Donald Trump once again finds himself in hot water – this time even incurring the disapproval of his fellow Republicans – for sitting down to dinner at his Mar-a-Lago residence in Palm Beach, Florida, with the increasingly wayward Kanye West and the rapper’s “campaign adviser” Nick Fuentes.
Mr West, an acclaimed rapper now going by the name Ye who recently torpedoed his music career by launching into a string of bizarre antisemitic rants on social media, causing his commercial sponsors to desert him in droves, has previously sought out Mr Trump at Trump Tower in New York City and at the White House during his presidency on a whim.
Now plotting a hopelessly unlikely presidential run in 2024 – theoretically pitching him against Mr Trump – West again sought out the one-term president and former luxury real estate magnate, this time for advice on that project.
They sat down to dinner at Mar-a-Lago on Tuesday 22 November with another man in attendance, the notorious white nationalist and Holocaust-denier Mr Fuentes, whom Mr Trump has subsequently claimed not to have previously known or recognised.
Mr Fuentes is best known for his livestreams on which he rants about topics including supposed Jewish control of the global system, for picketing the annual Conservative Political Action Conference for being insufficiently extreme and for launching his own rival summit, where he has hosted Maga Republicans including Marjorie Taylor Greene and Paul Gosar.
He was also recently profiled by British documentarian Louis Theroux for his Forbidden America series.
What happened at the Mar-a-Lago dinner?
In its original report on the dinner last week, Axios offered more detail in the shape of quotes from an unnamed Trump insider who reported that Mr Fuentes had praised Mr Trump as an “amazing” president and assured him he would see off any future challenge from Florida governor Ron DeSantis but had told him that he appeared more “authentic” as a public speaker when he spoke off the cuff and did not use a teleprompter.
“There was a lot of fawning back and forth,” the source alleged, also suggesting that Mr Trump had taken a phone call during the meal and was noticeably less warm towards West after hanging up, criticised his ex-wife Kim Kardashian and was “perturbed” by the rapper’s suggestion that he could be his running mate, later “screaming” at his guest that he could never win an election and that there was little point trying.
For all that, Mr Trump is also alleged to have turned to West at one point and said of Mr Fuentes: “I really like this guy. He gets me.”
That line was later supported by a video West posted on his newly restored Twitter account on Thursday entitled “Mar-a-Lago debrief” in which he claimed Mr Trump had been “really impressed” with Mr Fuentes because “unlike so many of the lawyers and so many people that he was left with on his 2020 campaign, he’s actually a loyalist”.
Mr Fuentes, meanwhile, took to his Telegram account to tell his followers Mr Trump’s movement is not radical or extreme enough to serve as a vehicle for his agenda.
“We need Trump and a NEW candidate who will outflank him on his right,” he wrote, dismissing Ron DeSantis as a “moderate” and saying he’d rather support a candidate “who isn’t on the ‘Republican Jewish Coalition’ speaker list.”
As he put it: “Conservative media speculates that Ye and I are being used to hurt Trump...it is the other way around.”
What Trump has said
After news of the dinner broke, the former president said in a statement: “Kanye West very much wanted to visit Mar-a-Lago. Our dinner meeting was intended to be Kanye and me only, but he arrived with a guest whom I had never met and knew nothing about.”
In a later post on Truth Social, Mr Trump gave a further account of the evening, writing: “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.’
“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!”
Mr Trump has since spoken to Fox News Digital to dismiss the meeting as “uneventful” and deny he was aware of Mr Fuentes’s views, insisting that no-one could accuse him of sharing them given his policies towards Israel.
"There’s nobody that has proven to be more of a friend of Israel than Donald Trump,” he told the outlet. "Nobody has to prove or be defensive of me and Israel," Trump told Fox News Digital. "They have acknowledged that I’m the best friend and president to Israel. I gave them the embassy in Jerusalem."
The sitdown has since drawn unsurprising condemnation from Democrats as well as Joe Biden and the White House, which said in a statement from deputy press secretary Andrew Bates that “Bigotry, hate, and antisemitism have absolutely no place in America – including at Mar-a-Lago.”
Also speaking out in anger were top Republicans, including Senators such as Marco Rubio, who called Mr Fuentes an “a** clown” and a “disgusting person”, and Mitt Romney, who went further than any of his colleagues.
“I don’t think he should be president of the United States,” said the Utah Senator and longtime Trump critic. “I don’t think he should be the nominee of our party in 2024. And I certainly don’t want him hanging over our party like a gargoyle.”
“There is no bottom to the degree to which he’s willing to degrade himself, and the country for that matter. Having dinner with those people was disgusting.”
Mr Trump’s ex-Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and former New Jersey governor Chris Christie both chimed in, the latter saying the episode betrayed an “awful lack of judgement”. Mike Pence, who is mulling a 2024 campaign himself, told NewsNation that “President Trump was wrong to give a white nationalist, an antisemite, and a Holocaust denier a seat at the table.” He also laid down a gauntlet for his former boss: “I think he should apologise for it, and I think he should denounce those individuals and their hateful rhetoric without qualification.”
Mitch McConnell likewise made sure his condemnation included not just the former president’s guests but Mr Trump himself: “There is no room in the Republican Party for antisemitism or white supremacy. And anyone meeting with people advocating that point of view, in my judgment, are highly unlikely to ever be elected president of the United States,” he said. (Mr Trump responded by calling him a “loser”.)
Mr McConnell’s House counterpart Kevin McCarthy, however, appeared to defend Mr Trump even as he insisted that “I don’t think anybody should be spending any time with Nick Fuentes.” Speaking to reporters, he claimed that Mr Trump ”came out four times” to condemn Mr Fuentes – which is not true.
More concerning for Mr Trump, however, is the criticism coming from within Magaworld itself.
What Magaworld has said
Ex-White House chief strategist and alt-right jester Steve Bannon suggested the dinner amounted to a “trolling operation” on the part of West and Mr Fuentes, calculated to leave Mr Trump looking “irrelevant” and “not focused” on his own presidential campaign.
Speaking to Real America’s Voice, Mr Bannon added: “The staff should know that, the staff should be on top of that, the staff should be doing interventions into this if that’s the case.”
This tallies with a description given by erstwhile West campaign staffer Milo Yiannpoulos, a once-in-demand racist troll who infamously torched his own reputation by suggesting sex between men and and boys as young as 13. Speaking to NBC News, he claimed credit for inveigling Mr Fuentes into the dinner with hopes of “mak[ing] Trump’s life miserable”.
“I also wanted to send a message to Trump that he has systematically repeatedly neglected, ignored, abused the people who love him the most, the people who put him in office, and that kind of behavior comes back to bite you in the end,” he said. Given he has based his career as a provocateur on exaggeration and hyperbole, it is unclear how much of his account is credible.
If this was Mr Yiannopoulos’s tactic, it appears to have worked. An unnamed adviser told NBC the dinner represented “a f***ing nightmare” in public relations terms.
“If people are looking at DeSantis to run against Trump, here’s another reason why,” the staffer added with evident dismay.
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