No matter how pessimistic and cynical you may have become over the past four years, this article is horrifying beyond belief. A few snippets:
When the coronavirus exploded out of China, Kushner was the second most powerful person in the West Wing, exerting influence over virtually every significant decision, from negotiating trade deals to 2020 campaign strategy to overseeing Trump’s impeachment defense. “Jared is running everything. He’s the de facto president of the United States,” a former White House official told me. . .
During his time in the West Wing, Kushner had become hardened to a degree that was sometimes shocking. The days of selling the notion that he and Ivanka were moderating forces were long gone—combat was everything. A New York business executive recalled a meeting with Kushner at the White House last fall. “I told Jared that if Trump won a second term, he wouldn’t have to worry about running again and you can really help people. Jared just looked at me and said, ‘I don’t care about any of that.’” The executive came away shaken. “I wanted to tell Jared you don’t say that part out loud, even in private,” he later said. (A source close to Kushner says he has no recollection of making the comment.)
Kushner had an enemies list as long as Trump’s, and at times it played into his response to the crisis. He scoffed when his old nemesis, Steve Bannon, launched a podcast called War Room: Pandemic in January. “Steve’s a dead man. Last he was seen, he was standing on the side of the FDR Drive with the squeegee guys,” Kushner told a Republican around this time.
See if you can guess who comes riding to the rescue in the midst of this Goyaesque nightmare:
Fox News, as always, was Trump’s safe place. The network’s hosts had been following his cues, aggressively amplifying claims that COVID-19 posed little danger. “It’s actually the safest time to fly,” Fox & Friends host Ainsley Earhardt told viewers in early March, a clip that came to symbolize the network’s cavalier approach to the pandemic. Some inside Fox feared this denialism could get viewers killed and expose the network to massive legal liability. “If you want to get on the air, you had to say crazy shit about the virus,” one Fox staffer told me. Tucker Carlson was an important exception. Partly for ideological reasons—China bashing is a running story line on his show—Carlson covered the epidemic early. “Every day now brings thousands of new cases and dozens of new deaths in China…. We should be vigilant as well. We have infections already in this country,” he warned viewers on February 4.
Carlson privately told friends that Trump failed to grasp the scale of the crisis. Normally, when Carlson has advice for the White House, he says it on television. But after Trump’s rambling CDC press conference on March 6, Carlson realized the situation was an emergency and he needed to confront Trump in person.
The following afternoon, Carlson drove from his Florida home to Mar-a-Lago—surprisingly his first visit—and was astonished by what he found. The club that weekend was an alternate reality where coronavirus didn’t seem to exist. Down by the pool, Kimberly Guilfoyle was hosting a cocktail party for a hundred friends to kick off her lavish 51st birthday celebration. The guest list included much of Trumpworld’s elite, including Guilfoyle’s boyfriend Don Jr., Eric and Lara Trump, Lindsey Graham, Rudy Giuliani and Pence—even Tiffany Trump flew in for the weekend. Later that night, Guilfoyle break-danced. The president sang happy birthday after he dined on the patio shoulder-to-shoulder with Ivanka and Kushner and Brazilian president Jair Bolsonaro’s delegation.
Carlson met with Trump before Guilfoyle’s party got going. He didn’t expect to get much face time. The conversation lasted two hours. Carlson told Trump that COVID-19 posed an existential threat to the country—and his reelection—unless the White House took aggressive steps to slow the spread. “I said exactly what I’ve said on TV, which is this could be really bad,” Carlson later told Vanity Fair’s Joe Hagan. “My view [was] that we may have missed the point where we can control it.” Carlson’s message seemed to puncture Trump’s bubble. “[Trump] is just now waking up to the fact that this is bad, and he doesn’t know how to respond,” a Republican told me around this time.
Carlson is now singing a different tune.
Decadence, ignorance, greed, stupidity, magical thinking . . . It’s all far beyond anything I could have imagined, and I thought I had a pretty good imagination.