife, it didn’t show Saturday night, when they took a break from crisis management to see the Broadway musical, just before the debate, according to a New York gossip column. The couple was spotted by Page Six attending the “Beautiful: The Carole King Musical.” 

King, the iconic Jewish-American singer, would likely have been unimpressed by their patronage.

Not only is King a Hillary Clinton supporter but she has actively campaigned tirelessly for the Democratic presidential nominee, knocking on doors and performing her hits for the candidate that Donald Trump on Sunday called a “liar” with “hate in her heart” and who, if he were president, would “be in jail.” 

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Read more: By stalking Clinton, Trump may have stopped his campaign’s disintegration | 'But He's Good for Israel': The Moral Failure of pro-Trump Orthodox Jews | Jewish Trump supporters will forgive Donald's sins on Yom Kippur, but not Hillary's | For Jewish Republicans like me, tapes confirm Trump's perversion of values