While we approach Donald Trump’s presidency with some dread, at least this stage is more interesting than it would be if Clinton had been elected. Rather than what would be a fairly predictable list of old Clinton cronies, Wall Street insiders, and the interventionist foreign policy establishment, we are seeing people new to politics. While Donald Trump is new to politics, he has a long public record. Perhaps the key member of the next administration that we know the least about is his son-in-law Jared Kushner.
Kushner out-smarted the old Clinton political experts, and pulled off a victory in the electoral college with both less money and no political experience. Forbes has interviewed Kushner. The full article is worth reading, but here is an excerpt to show how Kushner changed how political campaigns are run to take advantage of social media and ideas from Silicon Valley:
“I called some of my friends from Silicon Valley, some of the best digital marketers in the world, and asked how you scale this stuff,” Kushner says. “They gave me their subcontractors.”
At first Kushner dabbled, engaging in what amounted to a beta test using Trump merchandise. “I called somebody who works for one of the technology companies that I work with, and I had them give me a tutorial on how to use Facebook micro-targeting,” Kushner says. Synched with Trump’s blunt, simple messaging, it worked. The Trump campaign went from selling $8,000 worth of hats and other items a day to $80,000, generating revenue, expanding the number of human billboards–and proving a concept. In another test, Kushner spent $160,000 to promote a series of low-tech policy videos of Trump talking straight into the camera that collectively generated more than 74 million views.
By June the GOP nomination secured, Kushner took over all data-driven efforts. Within three weeks, in a nondescript building outside San Antonio, he had built what would become a 100-person data hub designed to unify fundraising, messaging and targeting. Run by Brad Parscale, who had previously built small websites for the Trump Organization, this secret back office would drive every strategic decision during the final months of the campaign. “Our best people were mostly the ones who volunteered for me pro bono,” Kushner says. “People from the business world, people from nontraditional backgrounds.”
Kushner structured the operation with a focus on maximizing the return for every dollar spent. “We played Moneyball, asking ourselves which states will get the best ROI for the electoral vote,” Kushner says. “I asked, How can we get Trump’s message to that consumer for the least amount of cost?” FEC filings through mid-October indicate the Trump campaign spent roughly half as much as the Clinton campaign did.
Just as Trump’s unorthodox style allowed him to win the Republican nomination while spending far less than his more traditional opponents, Kushner’s lack of political experience became an advantage. Unschooled in traditional campaigning, he was able to look at the business of politics the way so many Silicon Valley entrepreneurs have sized up other bloated industries.
I wonder who will get the movie rights to this story.
While Kushner’s political views are not clear, he does not appear to be a doctrinaire conservative. The anti-nepotism laws written after JFK made Bobby Kennedy his Attorney General might prevent Kushner from having a formal role in the Trump administration. I think we are better off with Trump continuing to listen to Kushner and hope this can be circumvented. Even if he cannot have an actual position, Trump will probably continue to receive advice from him.
During the interview Kushner defended Steve Bannon from accusations of being anti-Semitic based upon the hate speech often found at Breitbart. While this is hardly enough to make Bannon look acceptable, there was another sign today that Bannon might be more complex than he is portrayed. IndieWire reports that previously Bannon had been involved in the distribution of independent films which differ from the world view he is now involved with:
Ten years ago, Bannon oversaw the distribution of independent films released by Wellspring Media, a company that supported a wide range of international cinema as well as gay-themed and other “transgressive” titles. Movies acquired and released under his tenure include the experimental LGBT documentary “Tarnation” and “Going Upriver: The Long War of John Kerry,” a pro-Kerry documentary that opened during the 2004 election. According to one insider who dealt with Bannon at this time, he directly approved and often supported several of these films with great enthusiasm.
It’s a history that raises fascinating questions about the newly minted White House staffer’s motives: Did Bannon, whose alt-right allegiances have turned him into a leading proponent of nationalism, shelve his personal beliefs for the sake of perceived business opportunities? Did those beliefs — and a tolerance for the hate groups drawn to the alt-right movement — come later? Or does he, as so many have theorized about the president-elect, only believe in himself?P
Hopefully we will see a new version of Bannon in the White House, but this will not negate all of the hate speech he has spread in more recent years. The same can be said of President Trump as compared to candidate Trump.