Trump dinner with Ye (formerly Kanye West), white supremacist gives even his Florida loyalists heartburn

Even in red Florida, Donald Trump's pre-Thanksgiving dinner with a "seriously troubled" rapper and a "Holocaust denying" far-right activist has caused heartburn among Republican leaders and within the former president's base.

U.S. Sens. Marco Rubio and Rick Scott this week responded to a national torrent of criticism over Trump’s dinner with Kanye West, who goes by Ye, and Nick Fuentes, a white supremacist, at his Mar-a-Lago club in Palm Beach.

“I can tell you for a fact that Trump is not (an antisemite), but this guy is evil,” Rubio said on CNN, referring to Fuentes.

Scott added: “There is no room in the Republican Party for white supremacy and antisemitism, and it’s wrong. I think Republicans should all condemn white supremacy and antisemitism.”

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The Nov. 22 meeting at Mar-a-Lago also dismayed the Trump faithful, including grassroots political activists who only the week before had cheered the former president's entry into the 2024 race for the White House.

"It's very frustrating," said Randy Ross, who was the Trump campaign's Orange County chairman in 2016. "I love Trump. I love everything about this man. … I know what that feels like to want so desperately to see him succeed. But I think sometimes this man surrounds himself with a bunch of losers."

Annie Marie Delgado, who as president of the Trump Team 2020 group organized voter registration and road rallies among other endeavors, agreed.

"Fire the gatekeepers," Delgado said of those in Trump's orbit that allowed Fuentes and Ye seats at the table with the former president.

Delgado said many in Trump's base refrain from openly chastising Trump to avoid emboldening rivals and foes. But Delgado said the dinner with Ye and Fuentes was so damaging that she and others concluded they need "to bring awareness" to Trump that he needs to change the people he is surrounded by.

"I am hoping he takes a really serious look at who he has around him," Delgado added.

Trump said he was advising Ye (formerly known as Kanye West), didn't know others, including Fuentes

Responding to the backlash, Trump has issued statements on his Truth Social social media platform in which he said he was advising Ye, who he called a “seriously troubled man, who just happens to be black."

In Trump's version of events, the former president said he expected to only meet with Ye at his estate and simply wanted to give Ye "very much needed advice" because he "has been decimated in his business and virtually everything else."

Trump said he and Ye "discussed, to a lesser extent, politics" and the performing artist "expressed no anti-Semitism."

As for his other tablemates, Trump claimed one of them, presumably strategist Karen Giorno, "was a political person who I haven't seen in years." As for Fuentes, Trump wrote: "Also, I didn't know Nick Fuentes."

Ye told the story differently.

On a video he posted on his Twitter account, Ye said Trump was "really impressed with Nick Fuentes."

In that recording, however, Ye said Trump began "screaming" after the rapper proposed that Trump — who only a week ago declared his presidential candidacy — run as Ye's vice presidential running mate in 2024.

Ye also said he bristled at Trump after the former president made a disparaging comment about the rapper's ex-wife, Kim Kardashian.

Further adding to the bizarre nature of the encounter, far-right commentator Milo Yiannopoulos told NBC News on Tuesday that he set up the dinner to “make Trump’s life miserable.”

Trump under pressure to condemn Fuentes and his views after the fact

Trump's seemingly dismissive statement about not knowing who Fuentes is fell far short of dousing the firestorm, and the former president is facing mounting, intra-party public pressure.

“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,” said Matt Brooks, the executive director of the Republican Jewish Coalition.

Trump was a headliner at a Las Vegas conference last month hosted by the Republican Jewish Coalition that also featured former Vice President Mike Pence and Gov. Ron DeSantis.

DeSantis has not spoken on the subject, but Pence called out the former president by saying Trump should apologize for hosting dinner guests who have spread antisemitic rhetoric and who have denied the Holocaust.

“He should denounce those individuals and their hateful rhetoric without qualification,” Pence said in an interview with NewsNation.

Another group, the Zionist Organization of America, also said Trump should be condemning Fuentes even if he didn't know him, said Morton Klein, the pro-Israel organization’s president. Just last month, the group presented Trump with the Theodor Herzl Gold Medallion for being a “champion of Israel and the Jewish people.”

