Michael Moore laid this line of thinking out in a recent New York Magazine interview. “They loved the brazenness of it. Even when they didn’t necessarily agree with it, they thought, That took balls. They may not personally think McCain’s a coward, but they think, Wow, that’s who I want. Somebody who’s just going to say shit like that,” Moore said. “Americans, they want somebody who stands up for the things that he or she believes in and says it without any apology.”
The extent to which Trump really is the Teflon Don is debatable. It is true that he has survived things that would have killed a lesser politician’s career a dozen times over; it is also true that his approval ratings are record-breakingly low, his administration is nearly devoid of major accomplishments, and he faces a perilous special-counsel investigation. For now, though, he remains standing.
The question is whether that applies to others. Trump’s aides and advisers seem to have come to believe that the force-field of gravity distortion that protects the president will apply to them too. Whether they are right is less clear.
Think of Michael Flynn’s mixing of private- and public-sector work, his decision not to make required disclosures, and his decision to lie to the vice president—and, perhaps, the FBI. Think of Paul Manafort allegedly advising a Russian billionaire even as he ran the Trump campaign. Think of Anthony Scaramucci’s R-rated circus-act of a 10-day tenure as White House communications director. Each of them behaved as though they too were immune to standard pressures. But Flynn was fired and is under multiple investigations. Manafort is too, and his home was raided before dawn by FBI agents; he has reportedly been told to expect to be indicted. Scaramucci was fired before he’d had a chance to get off the ground.
Kushner, so far, is still standing, but it’s easy to imagine that if he were not related to the president, he too might have been shoved out onto Pennsylvania Avenue. Like his boss and father-in-law, Kushner brings serious liabilities from his business career. He has multiple unexplained contacts with Russian officials, from the June 2016 Trump Tower meeting to a disputed meeting with the head of a Russian state-controlled bank, plus a report that he tried to set up a back channel with Russian officials. His clearance forms were highly incomplete, and he offered an implausible excuse. In fact, there were so many worrying moments that, according to The Wall Street Journal, some of the president’s lawyers wanted Kushner removed from the White House this summer. Trump refused.
A common knock on the Clintons was that they behaved as though the rules did not apply to them. Already, some members of Trump’s inner circle are acting the same way. Feeling immune to ordinary strictures can be alluring, but as Hillary Clinton learned, sometimes you only discover too late that it’s an illusion.
* This article originally stated Ivanka Trump used a private email server to communicate with Linda McMahon. We regret the error.