WASHINGTON – David Friedman, former U.S. ambassador to Israel and a close confidant of former president Donald Trump, has rarely ever criticized his former boss. But he chose to do that after Trump hosted avowed antisemites Kanye West and Nick Fuentes last week.
His criticism, however, is the exception, not the rule, in today’s Republican Party. Yes, there were a few other criticisms of Trump – much more forceful than Friedman’s attempt to appeal to tell the former president he is “better than this.” But these attacks on Trump came from former New Jersey governor Chris Christie and two Republican members of Congress, Liz Cheney and Adam Kinzinger, who have no future in the party and were not reelected for another term.
Most of the party has opted for a more convenient response: offering passive-aggressive criticism about the meeting’s occurrence while avoiding any mention of Trump by name; dismissing it as politically unwise; or remaining silent altogether.
“Antisemitism is a cancer. I fought to ban funding for antisemitic groups that pushed BDS. We stand with the Jewish people in the fight against the world’s oldest bigotry,” former Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said. This is his strategy of late: subtweeting Trump without going too far against his old boss.
The Republican Jewish Coalition, which recently hosted Trump (via satellite) and has disavowed other GOP officials for associating with Fuentes, offered its own criticism where Trump’s name was also conspicuously absent.
“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,” it said.
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An even more muted form of response came from Trump loyalists like Steve Bannon and the Breitbart website that the former Trump strategist used to run. Bannon called the meeting a “trolling operation” used to “insult Trump, to put Trump in his place, to make Trump look more irrelevant.” He criticized Trump’s staff for allowing the meeting to occur, neglecting to condemn Trump for meeting antisemites in the first place.
“Why Trump would meet with a possible rival, however serious or unserious that person’s candidacy is, raises questions,” Breitbart’s article argued, turning “what could have been a minor story into a major national narrative.” The article did, however, detail Fuentes’ well-established record of racism.
Yet to comment are the rest of Trump’s potential 2024 GOP challengers, all of whom called for a need to turn the page and adopt a more welcoming narrative moving forward while not mentioning Trump.
Following his meeting with Trump, Fuentes called Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis – Trump’s assumed top challenger in 2024 – the new GOP torchbearer for his followers. DeSantis has not offered comment. Nor has former Vice President Mike Pence, Virginia Gov. Glenn Youngkin, South Carolina Sen. Tim Scott or former U.S. ambassador to the UN Nikki Haley.
Fuentes and West have each trafficked and platformed the most vicious and hateful of antisemitic screeds – whether concerning the number of Jews killed in the Holocaust or more nefarious anti-Jewish stereotypes that have long been cited as grounds for violence.
Trump attempted to perform damage control on Friday after the meeting at Mar-a-Lago gained national attention. He argued that he was offering West advice on his business struggles, adding that Ye did not display any antisemitism and he did not know who Fuentes was.
The GOP reaction highlights the dilemma the party has found itself in since Trump’s political emergence: How explicitly can you condemn the most popular figure in your party, no matter the depths to which he sinks?
The issue is not new. This has been a problem for a decade, whether concerning Trump’s trafficking in tropes of dual loyalty, defending the white supremacists behind the Charlottesville march in 2017 because of their support for him, or associating with vocally antisemitic figures out of political expediency.
Republican officials – and Jewish Republicans – have consistently cited Trump’s Jewish family and his administration’s blanket support for Israel as a shield against such criticism. His meeting with West and Fuentes last Tuesday, however, is perhaps the lowest to which he has sunk.
Any attempts at justifying the meeting can be summarily dismissed by the fact that the controversy begins and ends with West using his platform to promote antisemitism with a clarity and transparency previously unimaginable from a celebrity of his stature.
Fuentes is just the latest far-right figure to cling to West like a barnacle on a ship, following in the footsteps of Candace Owens and Milo Yiannopoulos. Whether Trump previously knew of Fuentes is irrelevant: he welcomed both men into his home, and praised them for praising him.
Until one of the 2024 GOP presidential hopefuls explicitly calls out Trump for giving such a platform to antisemitism, they will continue to be caught in his shadow. Fuentes and his ilk, meantime, continue to glom onto wherever they can attach themselves – whether it is a seemingly mentally ill celebrity or the former president of the United States.