For a candidate who earned more campaign contributions from lobbyists than any other candidate in 2018, President Trump should be receiving support from some insiders that aren’t putting their money where their mouths are.
In the Washington Post today, columnist Michael Gerson criticizes the president for giving undue power to Jared Kushner and his wife, Ivanka Trump, by hiring them both to his inner circle. Gerson writes that Donald Trump Jr. and his brother Eric “are raising many millions of dollars for campaign coffers. But they have turned up only in Federal Election Commission filings supporting their brother’s run for U.S. Senate. You will have to assume that they do not own shares in that family company — that the money is being raised for other purposes.”
Part of the president’s political cred has long been that he is not afraid to antagonize his opponents. His second inaugural address, for example, focused entirely on Hillary Clinton’s marriage to Bill, her own position on climate change and her (then-husband’s) role in the Keating Five financial crisis. Now Trump has elevated his son-in-law and daughter by entrusting them with two of the most important positions in the country. Is this becoming acceptable?
Gerson has some particular complaints about Kushner, who has not used his position as a senior adviser to the president to advocate for the release of Post journalists Jason Rezaian and WaPo reporter Yeganeh Torbati who have been imprisoned by the Iranian government since 2014. Gerson alleges that the “decision to list Kushner as an informal White House adviser could be interpreted as an act of bribery.” He goes on to argue that the president is “giving Kushner special control over our Iranian policy and laying the groundwork for the Iranian nuclear agreement to be repeatedly renegotiated in exchange for cash.”
Trump seems to be out of his mind to think he can give such an awful deal to his Iranian counterpart, and it’s not as if that’s the only thing wrong with it. But let’s call this what it is. Ivanka Trump is, after all, not a member of her father’s Cabinet. There may be plenty of evidence that, despite Trump’s assertion otherwise, she has little influence with her husband. Ivanka, who helped to develop the ethical guidelines around Trump’s political organization, is spending less than a half-million dollars on her first go at a Senate run — far below the $10 million or so of her father’s senior White House aides.
Trump’s political instincts are at least somewhat qualified by the fact that she is a member of his family. That makes it a little harder to dismiss her decision to get involved in her father’s electoral campaign in 2016 and join his inaugural committee this year. And despite Trump’s criticisms of a “drain the swamp” agenda that only inflames the worst aspects of Washington’s political culture, the use of family members to wield influence over such a large portion of our government is something that predates his presidency. John F. Kennedy, for instance, placed his brother Bobby Kennedy in charge of administering the Cuban Missile Crisis, but the “drain the swamp” rhetoric didn’t start with Trump.
Gerson is right that these are major policy decisions that should be made by people who have the background to do so. But the Trump administration is making us suffer for ignorance of Washington by appointing people to positions like that of the head of the EPA who have no experience with the agency’s issues, requiring federal prosecutors to pass along the president’s wishes, a longstanding practice that will end when John Bolton runs an independent agency and allows the president to impose his will without any judicial or legislative approval and using resources that should be used to properly respond to catastrophic or natural disasters. Congress has ample authority over the president’s policy decisions, and for all of the scandals involving the president’s team, we’re seeing how few have actually been held accountable.