Jared Kushner is reportedly responsible for building the digital operation that brought the G.O.P. to its knees, and could give rise to a whole new Trump empire.
Among the many curiosities surrounding the Trump campaign have been two central mysteries: who is really running the show, and what do they plan to do with Donald Trump once it’s all over?
Both were answered by Bloomberg Businessweek on Thursday, in a wide-open look at the sprawling digital operation being built by key members of the Trump campaign and how they plan to leverage their massive voter database post-election day. And Jared Kushner, Trump’s reticent son-in-law, appears at the center of it all.
Over the past several months, Kushner, a fellow real-estate scion and aspiring media mogul, has emerged as one of Trump’s most trusted advisers. The 35-year-old owner of the New York Observer has taken on an increasingly vital role within the campaign, with reports placing him behind some of Trump’s only policy speeches, brokering meetings with members of the conservative establishment, and offering advice on debate preparations and hiring decisions at critical moments in the campaign. He is also reportedly the driving force behind efforts to get the much-rumored Trump TV off the ground.
According to Businessweek, the original idea for a post-election Trump-branded network was Kushner’s, too. A source claimed that it was born out of a threat to Roger Ailes, a longtime friend of Trump’s and informal adviser to his campaign, who, until he resigned in the midst of sexual-harassment allegations, served as the top brass at Fox News. Not pleased with the coverage the campaign was receiving on the right-leaning cable network, Kushner reportedly hinted that Trump could create his own competitor down the line. The two sides mended fences, but the idea stuck. Trump liked it, Businessweek reports, as did five media networks that reportedly expressed interest in the plan.
Kushner recognized early on the potential for digital media to circumvent mainstream news sources. “One thing Jared always tells Donald is that if The New York Times and cable news mattered, he would be at 1 percent in the polls,” one person close to the campaign told the magazine. “Trump supporters really don’t have a media outlet where they feel they’re represented. . . . What we found is that our people have organized incredibly well on the Web. Growing the digital footprint has really allowed us to take his message directly to the people.” Kushner exercised his muscle here, too, enlisting talent from Silicon Valley to architect a digital operation that could help win his father-in-law the White House or, if they missed that target, set them up to translate the campaign’s database of millions of Trump supporters into a viable, lucrative Plan B.
Nearly a year ago, according to Businessweek, Kushner laid the groundwork for a social-media juggernaut and fundraising operation that could later be mined for all sorts of useful, profitable personal information. Tapping a network of Trump-friendly technologists in Silicon Valley, Kushner enlisted Brad Parscale, a San Antonio marketing strategist who sports Trump ties and Zegna suits, to run the campaign’s digital task force, dubbed “Project Alamo.” Parscale’s 100-person crack team reportedly spends $70 million a month to take people who are leaning toward Trump and turn them into the candidate’s most ardent fans. At the same time, Parscale’s San Antonio-based team is engaged in a wide-ranging effort to discourage Democrats from supporting Hillary Clinton. “We have three major voter suppression operations under way,” a senior official told Businessweek. Specifically, the campaign is aiming to turn off young women, African Americans, and millennials, using targeted campaigns designed to make them too disillusioned to vote.
For the people who do support Trump, the team has figured out how to reach them on Facebook and keep them hooked, even after the election is over. It’s that upside that drew Stephen Bannon, the former Breitbart News executive who came up as the Trump campaign C.E.O. this summer, in. “I wouldn’t have come aboard, even for Trump, if I hadn’t known they were building this massive Facebook and data engine,” Bannon told the magazine. By November 8, Businessweek reports, the Trump campaign will have collected up to 14 million e-mail addresses and personal information—including credit cards—for some 2.5 million people.
It’s easy to see how Trump could leverage this potent combination of Facebook fans and voter data. For one, all those e-mails alone are worth anywhere from $36 million to $112 million, according to Businessweek. And since Trump paid to build that list, he alone owns them after the election. He could sell their information to future presidential campaigns, though the Donald hasn’t exactly lent his hand to other Republicans or made many friends in Washington throughout this process. Or he could keep the audience as his own, continuing to work with Kushner and Bannon to capitalize on the populist movement he has built within the Republican Party. “Trump is a builder,” Bannon said. “And what he’s built is the underlying apparatus for a political movement that’s going to propel us to victory on Nov. 8 and dominate Republican politics after that.”
Earlier this week, Trump insisted that he has “no interest” in a Trump news network, though it’s not as though his word holds much weight. That statement stands in direct contrast with the Businessweek report, which strongly suggests that the post-election effort is already well underway. Anyone with a basic understanding of Trump psychology knows he doesn’t himself stand for much. What he says is mostly reactionary and what he does is mostly based on whatever the last person whispered in his ear. But with Kushner and Bannon so often in his ear, whispering the sweetest nothings about how his power and popularity could translate into his own name once again in lights, it’s hard to imagine a scenario in which Trump TV won’t happen. The infrastructure is already in place.