The second season of Axios premiered on HBO Sunday night, and it kicked off with an interview with senior adviser to the president of the United States Jared Kushner. It was, to borrow a phrase from a senior adviser to the president of the United States, “a clown show.” Axios reporter Jonathan Swan pushed back at some of Kushner’s more ridiculous statements, and in response, Kushner fell flat on his face so quickly he appeared to be suffering from some sort of localized anomaly in Earth’s gravitational field. It turns out that the president’s son-in-law has been reticent with the press for reasons that become painfully clear as the interview progresses: He doesn’t know anything, and he believes even less. Here are three of his most spectacular face-plants.
Kushner first ran into trouble when Swan pushed him on Donald Trump’s extremely late-in-life conversion to the anti-abortion movement. To naïve observers, it might seem like political operatives should work to achieve political goals they believe in, but as Kushner explained, there’s nothing unseemly about “enforcing” policies that hurt other people, even if you don’t support those policies yourself:
Kushner: I think [Trump] respects people who are willing to be honest with him. When I do disagree, you’ll never read about it in the press, and I wouldn’t say it publicly. But I will say there’s a lot more things I agree with him on than disagree.
Swan: So you agree with him on economics, on foreign policy. Where do you stand on abortion?
Kushner: Again, I was not the person who was elected.
Swan: So you agree with the president’s position?
Kushner: I’m here to enforce his positions. His position is the one that as a staffer in the White House, we’ll work to push.
So if you don’t like Jared Kushner’s current work “enforcing” his father-in-law’s anti-abortion positions, don’t hold it against Jared Kushner—he doesn’t really believe in any of it. Maybe he can work for a pro-choice administration next and undo some of the damage!
On Whether or Not Palestinians Can Govern Themselves
Kushner’s next gaffe comes from a tactic more interviewers should employ when dealing with the Trump administration: asking an open-ended question that allows the interviewee to ramble on until they reveal how far out of their depth they are. In this case, Swan asks if Palestinians are “capable of governing themselves.” Let’s see if Kushner spots the racism inherent in treating that like an open question, or if he tries to bullshit his way through by giving what he thinks sounds like a judicious answer:
Swan: Do you believe that the Palestinians are capable of governing themselves without Israeli interference?
Kushner: I think that’s a very good question. I think that that’s one that we’ll have to see. The hope is is that they, over time, can become capable of governing …
Swan: They being the Palestinians.
Kushner: The Palestinians. I think there are some things that the current Palestinian government has done well, and there are some things that are lacking. And I do think that in order for the area to be investable, for investors to come in and want to invest in different industries and infrastructure and create jobs, you do need to have a fair judicial system, freedom of press, freedom of expression, tolerance for all religions, and so …
Swan: Can they have freedom from any Israeli government or military interference?
Kushner: I think that it’s a high bar.
Well, that didn’t go well. Kushner is not willing to talk about the specifics of his long-promised plan for the Middle East, but if the goal is to make the area “investable” while we all wait around until Jared Kushner decides that the Palestinians can be treated like adults, that doesn’t sound like great news for the Palestinians. It’s also a pleasure to watch Kushner scurry off into vague poll-tested phrases whenever he’s asked about something concrete, like his half-remembered salute to the Four Freedoms above. There’s also this exchange, in which Kushner makes the claim that the Palestinians are too focused on bread-and-butter issues to worry about anything as abstract as sovereignty; he could have a bright future running messaging for the Democratic Party.
Swan: Do you believe the Palestinian people deserve their own independent sovereign state with a capital in East Jerusalem?
Kushner: There’s a difference between the technocrats, and there’s a difference between the people. The technocrats are focused on very technocratic things, and when I speak to Palestinian people, what they want is they want the opportunity to live a better life. They want the opportunity to pay their mortgage, to have …
Swan: You don’t think they want their own state, free from Israeli government and military?
Kushner: I think that they want an opportunity.
Damn those technocrats, always focusing on the wrong things!
On Whether or Not Donald Trump Has Ever Done Anything Racist
This is probably the most telling exchange in the interview, and it’s worth savoring how beautifully Swan crafts its one-two punch. First he lets Kushner ramble on and on about how much Donald Trump isn’t a racist. Then he asks him about specific racist actions Trump has taken recently, leaving Kushner to explain how Trump’s birtherism and promise of a ban on Muslim immigration were not, in fact, racist or bigoted. (He doesn’t even get into the Central Park Five.) You can see Kushner trying to pull off the traditional Republican move of pondering whether Trump is “a racist” while Swan keeps refocusing on Trump’s racist actions rather than the contents of his heart.
Swan: Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, she calls, she has called President Trump a racist. Have you ever seen him say or do anything that you would describe as racist or bigoted?
Kushner: So the answer is no. Absolutely not. You can’t not be a racist for 69 years and then run for president and be a racist. What I’ll say is that when a lot of the Democrats call the president a racist, I think they’re doing a disservice to people who suffer because of real racism in this country.
Swan: Was birtherism racist?
Kushner: Um, look, I wasn’t really involved in that.
Swan: I know you weren’t! Was it racist?
Kushner: Like I said, I wasn’t involved in that.
Swan: I know you weren’t! Was it racist?
Kushner: Um, look, I know who the president is, and I have not seen anything in him that is racist. So, again, I was not involved in that.
Swan: Did you wish he didn’t do that?
Kushner: Like I said, I was not involved in that. That was a long time ago.
Swan: The other issue that often gets brought up in this conversation is that he campaigned on banning Muslims. Would you describe that as religiously bigoted?
Kushner: Look, I think that the president did his campaign the way he did his campaign, and I think …
Swan: He did! But do you wish he didn’t? Do you wish he didn’t make that speech?
Kushner: Uh, I think he’s here today, and I think he’s doing a lot of great things for the country, and that’s what I’m proud of.
“I think that the president did his campaign the way he did his campaign” is an amazing statement from a man who claimed only seconds earlier to have never seen Donald Trump do anything racist. Kushner is perfectly fine with allying with white supremacists for tactical reasons and seems annoyed that anyone would ask him if Trump was being sincere about it. Kushner’s answer seems to be, essentially, that of course Donald Trump’s belief in white supremacy isn’t sincere, which is why it is OK to work for him. (Similarly, Kushner resents that people might assume he is personally anti-abortion simply because he is helping a president with the stated goal of overturning Roe v. Wade; he’s a pure mercenary.) But no one would care what Donald Trump believed if he were a brain in a jar; it’s what he does that people object to. And as ridiculous as Kushner’s Axios interview was, it’s what Jared Kushner has done that matters, not anything he said in this embarrassing television appearance. Still, it’s hard to say whether talking to Axios will help or hurt Kushner in the long run. On the one hand, he revealed himself and the administration that hired him to be even more dangerously unqualified than the nation had previously imagined. On the other hand, he’s going to be squirming and dissembling his way through awkward explanations of his time working for the Trump administration for the rest of his life. It can’t hurt to get a little practice in.