Politics

Trump Has Been Pushed Back to the White Supremacist Fringe. Is That a Problem for Him?

The last time he spent this much time not denouncing Nazism, he won a presidential election.

Fuentes, wearing a green jacket and standing amid a crowd, speaks into a handheld device connected to a bullhorn. Jones is standing next to him wearing a "Space Force" T-shirt.
Nick Fuentes with Infowars proprietor Alex Jones at a “Stop the Steal” rally in Georgia in November 2020. Zach Roberts/NurPhoto via Getty Images

Donald Trump is having a throwback Is Donald Trump a White Supremacist? news cycle because he ate dinner with Ye (the former Kanye West) and a white supremacist named Nick Fuentes. Let’s discuss.

Who is Nick Fuentes?

Nick Fuentes is a 24-year-old far-right livestreamer and social-media persona—

Hang on—24 years old?

Yes, he is the Doogie Howser of loving Hitler.

Does he really love Hitler?

Fuentes is the kind of “alt-right” online figure whose claims are often presented as edgy quasi-jokes, but yes, he has, for example, compared himself favorably to Hitler in explaining that he maintains celibacy in order to more fully pursue “total Aryan victory.” He disavows the term “white supremacist,” but if the term can’t be used to describe him it has no meaning: Among many other things, he’s used the N-word on a video stream, made crude comments about the children of interracial marriages, asserted that Black people have intrinsically poor “impulse control,” and said that Jews have “bastardized” and subverted the United States. (“I don’t see them as part of Western civilization,” he has said.) In October he recorded a stream on which he threatened to “piss” on the Talmud. He is a hard-line white supremacist who regularly engages in the most extreme kinds of hate speech.

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Celibacy?

According to Fuentes, “having sex itself is gay” and there is nothing “gayer” than being affectionate with women.

Is that true???

That question is beyond the scope of this article.

OK, back to antisemitism. Is that where Ye/Kanye West comes in?

Yes. Ye has been in Trump’s political orbit since a 2016 meeting at Trump Tower. At the time, Ye’s pursuit of the relationship and occasional adoption of MAGA imagery was part of his broader self-presentation as a provocative free thinker and society-challenging artist. But in recent months he’s begun associating much more exclusively with far-right figures like Fuentes while fixating, in his public statements, on his belief that Jews as a whole are, shall we say, engaged in coordinated acts of sabotage against others.

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The former West has also made other paranoid and grandiose statements which indicate he may be experiencing a mental health crisis. In footage that was cut from a Tucker Carlson interview on Fox News but obtained by Vice, he claimed that a child was recently paid to infiltrate his home.

Ye recently announced he will be running for president (again) in 2024 with the help of Milo Yiannopoulos, a proto-Fuentes alt-right figure who mostly dropped out of public sight in 2017 after a video began circulating of an interview recorded a year earlier in which he’d suggested that adult men should be permitted to have sex with minors as young as 13. (NBC News reports that Fuentes is also “advising” Ye’s campaign. According to comments Ye made Monday night on another right-wing livestream, Yiannopoulos brought Fuentes on to the project.)

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Before that, Yiannopoulos had been removed from Twitter for participating in the harassment of Black actress Leslie Jones, who was targeted on social media because of her role in an all-female sequel to Ghostbusters that right-wing personalities had latched onto.

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Trump himself, as it happens, posted a video in May 2016 in which he criticized the female Ghostbusters. He also conducted a campaign Q&A with a Reddit channel called The_Donald on which users, of which Yiannopoulos was the most prominent, frequently used slurs and posted other explicitly racist material. And, as president, he made vague threats to punish the University of California when a Yiannopoulos engagement at its Berkeley campus was canceled.

Tremendous stuff, all around. Anyway—dinner?

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Yes. According to various reports, Ye traveled to Trump’s resort home in Florida, Mar-a-Lago, to have dinner on Nov. 22 and brought Fuentes with him. At the dinner, Ye apparently asked Trump to be his running mate in 2024 while Fuentes flattered the former president by encouraging him to speak impulsively and off the cuff whenever possible instead of using a teleprompter (like Trump did at his presidential campaign announcement speech earlier in the month).

Is it gay to use a teleprompter?

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It’s a question Nick Fuentes would probably have loved to ask Hitler.

