who needs dallas when you have dynasty? meet THE power players
Harriet Alexander reports on the dynamics of America's new First Family and their colourful coterie of high-profile friends
Published 20/11/2016 | 02:30
The cowboy boots may have been banished to the back of the wardrobe, and the Stetsons stashed in the attic. But there is no doubting that there is a new dynasty driving America - and this time its heartland is not Denver or Dallas, but New York.
For while Donald Trump will be moving into the White House in January, the suspicion is that he will frequently escape the establishment confines of Washington for Manhattan, where his immensely influential offspring will remain. And with this comes a whole new posse of power players to rival anything we saw among the Carringtons or the Ewings in the iconic 1980s' soaps.
While arguments rage about the official appointments he is making, make no mistake: Donald Trump's three children with his first wife, Czech-born Ivana, are playing an important part of his transition team.
All in their 30s, they are noted for their business acumen and ability to segue between the worlds of property development, fashion and media - while presenting the perfect Instagram image of a preppy American family. Indeed, not since the Kennedys has there been such an obsessively observed political clan. And to understand the Trump presidency, you need to understand how this dynasty works.
At the heart of it are, of course, Ivanka and her husband, Jared Kushner.
"I think her father really listens to her - and when I say listens to her, I mean I think her father respects her a great deal, and not just because she's his daughter," said Carl Icahn, billionaire businessman and friend of Donald Trump.
During the campaign it was Ivanka Trump who urged her father to behave in a more "presidential" manner on a number of occasions, and is seen by many as the "real" next first lady of the United States.
Kushner, meanwhile, is said to be the kingmaker inside the evolving team.
If Dallas and Denver are both controlled by big oil dynasties, in New York, it is the worlds of real estate, fashion, finance and media where the real power players can be found. Both Ivanka Trump and Jared Kushner were born into real estate empires and were introduced in 2007 by mutual friends who thought they could cut some deals together.
"They very innocently set us up, thinking that our only interest in one another would be transactional," Ivanka Trump told Vogue, for a glossy profile on the power pair.
They split up - reportedly when his Orthodox Jewish parents expressed reservations about Ivanka Trump's faith. But then a fairy godmother intervened in the form of Wendi Deng, then Rupert Murdoch's wife, who invited the dapper Kushner on to the family's yacht only for him to find Ivanka Trump had been invited as well. They were reunited and she converted to Judaism, and they married in 2009. They now have three picture-perfect young children. Johanna Murphy, former president of Ivanka's fashion label and now at fashion house Rag & Bone, says: "Between her and Jared, they know everybody."
Trump's two brothers, Donald Jr, 38, and Eric, 32, both married - one to former model Vanessa and the other to personal trainer Lara - complete the photogenic clan.
Donald Jr selected his spouse, who reportedly once had a fling with Leonardo DiCaprio at the height of his Titanic fame, after his dad had first picked her out on the catwalk - and approached her, twice.
"Donald comes back up to me again: 'I don't think you've met my son Donald Trump Jr'," she recalled, in a 2006 interview with the New York Times. Six weeks later, at a birthday party at a New York restaurant, they were introduced a third time, this time by a mutual friend. Suddenly, something clicked: Wait, you were at that fashion show. Wait, you're "the one with the retarded dad!" she blurted out.
Kushner is close to his 31-year-old brother Josh, a tech entrepreneur who counts Hollywood star Ashton Kutcher among his friends and has for the past four years dated supermodel Karlie Kloss, 24 - best friend of Taylor Swift.
Both Kushner brothers are said to have photographs of John F Kennedy displayed in their offices. New York columnists note that their father Charles's imprisonment for tax evasion in 2005 has driven the sons to seek redemption, just as JFK's father was forced to yield his ambitions to his sons after uttering controversial remarks during the World War II.
Their sister, Nicole, is married to Joseph Meyer - whom Jared Kushner installed as CEO of the New York Observer, a newspaper he bought in 2006.
The publication was to open up other powerful doors for the ambitious and charming Jared. He sought advice from Rupert Murdoch, and the two became firm friends. In fact, while his father was jailed for tax fraud, the budding businessman took over the family firm and made a habit of turning to other older men for advice.
Among them were Sir Martin Sorrell, advertising giant; Joel Cutler, a venture capitalist; and Joel Klein, the former New York City schools chancellor. He also sought counsel from Michael Ovitz, a talent agent who represented stars such as Tom Cruise, Steven Spielberg, Barbra Streisand and Michael Douglas, before becoming president of Walt Disney, and getting engaged to Tamara Mellon.
In August, an Esquire magazine profile reported that the influence of the industry veterans was reflected at Kushner's 35th birthday party earlier this year. "As one guest observed, the median age of the guests at the party, which was held at the top of the Gramercy Park Hotel in Manhattan, seemed to be somewhere near 70."
Trump Towers may be where all the cameras are at the moment, and the intrigue about what is going on behind the golden doors to the penthouse is building. Hour after hour, it seems someone is sucked in or spat out of the revolving doors as yet another politician takes a stab at the "knife fight" going on for White House roles.
But the real centre of New York power is a little further up the road, in Trump and Kushner's Park Avenue apartment. And, just like in the 1980s' soaps, the jockeying for position inside and outside the First Family will be the source of fascination - and horror - for all America.
Last Friday, large crowds of reporters and curious tourists thronged the lobby of the tower, craning their necks to spot those arriving and departing. The political analysts pored over the white smoke emerging from the tower - Ivanka was present at the meeting with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe on Thursday, sending the speculation into orbit. Because this is as much a family and high-society drama as a political one, and it is one that will be played out not on the pages of the Washington Post, but rather on the front covers of Vanity Fair and of Vogue.
Anna Wintour, editor of US Vogue, is a long-time friend of Ivanka, attending the Trump-Kushner wedding at the Trump golf course in Bedminster, New Jersey. She even offered a young Ivanka Trump - who had modelled for Versace, Thierry Mugler and Tommy Hilfiger - a job.
"She's been an amazing supporter, but it never occurred to me to take the job because of my focus," Ivanka Trump said.
There's the focus and also the tentacles: Trump's connections go every bit as far and wide as her father's. She is believed to be friends with Dasha Zukhova, the Russian model wife of Roman Abramovich, too. Zukhova (35) co-founded New York-based online auction site Artsy in 2012, which aims "to make all the world's art accessible to anyone with an internet connection" - think Net-a-Porter for culture. Backers include Google chairman Eric Schmidt, Twitter co-creator Jack Dorsey, gallerist Larry Gagosian - and Josh Kushner.
So what next for this dynasty which is the beating heart of Trump's operation? Kushner, who lunched last week with Tony Blair at Cipriani, is said to be consulting his lawyers about whether a White House role would break the Nepotism Act - nicknamed the "Bobby Kennedy Law" because it went into effect six years after John F Kennedy made his brother Robert the US Attorney General in 1961.
Donald Trump still sticks to his favourites - the 21 Club, a classic New York steakhouse and burger joint, sneered at by hipster food blogs as "a clubby restaurant where the food is generally terrible and everyone drinks a lot". But Ivanka Trump, ever on message, told Delta's in-flight magazine readers they should try "Jean-Georges at the Trump hotel".
Wherever this family go, it's likely to be promoted. What influence they will have in Washington remains to be seen. But the influence Washington is having on them is already apparent. The day after the Trump family's first post-election interview, a press release from Ivanka Trump's label breathlessly announced that she was wearing "her favourite bracelet from her collection" - which retails at $10,000.
The new dynasty has arrived. And it promises to be as every bit as entertaining as your favourite 1980s soap.