In the purgatory of Donald Trump’s unacknowledged election defeat, the knives are out for Jared Kushner and Ivanka Trump who, like dozens of other lesser-placed Trump acolytes, may be looking to return to New York, a city that the lame-duck president calls an “anarchic jurisdiction”.
The reception they will receive, judging from the city’s press commentary, could be brutal.
“They are the Faustian poster couple of the Trump presidency, the king and queen of the principle-torching prom at which so many danced alongside them, although in less exquisitely tailored attire,” wrote Frank Bruni in the New York Times this week.
Posing a question broadly to what he called “the whole shockingly populous court of collaborators”, Bruni addressed the couple directly: “Tell me, Jared. Be honest, Ivanka. Was it worth it?”
The answer, of course, is one for the couple alone to answer. But that hasn’t stopped others from offering their thoughts. “I see them as Glenn Close at the end of Dangerous Liaisons, with the entire opera house jeering,” says Jill Kargman, creator and star of Odd Mom Out, a highly praised TV comedy that skewered the Ivanka-style perfectionism of Upper East Side mothers.
Andrea Bernstein, a WNYC investigative reporter and author of American Oligarchs: The Kushners, the Trumps, and the Marriage of Money and Power, says it’s not clear that they plan to return to New York, since the Kushner family real estate empire is now focused in the mid-Atlantic states and his wife no longer runs a fashion accessories business.
Moreover, Bernstein points out, twin New York city and state investigations into Ivanka’s $780,000 in Azerbaijani consulting fees, the on-the-record skewering by former Manhattan friends and increased politicization (she joined the rightwing chat site Parler this week) suggest Democratic New York may not be an optimal place to relocate.
“I don’t see any indication they are coming back or would be welcome back here,” Bernstein says. “The investigations are a symbol of the problems the family could face back in New York, while the article in Vanity Fair was interesting not for what it said, but that the author said it so publicly.”
If they do return, they will probably arrive in New York during another period of Covid restrictions. Restaurants are limited to 25% capacity and four per table, the charity and museum gala circuit upon which New York society revolves is on pause, and so opportunities to express the chill of social ostracism may be limited.
“They’ll have to come back to Republican New York because they won’t be welcomed in liberal quarters,” says New York Times styles writer David Colman.
“The interesting part is: will organisations that are essentially apolitical, like the Metropolitan Museum of Art – already sitting on pots of money from the Koch brothers – the Frick Collection or the Audubon Society, accept their donation and put them on a table?”
The Kushners, Colman predicts, will give money to hospitals, medical charities and do something with sick children – “things people can’t get mad at” – and spend time in the Hamptons, the expensive getaway for the rich and powerful. “And she’ll distance herself from her father because he’s going to stay his crazy, fulminating self on Twitter.”
Top New York hairdresser John Barrett says Ivanka will face no trouble if she chooses to return. “America is all about second acts, and there’s always somebody trying to advance a position or cause. Obviously, some people have been burnt by the administration, but it’ll take very little time for them to buy their way back pretty and rule a certain roost.”
Not all are so accommodating. One former friend told Vanity Fair’s Emily Jane Fox: “They’ll be welcomed back by people who know the Trumps are as close as they’ll get to power. But everyone with self-respect, a career, morals, respect for democracy, or who doesn’t want their friends to shame them both in private and public will steer clear.”
Rehabilitation is a path that Trump-affiliated figures have been attempting to follow since political polls started to solidify in Joe Biden’s favour over the summer.
Stephanie Winston Wolkoff, a former close friend of the first lady, Melania Trump, recently published a book based on their secretly recorded conversations. The justice department is currently suing the author on behalf of Donald Trump’s aggrieved wife.
In an essay published in Vanity Fair, Ivanka’s maid of honour at her wedding sought to exorcise her association, writing that her friend “had her dad’s instinct to throw others under the bus to save herself”. One of the earliest memories of Ivanka, she wrote, was when “she blamed a fart on a classmate”.
The Fox News-owning Murdoch clan, too, have sought to distance themselves, with patriarch Rupert refusing to bend to Jared Kushner’s demands to reverse Fox’s early election night calling of the election in the state of Arizona for Biden.
The list of New York-centric associates scrambling for the lifeboats goes on – the daughter of Trump’s personal lawyer Michael Cohen, Samantha, issued a devastating portrait of the president in Vanity Fair, for instance – leaving diehards, spearheaded by the former New York mayor and now devoted Trump lawyer Rudy Giuliani, to fight on.
Where that leaves “Javanka” is open to question. New York art dealers may be happy to sell to them, but artists have told the Observer they don’t want their work in their couple’s $25m collection, philosophically, but also because they fear it could affect the value of their art.
But the guest relations director of one of the city’s most fashionable restaurants, not far from Trump Tower, told the Observer: “Restaurants don’t have a blue section and a red section and it’s not a good idea to turn people away on perceived politics. People will be more interested in saying, ‘I saw so-and-so, can you believe it?’ and not, ‘I’m never going back there’.”
At the same time, the perception of New York as a Democrat monoculture is almost certainly wrong: Trump received tens of thousands more votes in New York City in the 2020 presidential election than in 2016, and some of his largest gains came from an area not currently on the Trumps’ social radar: the South Bronx.
Notwithstanding the Bronx, where the Trump Organization maintains a bleak-looking golf course, the social geography of political power is almost certainly shifting.
Jill and Joe Biden are from Delaware; Kamala Harris has a formidable powerbase in the LA music scene, interceding in the seemingly intractable dispute between singers Brandy and Monica, and signalling that the chalice of ultra-monied power could soon be with Alicia Keys, Lady Gaga, former manager Troy Carter, Scooter Braun, Puff Daddy and Daniel Glass of the indie label Glassnote. This makes it the most music-orientated administration since Jimmy Carter campaigned with the Allman Brothers and welcomed Willie Nelson into the Oval Office.
Bob Colacello, linchpin of Andy Warhol’s factory and author of a two-volume biography of Nancy Reagan, told the Observer that while there were “a lot more Republicans on the Upper East Side than people might imagine”, city-dwellers are fundamentally “loyal and curious about people who have been in interesting positions of power”.
“Nobody stopped seeing the Clintons,” Colacello points out. “Nixon was embraced and had Le Cirque and the 21 Club. Lots of people called Henry Kissinger a war criminal but he’s hardly ostracised in New York society. So the people who were Jared and Ivanka’s friends will continue to be friends, and those that weren’t will avoid them.”
• This article was amended on 25 November 2020 to correct an instance of a misspelling of Frank Bruni’s surname as ‘‘Bruno’’.