TRUMP GETS PLAYED. What is sure to be one of the weirder moments of the 2024 presidential campaign has just taken place before the campaign is even fully underway.
Here is the short version: Just before Thanksgiving, former President Donald Trump had dinner at Mar-a-Lago with Kanye West, Nick Fuentes, and Milo Yiannopoulos. West is the famous rapper, businessman, and reported bipolar disorder patient who says he will run for president in 2024, a campaign he began last month by announcing on Twitter that he was “going death con 3 on JEWISH PEOPLE,” a threat that brought him widespread condemnation and the loss of lucrative contracts. Fuentes, who many readers might not have heard of, is a 24-year-old white nationalist self-promoter who has sought publicity and online donations with a long series of racist and antisemitic statements and is now, apparently, working for West’s so-called campaign. Yiannopoulos is a 38-year-old British provocateur who has spent a good part of his life doing the same sort of thing that Fuentes does and is now apparently also working for YE24, which is how West, who wants to be known simply as “Ye,” refers to his presidential campaign.
What do they have in common? Well, Fuentes and Yiannopoulos are joined in a quest to exploit West’s money and fame. But as far as politics is concerned, the greater similarity is that they are all lowlifes who should never be allowed near a former president of the United States, much less a current candidate for president. And yet Trump shared a table at Mar-a-Lago with them. The event quickly leaked because that is precisely what West, Fuentes, and Yiannopoulos intended. The usual suspects in the media and political world immediately denounced Trump. And in this case, they were correct; as a former president recently embarked on another campaign, Trump shouldn’t have anything to do with fringe figures such as Ye and his crew. And yet there they were.
Who benefits from this ugly and stupid little event? Well, it was a publicity coup for West, Fuentes, and Yiannopoulos — after all, they don’t have any reputations to lose — while Trump looks like he has been played by a trio of clever publicity hounds. And Trump did not make himself look any better with his increasingly panicked-sounding explanations for what took place.
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“This past week, Kanye West called me to have dinner at Mar-a-Lago,” Trump wrote on his social media site, Truth Social. “Shortly thereafter, he unexpectedly showed up with three of his friends, whom I knew nothing about. We had dinner on Tuesday evening with many members present on the back patio. The dinner was quick and uneventful. They then left for the airport.”
It was reminiscent of the time Bill Clinton, when he was running for president in 1992, was reported to have played golf at a country club that did not admit black members, and Clinton tried to minimize the offense by saying he had only played nine holes. In this case, Trump said the dinner was “quick and uneventful,” and his guests soon left, so what was the big deal?
Later, Trump said Kanye West “was asking me for advice concerning some of his difficulties, in particular having to do with his business.” Trump said the two also talked politics, although not a lot of politics, and he told Ye that “any voters you may have should vote for TRUMP.” In all, Trump said, “we got along great, he expressed no anti-Semitism, & I appreciated all of the nice things he said about me on ‘Tucker Carlson.’ Why wouldn’t I agree to meet? Also, I didn’t know Nick Fuentes.”
Still later, Trump made a third statement, stressing a humanitarian motive for the dinner. “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!”
As Trump was explaining, West and Fuentes were laughing. Both seemed delighted at having pulled off the coup of enlisting Trump, the former president, in a stunt to promote West’s own presidential foray. West released a brief video showing himself joking with an associate about things Trump said during the dinner. “I think the thing that Trump was most perturbed about was me asking him to be my vice president,” West said as the associate giggled. “When Trump started basically screaming at me at the table, telling me I was going to lose — has that ever worked for anyone in history?” West continued to more laughs. “I’m like, ‘Hold on, hold on, hold on, Trump — you’re talking to Ye.'”
For his part, Fuentes made his dinner with Trump the focus of a two-hour-and-40-minute fundraising podcast. Obviously pleased by events, Fuentes told how he loves Trump and flattered him over and over at the dinner. “And Trump is telling me, ‘I like you, you’re a smart guy,'” Fuentes recounted. “Trump told me he liked me. I was just like, ‘Oh, my gosh.’ Trump was like, ‘I like you,’ I was like, ‘me?’ He was like, ‘This guy’s smart.’ That felt good. That was like, life complete.”
At the same time, Fuentes made it clear repeatedly that he believes Trump, as great as he once was, has lost a step, and it is time for a new leader to emerge. And who might that leader be? Kanye West, of course. Indeed, when it came to his new benefactor, Fuentes managed to lay on the flattery even thicker than he had with Trump. “He’s an incredible human being,” Fuentes said of Ye. “I’ve always been a fan, he’s always been my hero, he’s always been my inspiration.”
“We need a courageous, fearless, visionary leader,” Fuentes continued, “with a mind toward fundamentally transforming and sanctifying American society. There is one person who is speaking with that language, and it isn’t Donald Trump. And we know who that is.” On another occasion, he said, “We have a leader, we have a movement.” With an absolutely straight face, Fuentes said that new American leader is … Kanye West.
So, where does Trump figure in the movement? He can hop on the Ye Train. “I love Trump,” Fuentes said. “And I invite the president to be a part of it because I do love him. I really do. And I love Ye. It will be very exciting to see what he’s got working in the future.”
So at Mar-a-Lago, West and Fuentes managed to recruit Trump to play an unwitting role in West’s campaign show. Judging by the videos they made, they seemed to think it was both a major accomplishment and absolutely hilarious.
But Trump was left to deal with the consequences. The inevitable next step in the affair was the Democratic demand for denunciations. First came calls for Trump to denounce the people with whom he had dinner. And then came calls for Republicans to denounce the people with whom Trump had dinner. “We are still waiting to hear Republican leaders denounce ex-President’s choice of dinner guests and renounce anti-Semitism,” tweeted the historian and liberal commentator Michael Beschloss. A number of headlines noted that many Republicans “remained silent” about the Trump dinner.
On NBC’s Meet the Press, moderator Chuck Todd asked Republican Rep. James Comer, “Do you think it was a mistake for the former president to do that?” Comer answered: “Well, he certainly needs better judgment in who he dines with. I know that he’s issued a statement and said he didn’t know who those people were.”
Comer’s response was baffling. Why not just say: “Yes, absolutely, it was a mistake. West, Fuentes, and Yiannopoulos are contemptible people, and Trump shouldn’t have gone anywhere near them.” Any Republican could say some version of the same thing. We’ll see if more say that in the future when they are asked, as many surely will.
Meanwhile, Trump has been damaged, again, by his own actions. There is a debate about how intentional those actions were. Despite his protests of ignorance, did the former president in fact know who Fuentes was and decided to send some sort of message by dining with him? The answer to that is unclear. But Trump certainly knew who West was and welcomed him. That’s bad enough. It is hard to see what benefit Trump might have expected from the dinner. What was it going to accomplish? Score points with the alt-right fringe? Lock up the groyper vote? (For those who do not follow such things, “groyper” is the word referring to Fuentes’s relatively small and contentious group of followers.)
What seems more likely is that Trump did not have any clear intention for the dinner. So why did he take part in it? For one thing, he loves celebrities, and Kanye West, even damaged Kanye West, is a celebrity. Trump also loves flattery, and West had said all those nice things about Trump on TV. And at the dinner, Fuentes was a veritable flattery machine, repeatedly telling Trump how great Trump was. Not surprisingly, Trump thought Fuentes was a really sharp guy. In other words, West, Fuentes, and Yiannopoulos might simply have pushed Trump’s buttons over and over and over. That might be all there was to it.
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