Last week Donald Trump had dinner at Mar-a-Largo with Kanye West—I’ll start calling him by his new name, Ye, once I’m convinced that it’s not just another gimmick, or in other words, “never”—as well as Nick Fuentes, a 24-year-old leader of an annual white-supremacist event called the America First Political Action Conference, and Karen Giorno, a veteran political operative who worked on Trump’s 2016 Presidential campaign. Never in my memory has the identity of dinner companions ever been used by the media as a supposed smoking gun against the dinner’s host. West, you may recall, had a much publicized meeting with Trump when he was President; he has recently been “cancelled” for making what seemed like anti-Semitic comments. (Kanye, it is fair to say, is mentally unstable and a publicity addict, and is likely to say anything at any time.) Fuentes dining with Trump, however, has been the focus of most of the criticism from the media, political figures, and others. The Times’ house anti-Trump specialist, Maggie Haberman wrote,
Even taking at face value Mr. Trump’s protestation that he knew nothing of Mr. Fuentes, the apparent ease with which Mr. Fuentes arrived at the home of a former president who is under multiple investigations — including one related to keeping classified documents at Mar-a-Lago long after he left office — underscores the undisciplined, uncontrolled nature of Mr. Trump’s post-presidency just 10 days into his third campaign for the White House.
She (and her co-reporter Alan Feuer) also quoted several figures who condemned Trump’s guest list:
- “To my friend Donald Trump, you are better than this,” David M. Friedman, who was Mr. Trump’s longtime bankruptcy lawyer and then his appointee as ambassador to Israel, wrote on Twitter. “Even a social visit from an antisemite like Kanye West and human scum like Nick Fuentes is unacceptable. I urge you to throw those bums out, disavow them and relegate them to the dustbin of history where they belong.”
- “This is just another example of an awful lack of judgment from Donald Trump, which, combined with his past poor judgments, make him an untenable general election candidate for the Republican Party in 2024,” said Chris Christie, a former governor of New Jersey who is considering a candidacy of his own.
- “Matt Brooks, chief executive of the Republican Jewish Coalition, said, ‘We strongly condemn the virulent antisemitism of Kanye West and Nick Fuentes, and call on all political leaders to reject their messages of hate and refuse to meet with them.’”
- Jonathan Greenblatt, the C.E.O. of the Anti-Defamation League, condemned Mr. Trump’s meeting with Mr. Fuentes, [saying], “Nick Fuentes is among the most prominent and unapologetic antisemites in the country…He’s a vicious bigot and known Holocaust denier who has been condemned by leading figures from both political parties here, including the R.J.C….[that Trump ]“or any serious contender for higher office would meet with him and validate him by sharing a meal and spending time is appalling. And really, you can’t say that you oppose hate and break bread with haters. It’s that simple.”
- No, it’s not “that simple,” and Trump having dinner with someone does not “validate” him, or even signify approval.
- The media and the others are playing cognitive dissonance scale games, using guilt by association—extremely attenuated association—to attack Trump.
- Trump hosting West and Fuentes, nonetheless, is epically stupid and irresponsible. Trump knows that his opponents have adopted the perpetual smear that he is a racist and white supremacist and have used it with great success against him for seven years. There is a point where defying critics and refusing to alter one’s conduct in response to unfair, baseless or exaggerated accusations crosses the line between integrity and foolishness. Trump charged over that line long ago, and this represents shifting into a whole new gear.
- I had never heard of Nick Fuentes, or if I have, he made no impression on me whatsoever. He is one of those uncredentialed, unqualified, narcissistic blowhards who has used social media and a willingness to say outrageous things to achieve undeserved influence while profiting from the experience. He has the legitimacy of a typical “social influencer”: none.
- Here is a compendium of some of what Fuentes has said and written. Yikes. What an asshole. It is also fair to describe him as a white supremacist, a totalitarian, a racist, anti-Semitic and a Holocaust denier. He’s an admirer of Hitler too. To my ear, Fuentes sounds like a rebellious 15-year-old who is trying as hard as he can to be outrageous and to infuriated people. Donald Trump is still like that.
- Trump has claimed, in response to the uproar over the dinner, that he did not “know” Fuentes. That could be true; it could be deceit (he didn’t know him personally but knew who he was and what he has said; or it could be an outright lie. This is Donald Trump, after all.
- What Trump should have said, if he were smarter and more articulate, was, “Sure, I had dinner with Kanye and Nick Fuentes. I’ll have dinner with anyone I choose to. I learn a lot when I have dinner with people. It doesn’t mean I agree with them, or endosre them, or even like them. Everyone’s calling for diversity: I believe that the more diverse the opinions and ideas of the people you talk to, the more you understand what’s going on in the nation and the world.”
- Trump says that Kanye West was invited to dinner and brought both Fuentes and Giorno as his unannounced guests. Knowing West, this seems plausible. If that was what happened, what was Trump supposed to do, refuse to let the other two in, or be gracious even when a guest has been presumptuous?
- Ann Althouse, commenting on the dinner, set off a lively debate on her blog by stating, in response to a commenter who wrote, “You should be able to have dinner with anybody,” :
If you want to be President, you have to meet a higher standard than what people in general are allowed to do. I’m going to assume Trump did this quite intentionally and wants to use Fuentes — with deniability — to signal to right-wing extremists that they should invest their hopes in him.
For someone obsessed with precise language, this was uncharacteristically sloppy. By “higher standard” she meant that Presidential candidates have to be more careful and not hand foes a metaphorical stick to beat them with. I agree. That’s a strategic standard, not an ethical one however. I’d have dinner with most of the worst villains and monsters in history if I could, though I think I would avoid the serial killers, lunatics and cannibals. Jonathan Greenblatt’s statement that you can’t “oppose hate and break bread with haters” is just untrue: it’s simple as that.
- A key question is whether Trump was responsible for publicizing the dinner, or whether it was leaked by his staff, West, or Fuentes. Ann’s assumption that this was a signal to Trump’s fans on the Dark Side and that he wanted everyone to know about his guests. And then tried to deny that he knew who Fuentes was? Well, again, anything is possible with Trump, but I think it is at least equally likely that the saboteurs Trump is always surrounded by set out to embarrass him.
- Chris Christie is estopped forever from accusing anyone of “awful lack of judgment.” He’s incredible.
- Ann’s commenters appropriately pointed out the obvious bias and double standards being applied here. Obama did a lot more than have a single dinner with Rev. Wright. His close advisors sucked up to Al Sharpton. Being advised by racists and unethical people is far, far more damning than simply dining with them.