“This only helps legitimize and mainstream pure hatred,” Klein said. “This is especially concerning at a time of extraordinary rising antisemitism.”

On Capitol Hill, U.S. Sen. John Thune of South Dakota said the dinner gathering was a "bad idea on every level." U.S. Sen. Joni Ernst of Iowa, site of an early 2024 presidential contest, said "it's ridiculous he had that meeting."

U.S. Sen. Mitt Romney, an outspoken Trump critic, said the dinner meeting showed there is "no bottom to the degree which he's willing to degrade himself, and the country, for that matter."

The most stinging comment, however, came from a salvo fired by Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell who said of Fuentes that "anyone meeting with people advocating that point of view, in my judgment, are highly unlikely to ever be elected president of the United States."

Ye, Nick Fuentes and Florida political strategist a curious guest list

Republican congressional candidate Laura Loomer celebrates with Milo Yiannopoulos (left) and campaign director Karen Giorno (right) at a 2020 primary election night event in West Palm Beach.
Republican congressional candidate Laura Loomer celebrates with Milo Yiannopoulos (left) and campaign director Karen Giorno (right) at a 2020 primary election night event in West Palm Beach.

Ye's woes partly began with a tweet in which he said he was "going death con 3 on JEWISH PEOPLE" and wearing clothing with the "White Lives Matter" slogan that is tied with white supremacist groups. The controversies led major global brands, including sportswear conglomerate Addidas and clothing chain Gap, to discontinue doing business with Ye's Yeezy company.

The backlash against Ye deepened on Friday when Twitter suspended the performing artist's account, which list just over 32 million followers. That followed even more unhinged commentary from Ye, including expressing admiration for Nazi leader Adolf Hitler.

Fuentes, who attended the neo-Nazi rally in Charlottesville in 2017, has been labeled a "prominent white supremacist pundit and organizer" by the Anti-Defamation League. He has gained a following largely from his livestream show and calls his followers "Groypers."

Outside a conservative conference in Texas last year, Fuentes defiantly, if not snarky, said he would give a news conference he promised would be the "most racist, sexist, anti-Semitic, Holocaust-denying speech in all of Dallas this weekend."

A third dinner guest that night reportedly was Karen Giorno, the state director for Trump's 2016 Florida primary campaign.

Giorno has subsequently worked on other campaigns, including Islamophobe and far-right activist Laura Loomer's unsuccessful 2020 congressional campaign in Palm Beach County. She also served in President George H.W. Bush's administration and as then-Gov. Rick Scott's director of external affairs.

Her presence at the dinner has led some in the Trump base to fault Giorno, who was not reachable for comment, for failing to shield Trump that night by either shooing Fuentes away or better preparing the former president.

Delgado, a former Palm Beach Gardens City Council member who now lives in Ocala, said she faults Giorno. "She's the ringleader," Delgado said, adding that Trump didn't know who Fuentes was but Giorno, with a quarter-century of political experience and involvement, clearly should have.

"These people that he has so close to him have literally put a wall between the real loyalists, like us, who have never stopped supporting him and will not stop supporting him and … it's going to be problematic for him," Delgado said.

Ross said he is "confused and concerned" that Giorno and Ye, along with Fuentes, ended up at a dinner table with the former president.

"How does Trump consistently surround himself with bad players when there's so many of us that are fighting for him?" he said. "What was the purpose? What was the intention? In fairness to President Trump, was it designed to negatively impact his role in running for president?"

Ross said he doesn't know. But he believes these types of controversies will only raise more doubts about Trump's comeback White House bid as other potential suitors hover.

"This is not how we are going to win in 2024," he said of the ongoing drama. "His approach now isn't going to work. It's not going to work with the base. There's already too many people asking too many questions, and too concerned about how we're going to move this thing forward."

Antonio Fins is a politics and business editor at the Palm Beach Post, part of the USA TODAY Florida Network. You can reach him at afins@pbpost.com. Help support our journalism. Subscribe today.

This article originally appeared on Palm Beach Post: Trump's Palm Beach dinner with Kanye West gives Florida base heartburn