Last week, former President Donald Trump had dinner at his Mar-a-Lago estate with the former Kanye West, the rapper now known as Ye embroiled lately in an antisemitism scandal after he blamed Jews for all his troubles. There was also a surprise guest: prominent white supremacist, antisemite and Holocaust denier Nick Fuentes.
The preposterous incident, which followed closely Trump announcing his 2024 presidential run, added more fuel to the argument that Trump is manifestly unfit for public office. But it also spotlights the danger of antisemitism edging into mainstream Republican circles.
After the story broke, Trump issued a statement saying West had showed up at his dinner with “three friends” of whom he knew nothing. He did not mention West’s own antisemitic statements, nor did he disavow Fuentes, or deny media reports that he was very impressed with Fuentes, 24, during the dinner.
Several GOP senators, former governors, and former Vice President Mike Pence eventually issued strong rebukes, calling Trump’s conduct “unacceptable” and “immoral.” Yet House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy remained silent until Tuesday — condemning Fuentes while exonerating Trump and wrongly claiming Trump “condemned” Fuentes.
Trump isn’t the only prominent Republican to have rubbed elbows with Fuentes recently. Marjorie Taylor Greene, a House member from Georgia and a rising star of the Trumpist right, spoke at his “America First” conference in Orlando last February. She later defended her participation and declined to condemn Fuentes, saying only, “I don’t know what his views are, so I’m not aligned with anything that may be controversial.”
Fuentes is anything but coy about his views. He has denounced civil rights as a “bastardized Jewish subversion of the American creed” and asserted that “the Founders never intended for America to be a refugee camp for nonwhite people.” In one repulsive video, he snickers and cackles his way through a Holocaust-denying monologue.
As for Greene, she is no stranger to “controversial” things related to antisemitism — from comparing COVID-19 safety measures with the Holocaust to speculating about “Rothschild Inc.” using “laser beams” to start wildfires. (The Rothschilds, a family involved in finance, have been grist for 200 years’ worth of Jew-hating conspiracy theories.) Yet McCarthy has said that if he wins the House speakership, he will restore committee assignments stripped from Greene in the past for inflammatory rhetoric.
This is not taking antisemitism seriously.
Trump’s conservative Jewish allies have deplored his dinner with West and Fuentes while asserting he is not an antisemite or a racist and pointing to his history of supporting Israel. Yet as far back as 2016, Trump played footsie with white supremacists and antisemites as long as they backed his “Make America Great Again” campaign. In a 2016 CNN interview, he declined to condemn antisemitic harassment of a Jewish journalist by his fans.
McCarthy and other Republicans have deflected by focusing on what they regard as antisemitism on the progressive left, from calls to boycott Israel to comments by Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.) invoking antisemitic tropes. There is no question that left-wing anti-Israel rhetoric has often crossed over into de facto Jew-baiting. But that should not be a cover or an excuse for right-wing, populist antisemitism. The Fuentes fiasco is the latest sign that Trumpism is leading the GOP into some dark places.
OPINIONS EXPRESSED BY Cathy Young, a cultural studies fellow at the Cato Institute, are her own.