Titled “The Donald Trump I Know,” the letter rebutted a piece written the day before by an Observer reporter who was appalled by the Trump campaign’s now-infamous tweet of an image widely criticized as anti-Semitic and by the nasty treatment she and others Jews have received online from Trump supporters.
Invoking his own family’s wrenching history in the Holocaust, Kushner said the father-in-law he knew was no anti-Semite. How could he be, with a Jewish son-in-law, a daughter who had converted, and grandkids being raised Orthodox?
But Kushner did concede one small point. The offending tweet, he wrote, may have been “careless” ― a word he used twice. It was a rare expression of regret, even if he was copping only to an error in judgement and not, say, an act of malice.
Hours later, Kushner was knee-capped by his own father-in-law.
In an eye-popping speech Wednesday night, Trump made it very clear that he did not view the offending tweet as crass or anti-Semitic or even “careless.” If a mistake had been made, he argued, it was in taking the item down.
“Y’know they took the star down,” Trump told a crowd near Cincinnati. “I said, ‘Too bad, you should have left it up.’ I would have rather defended it, just leave it up, and say, ‘No, that’s not a Star of David. That’s just a star!’”
As a matter of politics, Trump’s strategic maneuvering here boggles the mind. Kushner isn’t just a family member. He’s a trusted campaign adviser, a speechwriter, and a vetter of vice presidential candidates. It seems impossible that he and the candidate ― again, his father-in-law! ― could be operating off of such divergent playbooks. But, well, here we are.
And why, the question must be asked, is Trump so unwilling to make life easier for himself? As the campaign gods give him a glorious opening to attack Hillary Clinton for her use of a private email server, he seems content to wade back into his own shit storms. Four straight days of critical coverage apparently were not enough.
But these are mere tactical matters. Trump’s decision to not only defend the initial tweet but to say he wishes it remained online says something far more troubling about the mindset of the candidate himself.
Keep this in mind: In the past few days, the vast majority of people outside the campaign have conceded that the image was, indeed, anti-Semitic. Certainly, that became apparent when it was revealed that it had been lifted from a Twitter user known for racist memes and when the image was found on a white nationalist website. But that admission also was implied in the criticism Trump faced from his own endorsers. House Speaker Paul Ryan said that anti-Semitic images “have no place in a presidential campaign,” while RNC Chair Reince Priebus said the campaign “realized very quickly it was not a smart idea.”
And if there was any lingering doubt after that, David Duke, the former grandmaster of the KKK, surely erased it when he praised Trump and gleefully co-opted the image ― adding a few Israeli flags and Jewish names to hammer home his vile point.
In his New York Observer letter, Kushner made the argument that Trump shouldn’t be held accountable for the worst of his supporters. That is a fair argument to make. On Wednesday night, Trump made the argument that it was the media that was engaging in the real racist behavior, because it deemed the image offensive to begin with (less fair).
But by now, Trump must know he is in the minority in saying the image is a mere sheriff’s badge, or some star taken from Microsoft Shapes ― which his social media director insisted was the nexus of the whole controversy ― or just another iteration of something you’d find on the cover of a Disney coloring book.
More importantly, Trump must also know that white supremacists and anti-Semites have taken great delight in his tweet, as they have in other elements of his campaign. But instead of defusing the matter, Trump has chosen to effectively say he doesn’t give a f**k about either the carefully penned letter his son-in-law wrote, or about the signals he is giving to racists and bigots.
And that, even more than the initial tweet, says something profoundly disturbing about the candidate.