On May 26, Fox News aired a special, Meet the Trumps, in which the network introduced the members of the would-be First Family. After attempting to differentiate Don Junior from Eric — still confusing — the camera lingered on a familiar face. “And of course, we all know Ivanka,” said Greta Van Susteren. Of course, we all know Ivanka. This is true especially in New York, where Trump’s eldest daughter has become, like her father, one of the city’s stock characters, albeit one whose personality is more in line with the city’s current self-image than his. Where The Donald scowls and stomps and blusters around town like a fat-cat ghost from another era, Ivanka moves gracefully, with the unwavering poise she displayed in the 2003 documentary Born Rich, in which she was one of the few heiresses to comport herself with dignity.
It is often noted that she is the polar opposite of Donald, the suggestion being that someone as controlled as Ivanka must be somewhat embarrassed by her circus-clown father. But no: Ivanka is “absolutely proud to be a Trump,” as she told the makers of Born Rich, and shares with her father a sense of outsize ambition. On her this patrilineal zeal looks so much better, more modern: less “Greed is good” and more “You go, girl.” And over the years, as Ivanka built her own brand — as a model, an executive at the Trump Organization, a sometime Apprentice guest, the owner of an eponymous clothing label — she has earned many admirers, including such discerning customers as Anna Wintour and Michael Bloomberg.
So it’s been somewhat startling to see this Ivanka — the Ivanka we know — seemingly wholeheartedly embrace a campaign that features xenophobia, racism, and general lack of civility as its central themes. Even though she told us in The Trump Card: Playing to Win in Work and Life that she was a “daddy’s girl,” it’s still hard to comprehend the level of filial loyalty that compelled Ivanka to defend her father’s grotesque comments about Megyn Kelly’s “blood coming out of her wherever” and straight-facedly call him a “feminist.” It’s hard to believe that the Ivanka whose New York social circle consists of people from all over the world truly supports the idea of Building a Wall. Given the intelligence we know she possesses, it’s tempting to see tightness in her smile as she stands behind her father, blustering at the podium, and read sarcasm in her cheery tweets (“There’s power in looking silly and not caring that you do,” she wrote — quoting Amy Poehler — after her father’s Brexit gaffe).
Perhaps this is the reason we’ve allowed a sub-narrative to take root, one that casts Ivanka as the Trump campaign’s Secret Voice of Reason. He’s her father — she has to support his cockamamie run to some degree, the thinking goes, but she’s not like him. If you look hard enough, there’s just enough to suggest that this might be so: After Trump referred to Mexican immigrants as criminals and rapists, reports quickly followed that Ivanka was horrified by his comments. After Orlando, anonymous sources noted that Trump’s line about standing with the LGBT community was “Ivanka-ish.” And after Trump’s thuggish campaign manager Corey Lewandowski was fired, sources claimed that it was Ivanka who’d vanquished him. It’s almost as though the birds and house mice who helped Cinderella now follow Ivanka around, prettying up her part of the narrative.
But it must be said: Ivanka is not going to save us. She is not, as the Latin-American and Mexican version of Marie Claire recently begged, going to stop her father by talking to him. If she has tried to get him to tone it down, as reports have suggested, it should be pretty clear by now that she has failed. She is not, as a piece of fanfiction in the Times recently postulated, secretly donating to Hillary. She did not miss the registration deadline for the Republican primary on purpose. She is not, after 34 years of control, going to lose her cool and rebel. As Ivanka has told us repeatedly: “Trumps play to win.” And that’s what she and her husband, Jared Kushner, seem to be exclusively focused on now. Ivanka has been an increasingly visible presence on the trail and is expected to play a starring role at the Republican National Convention. Recently, Senator Bob Corker went so far as to suggest that she’d be a great running mate for her father, adding that he’d never “met a more composed, brilliant, beautiful-in-every-way person.” (This too is wishful thinking — sorry, Republicans, she won’t save you either.)
Kushner, the cardigan-wearing owner of the New York Observer, is said to be virtually running the campaign now, making up for his lack of experience with Trumpian derring-do and the giant chip he shoulders on behalf of his own father, Charles, who was jailed for setting up his brother-in-law with a sex tape. “He might think [Trump]’s an idiot,” a college friend of Kushner’s who spoke on condition of anonymity told me, “but for him there would be nothing better than being able to say, ‘I elected that idiot president.’ ”
The couple’s commitment to their candidate has taken aback those who knew them as avowed Democrats — friends of Chelsea Clinton who, back in 2013, threw a fund-raiser for Cory Booker. “It’s all anyone is talking about,” says a member of their social circle. “People are totally horrified. But she doesn’t seem to let it affect her at all.”
Jared and Ivanka were forced to confront the tension last week, after Trump posted an image of Hillary Clinton superimposed over a pile of cash and a Star of David. “How can you allow this?” a writer for the Observer asked Kushner, an Orthodox Jew, in a prominent editorial. Kushner’s response, in which he called Trump “an incredibly loving and tolerant person” and leaned on his own lineage as the grandson of Holocaust survivors, infuriated some members of his family. “Please don’t invoke our grandparents in vain just so you can sleep better at night,” wrote one cousin on Facebook. “It is self-serving and disgusting.”
But by and large, they don’t seem to be suffering socially: With the obvious exception of Chelsea Clinton, with whom Ivanka has reportedly not been in touch, the bulk of their friendships seem to have remained intact. Several friends said they have chosen to turn a blind eye. “We don’t discuss it,” Tamara Goldstein, a childhood friend of Ivanka’s, told me. “I ask her about how she’s doing amongst the chaos of the campaign and about her well-being, since that’s what matters to me. Other than that, I don’t get involved.”
For some, there is still the rationalization that the sins of the father shouldn’t taint the next generation. But that argument is beginning to wear thin. “To say ‘I’m not going to take it out on his kids,’ of course that makes sense,” says former public-relations manager Ken Lerer, the co-founder of the Huffington Post. “But at this point, let’s be straight, if you are palling around with Jared Kushner, you are palling around with Donald Trump. You can’t make believe that you’re not.”
For now at least, there’s still a lot of palling going on. Almost immediately after I started reporting this story, I received calls from Risa Heller, whom I had known as a spokeswoman for Democrats Chuck Schumer and Anthony Weiner, saying she now worked for Jared Kushner; and Matthew Hiltzik, Hillary Clinton’s former head of Jewish relations. Both said they were not doing public relations for the campaign, per se; Hiltzik, the previous employer of Trump spokeswoman Hope Hicks, said his firm just wanted to “help out” Ivanka, who has been a friend and client for years. He seemed surprised when I suggested this might be a political conflict for a lifelong Democrat. “Anybody who is a real friend is not going to abandon someone because of their father’s politics,” he said, “even if they are among a group who may happen to disagree with those politics.”
Perhaps that’s what is so unsettling about Ivanka, why we want there to be more to the story. Before the campaign, New Yorkers liked what we saw reflected in her — she was wealthy and successful and driven but seemed fundamentally decent. Now she is mirroring something else, which is that many of us are willing to overlook ugliness in exchange for success. “One thing I am starting to learn about the circle they move in is that it’s rare to find someone at that level who is truly wholesome and liberal,” says the college friend of Kushner’s, who points out that to people accustomed to rationalizing sky-high bonuses, unfair labor practices, rampant economic inequality, and blackmail, Trump’s rants about building a wall are just another unsavory reality to ignore. “You don’t make billions by being nice.”
*This article appears in the July 11, 2016 issue of New York Magazine.