Former U.S. President Donald Trump made headlines over the Thanksgiving holiday weekend after it was revealed he hosted two men known for making virulently antisemitic statements for dinner at Mar-a-Lago, his Florida resort.
In the meeting, Trump reportedly sat down with the rapper and fashion designer Ye, formerly known as Kanye West, as well as Nick Fuentes, a far-right activist who has promoted people with white nationalist views and has denied the reality of the Holocaust.
Trump later claimed he was not aware that Ye was planning to bring Fuentes to the meeting, but he can hardly have been unaware of the recent antisemitic comments by the rapper that caused major companies, including sporting goods giant Adidas, to sever ties with him.
The meeting took place scarcely a week after Trump officially declared himself a candidate for president in 2024 and harked back to his 2016 campaign when his willingness to associate with fringe figures on the far right made the Republican establishment hesitant to embrace him.
Republicans are still stinging from the results of the midterm elections in which they failed to capture the Senate and only eked out a slim majority in their takeover of the House of Representatives. Many blamed the poor showing largely on Trump, whose hand-picked candidates — usually chosen for their willingness to repeat his false claims about the 2020 election being stolen from him — performed poorly.
On Monday, the deadline for counties in the state of Arizona to certify the results of the November 8 election, Trump was still posting false claims of widespread fraud and election irregularities, which he has blamed for his favored candidates’ losses in that state.
Some county-level officials who supported Trump’s claims on Monday refused to certify the election results, though they are expected to be compelled to do so by court challenges, given the lack of evidence of malfeasance.
Now, with Trump seeking the party’s backing for another run at the White House, experts wonder whether his continued association with extremist figures, combined with another unsuccessful election, will finally be too much for the broader GOP.
While the most prominent members of the party have avoided discussing Trump’s association with Ye and Fuentes, others are speaking out.
“President Trump hosting racist antisemites for dinner encourages other racist antisemites,” Louisiana Senator Bill Cassidy wrote on Twitter Monday. “These attitudes are immoral and should not be entertained. This is not the Republican Party.”
In an appearance on CNN Sunday, Arkansas Governor Asa Hutchinson, a Republican, said, “I don’t think it’s a good idea for a leader that’s setting an example for the country or the party to meet with (an) avowed racist or antisemite. And so, it’s very troubling and it shouldn’t happen, and we need to avoid … empowering the extremes.”
Not all Republicans came down hard on Trump. Politico reported that South Dakota Senator Mike Rounds said he wouldn’t “condemn anybody” even though Fuentes is “not somebody that I would have a meeting with.”
Missouri Senator Josh Hawley told Politico, “It’s a free country, [Trump] can do whatever he wants.”
Another political ‘fumble’
“Trump has long played footsie with people who espouse horrifying, bigoted beliefs,” Kyle Kondik, the managing editor of Sabato’s Crystal Ball at the University of Virginia’s Center for Politics, told VOA. “This dinner is only the latest incidence of what is a very familiar trend. Trump is now a candidate seeking a third straight Republican presidential nomination. We’ll just have to see if enough Republicans are tired of him and prefer to go with a different option.”
“The private dinner with [Ye] West could have generated attention in the mainstream press and lots of likes from the trollish quarters of the nationalist right, even if it would have further alienated some Jewish supporters,” Chris Stirewalt, a senior fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, told VOA.
Stirewalt, the former political editor of Fox News Channel, added, “But even if it was just because of indifferent or sloppy staff work, hosting Fuentes at exactly the moment that mainstream Republicans are reconsidering their relationship with Trump following the bad turn he gave the GOP in midterms was yet another in a series of fumbles by the former president.”
On Sunday, Trump was still dealing with the fallout from the meeting and used a post on his social networking site, Truth Social, to point the finger at Ye for bringing Fuentes to his home unannounced.
Accounts of what went on in the meeting included Ye asking Trump to consider running with him, in the role of vice-presidential candidate in 2024.
“So, I help a seriously troubled man, who just happens to be black, Ye (Kanye West), who has been decimated in his business and virtually everything else, and who has always been good to me, by allowing his request for a meeting at Mar-a-Lago, alone, so that I can give him very much needed ‘advice,'” Trump wrote.
“He shows up with 3 people, two of which I didn’t know, the other a political person who I haven’t seen in years. I told him don’t run for office, a total waste of time, can’t win. Fake News went CRAZY!”
Taking Trump at his word that he didn’t expect Ye to bring Fuentes, analysts still see the fact that a known Holocaust denier made it in to see the former president as indicative of the kind of organization Trump tends to run, whether in office or out of it.
“It reflects the fact that at Mar-a-Lago, as in the Oval Office, there’s virtually no screening process to determine who gets in to see the ‘great man,'” William A. Galston, a senior fellow in the Brookings Institution’s Governance Studies program, told VOA. “And that is by design, because Donald Trump mistrusts people who try to manage him or screen the people he meets with or talks with.”
Galston said Trump might be willing to continue associating with Ye out of a belief that the relationship will eventually benefit him.
“He has a long history of not deserting people that he thinks may be helpful to him down the road,” Galston said.
In the case of Ye, he said, that might be in Trump’s search for a larger share of the African American vote.
“Trump has this persistent fantasy that he’s enormously popular among Black men,” Galston said. “And that the Black men he anoints are influencers and thought leaders within that group.”