The person most responsible for getting Donald J. Trump elected president of the United States is Donald J. Trump himself. But the second-most-responsible person might be a lot less well-known: Trump's son-in-law, Jared Kushner.
A new profile in Forbes--apparently the first time Kushner has done a lengthy interview about the election--suggests that the 35-year-old real estate developer, who had zero experience in political campaigns, figured out how to get his wife's father elected.
If you read articles like this with a critical eye, you might well ask whether this is simply self-promotion on Kushner's part. But writer Steven Bertoni's article quotes Peter Thiel, Eric Schmidt, and even Henry Kissinger describing Kushner's role--including how he built a giant data-mining and electioneering operation right under everyone's nose.
If you don't know Kushner's name yet, you'll be hearing it a lot over the next four years. (Heck, maybe eight years, if one of Trump's recent tweets proves prescient.) Here are the highlights:
1. Kushner built a lean startup, and scaled it fast.
This is the crux of the article and apparently Kushner's number-one contribution: He built an efficient campaign apparatus that focused on "message tailoring, sentiment manipulation, and machine learning."
Before Kushner took the reins last summer, Trump's campaign, as described in Forbes, consisted of a small staff and a strategy of "Trump making headline-grabbing statements, often by calling in to television shows, supplemented by a rally once or twice a week to provide the appearance of a traditional campaign."
That changed pretty quickly, according to Bertoni.
2. The turning point came a year ago in Illinois.
In November 2015, Kushner was there when Trump gave a speech to a packed house in Springfield, Illinois, on a Monday evening. On the flight back to New York, he and Trump ate McDonald's Filet-O-Fish sandwiches and decided that Kushner would take over the campaign's Facebook strategy.
Here's a video of the speech that got Kushner to go all-in:
3. He started by selling clothing on Facebook.
Social media seemed like it would be the key, but Kushner had little experience in either campaigns or social media. However, he had bought the New York Observer newspaper in 2006, and he had an extensive network, his contacts including, according to Bertoni, "Thiel and Alibaba's Jack Ma," along with his brother Josh, "a formidable venture capitalist who also co-founded the $2.7 billion insurance unicorn Oscar Health."
As Kushner explained, he started out by testing how Facebook microtargeting could help him sell Trump campaign merchandise:
"I called somebody who works for one of the technology companies that I work with, and I had them give me a tutorial." ... 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.
4. He built a secret office in Texas.
Ground zero was a "secret back office" in San Antonio, where, Bertoni reports, Kushner "took over all data-driven efforts" and created "a 100-person data hub designed to unify fundraising, messaging, and targeting."
And, with the Trump team spending only half what Hillary Clinton's campaign was, Kushner figured out a way to target swing states and increase turnout so as to maximize the Electoral College.
"We played Moneyball, asking ourselves which states will get the best ROI for the electoral vote. I asked, How can we get Trump's message to that consumer for the least amount of cost?" Kushner said.
5. He became the de facto COO of the campaign.
The data-driven fundraising effort was massively successful, "sending more than 100,000 uniquely tweaked ads to targeted voters each day," which meant that the richest person ever to run for president "raised more than $250 million in four months--mostly from small donors," Bertoni writes.
Meantime, Kushner became Trump's trusted consigliere, as witnessed by billionaire entrepreneur and investor Peter Thiel and former Google CEO Eric Schmidt.
Thiel: "It's hard to overstate and hard to summarize Jared's role in the campaign. If Trump was the CEO, Jared was effectively the chief operating officer."
Schmidt: "Jared Kushner is the biggest surprise of the 2016 election. Best I can tell, he actually ran the campaign and did it with essentially no resources."
6. He only even met Trump nine years ago.
It's striking how quickly all of this came together, starting with the fact that Kushner didn't even meet his future wife, Ivanka Trump, until 2007. They were married in 2009 (at Trump National Golf Club in Bedminster, New Jersey--where else?), and he sat down for the first time with the elder Trump not long before.
Bertoni describes Kushner's first deep conversation with his future father-in-law at the Trump Grill:
Kushner told Trump that "Ivanka and I are getting serious, and we're starting to go down that path." According to Kushner, Trump replied, "You'd better be serious on this." Ivanka told Forbes that "Jared and my father initially bonded over a combination of me and real estate."
7. He's not a Republican.
At least, not officially. Before this election, he'd donated a ton of money to Democrats.
One thing that comes through in the article: Both Trump and Kushner believe they're creating a new political movement that isn't beholden to either the traditional Democratic or Republican parties.
8. An Orthodox Jew, he insists Trump is neither anti-Semitic nor racist.
Kushner is the grandson of Holocaust survivors, but he dismisses the idea that Trump would associate himself with anti-Semites:
I just know a lot of the things that people try to attack him with are just not true or overblown or exaggerations. I know his character. I know who he is, and I obviously would not have supported him if I thought otherwise. If the country gives him a chance, they'll find he won't tolerate hateful rhetoric or behavior.
You can read the whole article, which also touches on Kushner's background (the son of a wealthy real estate developer whom Trump surrogate Governor Chris Christie of New Jersey sent to prison), and his potential future role in the Trump administration (perhaps special envoy to the Middle East), here.