NEW YORK (AFP) — Jared Kushner, Donald Trump’s baby-faced son-in-law and incoming special adviser, is poised to become one of the most powerful men in the country, a calming and respected influence on the president.
Celebrating his 36th birthday on Tuesday, the clean-cut, impeccably polite and discreet grandson of Holocaust survivors married to Trump’s eldest daughter has been credited with working tirelessly behind the scenes to mastermind his father-in-law’s shock victory.
Flouting nepotism and ethics concerns in announcing the appointment, the incoming Republican president called Kushner a “tremendous asset and trusted adviser” who would form an integral part of his inner team.
A multi-millionaire property developer and publisher, Kushner married Trump’s eldest daughter Ivanka in 2009. The couple, who have three young children, will now swap their status as a Manhattan power couple enmeshed in the business world for a life of politics in Washington.
The scion of an Orthodox Jewish family from New Jersey who previously donated to Democratic politicians, Kushner has spoken of undergoing a shift after seeing his father-in-law’s groundswell of support, unflinchingly defending him against alleged racism and anti-Semitism.
“People in the political world try to put you into different buckets based on what exists. I think Trump’s creating his own bucket — a blend of what works and eliminating what doesn’t work,” he told Forbes.
While Trump’s penchant for publicity, rows and controversy are legendary, Kushner is a stark contrast in social media silence, appearing only in smiling family photographs posted by his wife, who converted to Judaism before their lavish society wedding.
But behind the scenes, his influence is almost second to none.
Child of privilege
He was reportedly instrumental in personnel decisions, such as demoting scandal-dogged Chris Christie — the former prosecutor who jailed his father for tax evasion — and Trump’s selection of a fervent advocate of Jewish settlements as US ambassador to Israel.
Trump said last year that Kushner, whose family foundation has reportedly donated to Israeli settlements, was so talented that he could help “do peace in the Middle East.”
Such is his influence that the New York Times reported that the outgoing White House was told that foreign policy matters that need to be brought to Trump’s attention should be relayed through Kushner.
He has also been a bridge to tech leaders, has won the friendship and support of legions of influential New York and global players, many of them significantly older than him, such as Rupert Murdoch.
Even liberals welcomed his appointment as a potentially moderating influence.
“I respect him a lot,” New York’s left-leaning Mayor Bill de Blasio told reporters on Monday, saying that he had known Kushner “for years” and considered him “a very reasonable person.”
The eldest son of developer Charles Kushner, he attended a private Jewish high school before going to Harvard, singled out as an example of the wealthy getting preferential admittance to Ivy League schools, before going onto New York University to get an MBA.
Kushner was still a student when Christie jailed his father for tax evasion, witness tampering and illegal campaign contributions.
His son picked up the pieces, reportedly flying down to visit his father most weekends, and took up the reins of the family business, proving himself astonishingly successful.
Like Trump, he shifted the focus of the family real estate business to Manhattan. Today Forbes estimates that together with his parents and brother Kushner is worth $1.8 billion.
Under his leadership, Kushner Companies says it has completed more than $14 billion in transactions and $7 billion in acquisitions.
Kushner’s lawyer said he would resign as CEO of Kushner Companies and “divest substantial assets in accordance with federal guidelines.”
Ten years ago he also added The New York Observer lifestyle newspaper to his portfolio and revived its fortunes by taking it online.
During the campaign he went from writing speeches to masterminding a data-driven campaign that focused on message tailoring and harnessing social media to an unprecedented extent.
“Best I can tell, he actually ran the campaign and did it with essentially no resources,” Eric Schmidt, the former CEO of Google, told Forbes.
After the inauguration he is expected to work closely with White House chief of staff Reince Priebus and chief strategist Steve Bannon.
The Times reported that he plans to work on issues involving the Middle East and Israel; try to forge government partnerships with the private sector and collaborate on free trade issues.