It’s been one week since Donald Trump pulled off the biggest upset in modern political history, and his headquarters at Trump Tower in New York City is a 58-story, onyx-glassed lightning rod. Barricades, TV trucks and protesters frame a fortified Fifth Avenue. Armies of journalists and selfie-seeking tourists stalk Trump Tower’s pink marble lobby, hoping to snap the next political power player who steps into view. Twenty-six floors up, in the same building where washed-up celebrities once battled for Trump’s blessing on The Apprentice, the president-elect is choosing his Cabinet, and this contest contains all the twists and turns of his old reality show.
Winners will emerge shortly. But today’s focus is on the biggest loser: New Jersey governor Chris Christie, who has just been fired from his role leading the transition, along with most of the people associated with him. The episode is being characterized as a “knife fight” that ends in a “Stalinesque purge.”
The most compelling figure in this intrigue, however, wasn’t in Trump Tower. Jared Kushner was three blocks south, high up in his own skyscraper, at 666 Fifth Avenue, where he oversees his family’s Kushner Companies real estate empire. Trump’s son-in-law, dressed in an impeccably tailored gray suit, sitting on a brown leather couch in his impeccably neat office, displays the impeccably polite manners that won the 35-year-old a dizzying number of influential friends even before he had gained the ear, and trust, of the new leader of the free world.
“Six months ago Governor Christie and I decided this election was much bigger than any differences we may have had in the past, and we worked very well together,” he says with a shrug. “The media has speculated on a lot of different things, and since I don’t talk to the press, they go as they go, but I was not behind pushing out him or his people.”
The speculation was well-founded, given the story’s Shakespearean twist: As a U.S. attorney in 2005, Christie jailed Kushner’s father on tax evasion, election fraud and witness tampering charges. Revenge theories aside, the buzz around Kushner was directional and indicative. A year ago he had zero experience in politics and about as much interest in it. Suddenly he sits at its global center. Whetsubher he plunged the dagger into Christie–Trump insiders insist the Bridgegate scandal did him in–is less important than the fact that he easily could have. And that power comes well-earned.