Voices: Jared and Ivanka are turning on Trump — and now you see the true face of the Republican Party

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Jared Kushner and Ivanka Trump at a campaign rally for Donald Trump on 22 September 2020 in Moon Township, Pennsylvania (Jeff Swensen/Getty Images)
Jared Kushner and Ivanka Trump at a campaign rally for Donald Trump on 22 September 2020 in Moon Township, Pennsylvania (Jeff Swensen/Getty Images)

One big bonus of nepotism is ensuring that you’re surrounded with unthinking, uncritical loyalists. So Donald Trump must be especially miffed that his own family has been nervously but definitively sliding the knife between his shoulder blades during the ongoing January 6 Congressional hearings.

Trump’s daughter, former Senior White House Advisor Ivanka Trump, said in taped testimony during the hearings on Thursday that she did not believe her father’s baseless claims that the 2020 election was stolen. “I respect Attorney General Barr,” she said. “So I accepted what he was saying [when he said that the claims of election fraud were false.]”

Donald Trump immediately hit back against his own daughter. He insisted that Ivanka had not been involved in studying election results, and dismissed her on the right-wing social media site Truth Social: “She had long since checked out and was, in my opinion, only trying to be respectful to Bill Barr.”

Then, today, Ivanka’s husband Jared Kushner, Trump’s son-in-law and former senior adviser to the president, weighed in. He too made it clear in recorded testimony that he thought the allegations of fraud were bunk.

When the committee asked Kushner whether he believed in the wide array of conspiracy theories about election fraud pushed by Trump lawyer Rudy Giuliani, Kushner said he had told Trump that that was “not the approach I would take if I were you.”

The intra-familial disagreement is striking. It’s a dramatic illustration of just how fractured the Republican Party is. But it also shows how powerful the partisan incentives are to ignore or paper over those fractures.

Publicly, Republican Party leaders have been trying to disparage and delegitimize the January 6 hearings. Republican House minority leader Kevin McCarthy tweeted last week that “Speaker Pelosi’s Select Committee on January 6 is the most political and least legitimate committee in American history.” Fox News wouldn’t even run the hearings live.

And yet, the hearings themselves have been notably, even enthusiastically, bipartisan. Republican Representative Liz Cheney has had perhaps the most speaking time, and has repeatedly and forcefully argued that Trump instigated and facilitated an illegal coup.

Former Attorney General Bill Barr, who was appointed by Trump himself, called Trump’s election fraud claims “bullshit.” Trump’s own campaign manager, Bill Stepien, and numerous other top Trump advisors testified that they told the president that there was no evidence of election fraud.

This is not the usual political disagreement in which Democrats say X and Republicans say Y. This is an internal Republican dispute, in which a small number of hacks and liars assert that Trump is the rightful president of the US, and most other Republicans — including Trump loyalists! including Trump’s own family! — acknowledge that Joe Biden won the election, and that Trump’s claims to the contrary are baseless.

Jared and Ivanka are breaking with Trump, but not over a familial dispute. They’re breaking with Trump because a broad range of Republicans are breaking with Trump. Numerous Republicans are horrified by his attack on democracy. Advisors like Jared and Ivanka and Bill Barr also, quite possibly, are worried about their own criminal liability.

The result is a historic intra-partisan divide, in which many Republicans still consider Trump the leader of the party and many others consider him an irresponsible fool, or worse a liar who actively planned a treasonous coup. You would think that a party with this kind of gaping wound would have trouble functioning effectively. Shouldn’t the split reverberate through primaries? Shouldn’t it affect policy votes? Shouldn’t there be active leadership contests?

Perhaps. But Jared and Ivanka’s testimony also shows just how strong partisanship can be, even in the face of fundamental disagreements.

Ivanka expressed support for and respect for Bill Barr. But she was very careful not to contradict her father directly. She says Barr is credible. She doesn’t say, “The president was wrong.”

Jared’s performance is even more telling. When asked if he had ever spoken to Donald Trump about Giuliani’s barrage of election fraud conspiracy theories, he responded (on audio) like a small mammal trying to escape from a trap. ““Um…uhhh…I guess…ehh…uh…yes,” he finally spit out, before finally admitting that he did not agree with Giuliani.

Kushner tries to wriggle away because he’s doesn’t want to say that his father-in-law is a dupe or a con-artist or a traitor or all three. But he’s also trying to wriggle away because he doesn’t want to say that the Republican president is all those things.

Many Republicans do not want to be associated with a fascist attempt to overthrow democracy. But at the same time, they don’t want to say that a Republican president did the wrong thing, or that he convinced numerous Republican partisans to rally around lies and treason.

Ivanka and Jared hesitatingly, apologetically denounced their family member and their party’s leader. That shows how thoroughly the GOP is in disarray. But it also shows how partisanship may keep Republicans from ever really, effectively repudiating its own embrace of authoritarianism and treason.

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