It was a week ago today when Donald Trump had dinner with Kanye West, an antisemitic entertainer, and Nick Fuentes, a notorious Holocaust denier and white supremacist. It was six days ago when the public first learned of the gathering at the former president’s Mar-a-Lago club. It was five days ago when Trump acknowledged the dinner publicly.
And it was yesterday when some prominent Republicans finally got around to criticizing the former president’s willingness to break bread with two of the country’s highest profile bigots. NBC News reported:
In interviews when the Senate returned from Thanksgiving recess Monday, the reactions from Senate Republicans ranged from aghast disbelief to calls to shake up Trump’s team of advisers to a sense of vindication among his staunchest critics within the party. There was little desire to ignore or brush off the incident, as most GOP lawmakers typically do when Trump stokes controversy, and scant indication that any of them wanted to defend a former president of their party.
As is always the case, the details matter, and some of the Republicans who were critical yesterday added caveats intended to downplay Trump’s responsibility for the controversy.
Sen. Thom Tillis of North Carolina, for example, said, “If the reports are true and the president didn’t know who [Fuentes] was, whoever let him in the room should be fired.” Senate Minority Whip John Thune said that the dinner was a “bad idea on every level,” but added, “I don’t know who is advising him on his staff, but I hope whoever that person was got fired.”
By this reasoning, it’s unnamed aides, and not Trump, who should be blamed for this fiasco. The obvious problem, aside from needlessly stripping the former president of any sense of agency, is that such a clumsy defense is factually wrong: Trump, by his own admission, invited one antisemite to have dinner, and he brought along another antisemite to join the conversation.
Those looking for the incompetent member of Team Trump who made this incident possible should be looking at the former president himself.
But it was former Vice President Mike Pence’s reaction that stood out as especially notable. From the NBC News report:
“President Trump was wrong to give a white nationalist, an antisemite, and a Holocaust denier a seat at the table. And I think he should apologize for it, and he should denounce those individuals and their hateful rhetoric without qualification,” Pence said Monday in an appearance on NewsNation.
If Pence said nothing more, that would’ve been an entirely appropriate and responsible reaction to the controversy. It also would’ve represented one of the more important instances in which the former vice president publicly criticized his former boss.
Alas, the Hoosier kept going.
“That being said, as I point out in the book as well, I don’t believe Donald Trump is an antisemite,” Pence added. “I don’t believe he is a racist or a bigot. I would not have been his vice president if he was. And people often forget the president’s daughter converted to Judaism. His son-in-law is a devout Jew. His grandchildren are Jewish.”
Republican Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida said something similar, denouncing Fuentes as “disgusting,” but adding that he “knows” that the former president “is not an antisemite.”
Here’s the follow-up question for Pence and Rubio: Just how sure are you that Trump isn’t an antisemite?
Circling back to our earlier coverage, it was just last month when the former president used his social media platform to argue that Jews need to “get their act together” and “appreciate” Israel “before it is too late.” A year earlier, the Republican whined, “Jewish people who live in the United States don’t love Israel enough.” His proof, of course, was that Jews didn’t vote for him in large enough numbers.
The rhetoric was part of a larger pattern. It was in 2019 when the then-president spoke at the Israeli American Council’s national summit, where he suggested Jewish people are primarily focused on wealth, which is why he expected them to support his re-election campaign. Four months earlier, Trump used some highly provocative rhetoric about Jews and what he expected about their “loyalties.”
Several months into his 2016 campaign, Trump spoke to the Republican Jewish Coalition and said, “You’re not gonna support me because I don’t want your money. You want to control your politicians.” He added, “I’m a negotiator — like you folks.”
Several months later, the Republican promoted antisemitic imagery through social media. In the closing days of the 2016 campaign, Trump again faced accusations of antisemitism, claiming Hillary Clinton met “in secret with international banks to plot the destruction of U.S. sovereignty in order to enrich these global financial powers.”
Last year, he added to the list, using offensive rhetoric about Jews with a documentary filmmaker.
Is anyone seriously prepared to argue that the West/Fuentes dinner was some kind of aberration that’s wholly out of character for the former president?