‘Awful lack of judgment’: Republicans hammer Trump over dinner with white supremacist Nick Fuentes and Kanye West

Donald Trump is fending off critics on all sides after a deeply controversial meeting with rapper Kanye West, also known as Ye.

The former president is taking fire from all sides over the meeting, partly over Mr West’s recent anti-Jewish rhetoric but mostly due to the attendace of Nick Fuentes, a leader of America’s white nationalist “groyper” movement. Mr Fuentes is an avowed racist who has, among other caustic beliefs, expressed doubt about the Holocaust and supported the concept of segregation in the south, calling the civil rights movement a mistake.

The meeting took place at Mr Trump’s residence in Florida, Mar-a-Lago, where he now spends much of his time. The residence was recently the site of his 2024 campaign launch, a muted affair that was avoided by his own daughter and former White House adviser, Ivanka Trump.

And it came at the worst time possible for the former president. Fresh off his 2024 campaign announcement, Mr Trump was already under intense criticism from the establishment of the conservative movement for a dismal showing by Republicans, including many of his election-denier loyalists, in the 2022 midterms, which has cost the GOP any chance of retaking the Senate and nearly allowed Democrats to hold on to the House as well.

Already under fire, the ex-president now faces a renewed wave of criticism from Republicans who recognise that the association with the extreme right will only accelerate the GOP’s electoral hemorrhaging. Adding to the problems for Mr Trump is a flurry of reports indicating that he was “very taken” by Mr Fuentes’s effusive praise of him during the meeting.

A handful of members of the GOP delegation in the House have also met with Mr Fuentes over the years, most notably Reps Paul Gosar of Arizona and Marjorie Taylor Greene of Georgia; both have claimed ignorance about his Holocaust-denying and other viciously racist statements. But the scrutiny Ms Greene faced over her most recent attendance at one of Mr Fuentes’ events has further chipped away at the believability of Mr Trump’s claim that he did not know of Mr Fuentes before the visit.

Nick Fuentes (Nicole Hester/Mlive.com)
Nick Fuentes (Nicole Hester/Mlive.com)

One of those Republican critics who opened fire on Mr Trump this week was his erstwhile adviser and occasional rival, former New Jersey Governor Chris Christie. Mr Christie told The New York Times that the meeting with Mr West and his new hard-right associates should never have been allowed to happen.

“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 Mr Christie.

James Comer, a Republican congressman from Kentucky, concurred on NBC’s Meet the Press on Sunday.

“I would not take a meeting with that person,” he said. “I wouldn’t take a meeting with Kanye West, either.”

Kanye West (Copyright 2022 The Associated Press. All rights reserved)
Kanye West (Copyright 2022 The Associated Press. All rights reserved)

So did Asa Hutchinson, the outgoing governor of Arkansas who is set to be replaced by Mr Trump’s former White House press secretary, Sarah Huckabee Sanders.

“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,” he said on CNN on Sunday.

Some other Republicans have criticised the meeting while showing the same unwillingness to challenge Mr Trump directly that has defined the party for almost the last six years. Mike Pompeo, Mr Trump’s former secretary of State, disavowed antisemitism in a tweet which never mentioned the former president and pivoted instead to attacking left-wing groups critical of Israel. Mr Pompeo is widely thought to be preparing his own bid for the 2024 GOP nomination.

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Other likely challengers for the 2024 Republican presidential nomination, like former UN Ambassador Nikki Haley and Florida Governor Ron DeSantis, have not commented on the meeting at all.

Journalists covering the former president have meanwhile identified another issue about which Republicans have largely avoided talking: Access to Donald Trump. The meeting between Mr West and Mr Fuentes has opened up a new line of questions regarding exactly how easy it would be to secure a meeting with the ex-president at his estate, questions which are all the more relevant given the recent seizure of presidential records, including highly classified materials, from the location.

“It’s not the central issue with meeting with Fuentes, but the fact that people can show up unvetted and meet with Trump at his club is part of what alarmed the DOJ about his retention of government records, including classified material, when he left office,” wrote the New York Times’s Maggie Haberman on Twitter.

“[T]here are no controls around who can get to this former president,” she added.

Josh Dawsey of the Washington Post had a similar take.

“How does Nick Fuentes get into Mar-a-Lago undetected? Does Trump not ask the man who he is when he sits down w/ a man he claims not to know? Why is Trump having dinner w/Kanye West after his recent comments?” he asked.

Mr Trump’s association with Mr West dates back to his 2016 campaign for president, when the two met at his Trump Tower property in New York. The two also met in the Oval Office during Mr Trump’s presidency.

West has lost a number of valuable sponsorships since beginning to espouse anti-Jewish views and only recently returned to Twitter after being banned from the site.