Donald Trump’s son-in-law Jared Kushner is shaping up to be a key figure in his presidency, after playing a decisive role in the campaign victory that shocked the political establishment and its media. After staying quiet during the campaign, Kushner granted his first interview to Steven Bertoni of Forbes.
While it is to be expected that the resulting article would highlight the importance of the interview subject, it is apparent that:
1. This was no puff piece (‘the campaign’s overarching sentiment was fear and anger”).
2. Jared Kushner really does deserve tremendous credit for the victory. He outsmarted the Democrats in the very realm – data mining and social media – that handed victories to Obama in 2008 and 2012.
Don’t take my word for it.
“It’s hard to overstate and hard to summarize Jared’s role in the campaign,” says billionaire Peter Thiel, the only significant Silicon Valley figure to publicly back Trump. “If Trump was the CEO, Jared was effectively the chief operating officer.”
“Jared Kushner is the biggest surprise of the 2016 election,” adds Eric Schmidt, the former CEO of Google, who helped design the Clinton campaign’s technology system. “Best I can tell, he actually ran the campaign and did it with essentially no resources.”
Richard Baehr sums it up: “The data operation was completely below the radar. Somehow Chuck Todd, and MSNBC, CNN, CBS, ABC, and even Fox, completely missed what was going on. Eric Schmidt seems very impressed. After all, he helped set up the losing operation.”
Kushner is credited by Bertoni with revolutionizing campaigning:
… by running the Trump campaign–notably, its secret data operation–like a Silicon Valley startup, Kushner eventually tipped the states that swung the election. And he did so in manner that will change the way future elections will be won and lost. (snip)
The traditional campaign is dead, another victim of the unfiltered democracy of the Web–and Kushner, more than anyone not named Donald Trump, killed it.
The “start-up” mode of operation was more the product of necessity than strategy, but it does reflect the willingness of Donald Trump to completely disregard the existing models used by conventional politicians.
Kushner was the natural pick to create a modern campaign. Yes, like Trump he’s primarily a real estate guy, but he had invested more broadly, including in media (in 2006 he bought the New York Observer) and digital commerce (he helped launch Cadre, an online marketplace for big real estate deals). More important, he knew the right crowd: co-investors in Cadre include Thiel and Alibaba’s Jack Ma–and Kushner’s younger brother, Josh, a formidable venture capitalist who also cofounded the $2.7 billion insurance unicorn Oscar Health.
“I called some of my friends from Silicon Valley, some of the best digital marketers in the world, and asked how you scale this stuff,” Kushner says. “They gave me their subcontractors.”
Kushner took over the data operation one step at a time:
At first Kushner dabbled, engaging in what amounted to a beta test using Trump merchandise. “I called somebody who works for one of the technology companies that I work with, and I had them give me a tutorial on how to use Facebook micro-targeting,” Kushner says. Synched with Trump’s blunt, simple messaging, it worked. The Trump campaign went from selling $8,000 worth of hats and other items a day to $80,000, generating revenue, expanding the number of human billboards–and proving a concept. In another test, Kushner spent $160,000 to promote a series of low-tech policy videos of Trump talking straight into the camera that collectively generated more than 74 million views.
What resulted is a campaign guided by technology that was more responsive than Hillary’s much bigger and better funded campaign:
Kushner built a custom geo-location tool that plotted the location density of about 20 voter types over a live Google Maps interface.
Soon the data operation dictated every campaign decision: travel, fundraising, advertising, rally locations–even the topics of the speeches. “He put all the different pieces together,” Parscale says. “And what’s funny is the outside world was so obsessed about this little piece or that, they didn’t pick up that it was all being orchestrated so well.”
For fundraising they turned to machine learning, installing digital marketing companies on a trading floor to make them compete for business. Ineffective ads were killed in minutes, while successful ones scaled. The campaign was sending more than 100,000 uniquely tweaked ads to targeted voters each day. In the end, the richest person ever elected president, whose fundraising effort was rightly ridiculed at the beginning of the year, raised more than $250 million in four months–mostly from small donors.
Google’s Schmidt was very impressed.
“Jared understood the online world in a way the traditional media folks didn’t. He managed to assemble a presidential campaign on a shoestring using new technology and won. That’s a big deal,” says Schmidt, the Google billionaire. “Remember all those articles about how they had no money, no people, organizational structure? Well, they won, and Jared ran it.”
Now that Kushner is taking a role as presidential adviser, I think we can expect him to use the same approach to reform of the federal government. Disregard existing practice; search for a better, cheaper, more efficient method based on technology; use trial and error to identify what works, and then find the best people to implement the plan of action.
This is a long and rich article. I urge you to read whole thing – all three pages.