Did Trump know Fuentes was coming?

Allegedly not, according to multiple statements that Trump has released in which he also said he didn’t know anything about Fuentes before the dinner. The statements characteristically avoid endorsing Fuentes or his beliefs without criticizing them directly or taking any responsibility for Fuentes having been present. Trump continues to wish to be perceived as both the country’s most powerful alpha man and a helpless bystander who has no control over, for example, whether he learns basic details about someone who is sitting at a private table with him for a reported two hours at a resort he owns.

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Is it plausible to believe that Trump didn’t know anything about Fuentes?

Fuentes is a right-wing internet extremist, and Trump spends a great deal of time consuming right-wing internet extremism. Fuentes also hosts an annual conference at which Republican members of Congress Paul Gosar and Marjorie Taylor Greene have spoken, which in both cases led to national controversies that were well covered on cable news, another form of media the ex-president is known to enjoy.

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On the other hand, available accounts of the dinner portray Trump as mostly being interested in talking to Fuentes about the subject of Donald Trump, rather than asking questions about, uh, Fuentes’s own background and interests and feelings and dreams, as one would customarily do, to be polite. So maybe he was not in fact distinctly conscious of who was at the table with him.

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What happened then?

Not a whole lot, initially. But in recent days, several otherwise right-wing Jewish political figures have criticized Trump for meeting with Fuentes, as have some Republican members of Congress. Louisiana Sen. Bill Cassidy said Ye’s and Fuentes’ beliefs are “immoral” and “should not be entertained,” and that Trump is encouraging racism and antisemitism merely by meeting with them. (A fair point, and one which Cassidy has at least a little credibility to make after having voted to convict Trump of inciting insurrection after his second impeachment.) Florida Sen. Marco Rubio told reporters that Fuentes is an ass clown.

Ass clown?

Those were the Florida senator’s words.

And what will happen next?

It depends on public opinion polling of Republican primary voters.

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As Semafor’s Benjy Sarlin noted, Trump was involved in these kinds of stories frequently during his campaign and in the early days of his presidency—you can read about some of them here. From David Duke’s endorsement of his campaign to his comments about the neo-Nazi rally in Charlottesville, Virginia in 2017, each played out in largely the same fashion.

Trump would meet with—or retweet or compliment or refuse to “denounce”—a white supremacist or antisemite who’d gotten excited about the racist tinges, overtones, and outright explicit messaging of Trump’s campaign or presidency; the press would push him on it and ask other Republicans about it; some number of them would say they could no longer support Trump, or “deplored” what he had done, or whatever; his approval rating or polls would suffer, but only a small amount, only for a short period, and not at all among Republicans.

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The last clause in that sentence is the important one. Once other Republican politicians determined that their voters had a largely inelastic view of Trump, loyalty to and support for him became the party’s most important currency. Every Republican senator except Mitt Romney voted to acquit him after his first impeachment trial, for instance. Jan. 6 briefly upended the laws of Republican gravity, but once a few weeks had passed, almost all of the most powerful figures in the party, like House and Senate minority leaders Kevin McCarthy and Mitch McConnell, settled back into an essentially deferential position.

Now, though, the poor record of the most strongly Trump-affiliated candidates in the 2022 midterms and the concomitant presidential buzz around Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis has made Trump as weak and isolated as he’s been since the Capitol riot. Florida Rep. Matt Gaetz, typically one of the most recklessly pro-MAGA members of Congress, canceled plans to fly from D.C. to West Palm Beach for Trump’s campaign announcement because of purportedly flight-related issues that did not seem to affect other flights. Former New Jersey governor and human weather vane Chris Christie, who has gotten on and off the Trump bandwagon more times than any other person alive, is criticizing him in the press and at party gatherings.

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But?

But the entire problem here, if there can be said to only be one, is that absence of credentialed Republicans from Trump’s Florida resort and country club is not going to stop him from seeking attention and adulation wherever he may find it—and may not keep voters from supporting him. Who knows? It could persuade voters to support him! We won’t belabor the point here, but from a strategic perspective Trump may well be pleased that at this late date he can still create national news stories in which he is criticized by the “establishment.” For him, being at the bottom of the barrel isn’t embarrassing—it’s where he’s always done some of his “best” work.

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