In a widely anticipated move, US president-elect Donald Trump named his son-in-law Jared Kushner a senior White House adviser, but who will, for all practical purposes, be his closest, most trusted aide.
Kushner, 36, will “work closely” with Trump’s chief strategist Steve Bannon and chief of staff Reince Priebus, according to an announcement by the Trump transition team on Monday. Kushner, who has been called the man who got Trump elected, will join them at the top of the White House power hierarchy.
“Jared has been a tremendous asset and trusted advisor throughout the campaign and transition and I am proud to have him in a key leadership role in my administration,” Trump said in the announcement.
Henry Kissinger, who has been an adviser to many presidents and a guru to all aspirants, has said Kushner will be the third most powerful voice in the Trump administration after the president and vice-president Mike Pence.
Kushner’s appointment has raised questions about nepotism, going up against a 1967 law, and Democrats have asked the justice department and the office of government ethics to look closely at legal issues arising out of it.
But his lawyer has denied the post violates the anti-nepotism law. Others have pointed to precedence going back to Democratic President Bill Clinton appointing First Lady Hillary Clinton the chair of his healthcare reform package in 1983.
Concerns have also been raised about conflicts of interest regarding his businesses and his role in the White House despite the fact that he has resigned from every position he has held in his companies, and handed over the reins to his brother.
Kushner, a tycoon from a real estate family like his father-in-law, is married to Ivanka Trump, who too is expected to play a major role in the White House, though not in a formal role or with a title like her husband.
The couple, who have three children, set off speculation about the appointment when they moved to Washington, in the same neighbourhood as the Obamas plan to — Kalorama — till Sasha, their youngest daughter, graduates from school.
Kushner’s rise within Trump’s inner circle first came to public attention when he and the three adult Trump children — Don, Eric and Ivanka — ousted the then nominee’s powerful campaign manager Corey Lewandowski.
Lewandowski had apparently tried to marginalise Kushner, correctly assessing, perhaps, his rising clout in the campaign and a threat to his own position. Trump continued to consult him but never took him back into the fold formally.
Kushner, who built his business up from a relatively smaller operation he got from his father like Trump, cannot be more dissimilar, apparently. He has the reassured calm of a man secure in his skin, quiet and reportedly unflappable.
In his telling, he fully subscribed to Trump’s bid for the White House after a November 2015 rally in Springfield, Illinois — where a little known Democrat with an unfamiliar name, Barack Obama, announced his presidential run in 2007.
“People really saw hope in his message,” Kushner told Forbes magazine in a rare interview for a cover story about Trump’s campaign and victory. It ran under a headline that left nothing to the imagination: “This guy got Trump elected”.
Kushner went digital and in a way that took the Obama campaign’s pioneering use of the technology for electioneering, dutifully and gratefully inherited by the Clinton campaign, to a different level that impressed even the harshest critics.
“Jared Kushner is the biggest surprise of the 2016 election,” former google CEO Eric Schmidt, who helped design the Clinton campaign's IT system, told Forbes. “Best I can tell, he actually ran the campaign and did it with essentially no resources.”
Kushner used raw data - about voters and voting tendencies - to drive the campaign’s push on policy. He also focussed on the voters to target and the way forward, by targeting them through laser-like messaging never tried before in US elections.
“Jared understood the online world in a way the traditional media folks didn’t,” Schmidt told Forbes. “He managed to assemble a presidential campaign on a shoestring using new technology and won. That’s a big deal.”
That’s high praise. And India, which is seeking common ground and increased contacts with the Trump administration, will be listening.