Once again, for maybe the millionth time, Donald Trump has offered Republican Party leaders a way out. Breaking bread with the nation’s most prominent antisemite of the moment as well as with a Holocaust-denying white nationalist, as Trump did, will do that.
Look, it might as well have been a gold-plated invitation for anyone who wants to walk away from him to finally take that first step.
It’s almost as if Trump is daring them to do it. It’s almost as if he’s a bully who enjoys nothing more than humiliating his allies. It’s almost as if hanging out with antisemites and white nationalists is the latest version of the Trump dictum that he could shoot someone on 5th Avenue and not lose a vote.
And so, he has once again done something so ugly and crude and so openly bigoted that Republican leaders, if they had the nerve, could dump Trump in a Mar-a-Lago minute.
But do they have the nerve? I’d say Republicans were more upset by Trump’s leading role in the GOP’s semi-disastrous midterm election results.
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It took days before a number of prominent Republican politicians finally condemned Trump’s dinner with Ye (the artist formerly known as Kanye West) and Ye’s white nationalist pal, Nick Fuentes, But were they ready to condemn Trump?
They could be saying that they had a group epiphany that Trump was somehow not the person they thought he was, that finally he has crossed an inviolable line, that, after all, Trump has served his purpose — three far-right Supreme Court justices to overthrow Roe v. Wade — and is no longer necessary.
Instead, we hear a lot about the dinner being ill-advised, or Trump’s advisers letting him down or Trump saying he didn’t know who Fuentes was and that, apparently, no one on Trump’s team bothered to use the Google to find out. I don’t know if Trump was telling the truth when he said he didn’t know who Fuentes was — Fuentes has been associated, and not in a good way, with Paul Gosar and Marjorie Taylor Greene — but I do know that Trump knows now and, as of this writing, we’re still waiting for him to condemn Fuentes.
And yet, we heard Kevin McCarthy, desperate to become the new Speaker of the House, condemn Fuentes, but only while saying, falsely of course, that Trump had condemned Fuentes four times. He only missed on Trump condemnations by four.
What only a few Republican leaders seem to be saying is that the dinner — on top of Trump’s countless other provocations — makes it ever more clear that Trump is unfit to lead the nation or, come to think of it, anything else. Most of the prominent critics, it turns out, want to be president themselves in 2024 and have no choice but to hit Trump, who is already in the race. Either that or they’re basically never-Trumpers like Liz Cheney or Mitt Romney have become.
Still, there is more criticism than you might have expected. Mitch McConnell wondered aloud whether Trump could even be elected president after dining with antisemites and white supremacists.
The truth is that Trump is exactly who Republican leaders thought he was. He makes no secret of it. They’ve all read or heard of Trump’s history of antisemitic tropes. No one missed his very-fine-people-on-both-sides commentary after Charlottesville.
And as of Tuesday, they couldn’t miss that two leaders of the Oath Keepers were convicted of seditious conspiracy and other charges for their roles in planning the Jan. 6 insurrection. You may remember when Trump was calling the insurrectionists very special people and saying he loved them. Maybe he can visit them in a federal lockup. A trial of a group of the Proud Boys — whom Trump once advised to “stand back and stand by” — comes next. I guess it wasn’t Antifa attacking the Capitol after all.
And let’s not forget that by moving away from Trump now, leading Republicans would necessarily reveal themselves as the hypocrites and enablers and gutless wonders that they are. And, maybe most important of all, they’d risk offending Trump’s base, without which there is barely a Republican Party left.
The big news is that Mike Pence, after spending four years as the nation’s leading head-nodding Trump sycophant, has criticized Trump. Pence, of course, wants to run for president and, to do so, he has to move as far from Trump as he can afford to after spending four long years as Trump’s most reliable apologist.
“President Trump was wrong to give a white nationalist, an antisemite and a Holocaust denier a seat at the table,” Pence said Monday. “I think he should apologize for it, and he should denounce those individuals and their hateful rhetoric without qualification.”
Pence’s words were headline news. And if he had stopped there, he could have begun to make a clean break. He could have said his criticism was in line with his, uh, moderate criticism of Trump’s cheering on the Jan. 6 insurrectionists — remember those guys? — who were, in their own words, looking to hang Pence for refusing to go along with Trump’s scheme to undermine American democracy.
But Pence didn’t stop.
“I don’t believe Donald Trump is an antisemite. I don’t believe he’s a racist or a bigot,” he said. “I think the president demonstrated profoundly poor judgment in giving those individuals a seat at the table.”
OK, some leading Republican Jewish supporters of Trump are quite upset, particularly given the rise of antisemitism in America and Elon Musk’s willingness to bring the previously banned haters back to Twitter.
Chris Christie, the former New Jersey governor who seems to be ready to run for president, went pretty much all in, but he often criticizes Trump.
“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,” Christie said.
Another possible 2024 candidate, Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson, said, “No, 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.”
And here’s the kicker from Hutchinson: “Well, I hope someday we won’t have to be responding to what former President Trump has said or done. In this instance it’s important to respond.”
We’re waiting to hear from Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, who is seen at this point as Trump’s most dangerous rival for the 2024 GOP nomination. But to beat Trump, DeSantis would have to draw from the same GOP base that Trump basically invented and constantly empowers, which leaves DeSantis in a political bind.
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Would you be in a bind, though, if you believed the juiciest piece of news from the dinner that at least one source has been telling the media? This from Axios: At one point, Fuentes was telling Trump he shouldn’t listen to advisers who want him to read his speeches as written and that he was more “authentic” when he ad-libbed.
To which Trump reportedly replied, telling Ye, “I really like this guy. He gets me.”
Here’s the thing: Whether or not Trump knew who Fuentes, your basic fascist, was at the time of the dinner, Fuentes apparently knew exactly who and what Trump is. He gets him.
Trump won’t apologize. And I can’t say I care. It’s those Republican leaders who actually get Trump, too, who should be the ones apologizing.
Mike Littwin has been a columnist for too many years to count. He has covered Dr. J, four presidential inaugurations, six national conventions and countless brain-numbing speeches in the New Hampshire and Iowa snow.
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