One thing is clear about the now-infamous Mar-a-Lago dinner: there’s a rising tide of condemnation from some Republican lawmakers who virtually never criticize Donald Trump.
So you don’t have to take it from the Never Trumpers, or liberal anti-Trumpers, or Ron DeSantis fanboys, or those of us in the "enemy of the people" profession. The uproar over Trump’s dinner with Kanye West and Nick Fuentes has now reached the Senate leadership, along with the Jewish community.
For those who think Dinnergate is no big deal, this abandonment by some of Trump’s usual allies might make them think twice. Even House Republican Leader Kevin McCarthy told reporters yesterday after a congressional leadership meeting at the White House, "I don’t think he should associate" with either West or Fuentes.
For days, as the whole world discovered that Fuentes is a virulent antisemite, Holocaust denier, White nationalist and racist, Trump did not offer even a mild expression of regret about the friend that West – himself a blatant antisemite who has blown up his business career – brought along last week.
Former President Trump announced he is running for president for a third time at Mar-a-Lago in Palm Beach, Florida, Nov. 15, 2022. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik, File)
He had been "Truthing" up a storm – about judges who go "rogue" after he appoints them, about problems at the border, about CNN, about how Kari Lake should be installed as Arizona governor, about special counsel Jack Smith ("this fully weaponized monster").
But yesterday, Trump finally took a step toward saying what his advisers had been urging. In an exclusive statement to Fox News Digital, the former president said of Fuentes, "I had never heard of the man — I had no idea what his views were, and they weren’t expressed at the table in our very quick dinner, or it wouldn't have been accepted."
Still, "wouldn’t have been accepted" is a rather mild rebuke, rather than a condemnation of his despicable views.
Trump was responding to a blast from Mitch McConnell, who usually doesn’t engage him directly but raised the subject with reporters without being asked. "There is no room in the Republican Party for antisemitism or White supremacy. And anyone meeting with people advocating that point of view, in my judgment, are highly unlikely to ever be elected president of the United States," the Senate minority leader said. Trump’s response to Fox called McConnell a "loser."
Trump has maintained that he didn’t know Fuentes, and didn’t know that the man called Ye was bringing him as a guest. Keep in mind that Trump has Secret Service protection and no one gets into Mar-a-Lago without agents checking the person out.
Most stinging among the GOP critics was Mike Pence, who told NewsNation, "President Trump was wrong to give a White nationalist, an antisemite and a Holocaust denier a seat at the table. I think he should apologize for it, and he should denounce those individuals and their hateful rhetoric without qualification." The former VP’s denunciation might be written off because he’s planning a 2024 run, but it was still striking.
The Washington Post and Politico had no trouble rounding up damaging quotes from GOP senators.
Sen. John Thune (R-SD) speaks to reporters after meeting with Senate Republicans at the U.S. Capitol Nov. 29, 2022, in Washington, D.C. (Photo by Drew Angerer/Getty Images)
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South Dakota Sen. John Thune, who holds the No. 2 GOP post as minority whip, told reporters that the dinner was "just a bad idea on every level."
Sen. Joni Ernst called it "ridiculous," a perjorative also used by West Virginia Sen. Shelly Moore Capito.
Even Lindsey Graham, Trump’s golfing partner, took a swing, "The meeting was bad. He shouldn’t have done it…We shouldn’t give oxygen to people who think this way."
There were, to be sure, other Republican senators who defended Trump and said the whole thing was meaningless and overblown.
One exception on the House side is incoming Oversight chairman James Comer of Kentucky. He told CNN that he "obviously" condemned the meeting, which Trump "never should have had."
Flanked by House Republicans, U.S. Rep. James Comer (R-KY) speaks during a news conference at the U.S. Capitol on Nov. 17, 2022 in Washington, D.C. (Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images)
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The New York Times focused on opposition Jewish groups and prominent Jewish Republicans.
Morton Klein, head of the conservative Zionist Organization of America and the son of Holocaust survivors, said "Donald Trump is not an antisemite. He loves Israel. He loves Jews. But he mainstreams, he legitimizes Jew hatred and Jew haters. And this scares me."
Jonathan Greenblatt, head of the Anti-Defamation League, said "the normalization of antisemitism is here."
Ari Fleischer, the former Bush White House press secretary and a member of the Republican Jewish Coalition’s board, said he accepted Trump’s statement, but he should have added that "had he known, Fuentes would never have been allowed into Mar-a-Lago."
David Friedman, U.S. Ambassador to Israel speaks during a briefing at the White House Aug. 13, 2020, in Washington, D.C. (Tasos Katopodis/Getty Images)
And David Friedman, who was Trump’s ambassador to Israel, tweeted, "To my friend Donald Trump, you are better than this. Even a social visit from an antisemite like Kanye West and human scum like Nick Fuentes is unacceptable. I urge you to throw those bums out, disavow them and relegate them to the dustbin of history where they belong."
I’ve known Donald Trump for decades and I don’t believe he’s an antisemite. His daughter Ivanka converted to Judaism as she married Jared Kushner.
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But he could have shut down this controversy days ago by denouncing Fuentes’ views and saying he shouldn’t have had the meeting. This he refuses to do to avoid alienating his fringe supporters. But for every one he might keep among his base, Trump is alienating far more suburban independents who have no tolerance for going "death con 3 ON JEWISH PEOPLE" and Holocaust denialism.
Howard Kurtz is the host of FOX News Channel's MediaBuzz (Sundays 11 a.m.-12 p.m. ET). Based in Washington, D.C., he joined the network in July 2013 and regularly appears on Special Report with Bret Baier and other programs.