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If Only Someone Could Have Warned Them

Why Republicans refused to see the truth about Trump until it was too late.
November 30, 2022
If Only Someone Could Have Warned Them
(Photo by Mark Wilson/Getty Images)

If you were a Republican hoping that Donald Trump would either quietly fade away or become muted and “presidential” in the run-up to 2024, you didn’t have much to be grateful for this Thanksgiving. Right before Turkey Day, Trump celebrated by hosting a dinner for two rabid antisemites: Ye (né Kanye West) and Nick Fuentes.

And I mean rabid. Ye has been in the news a lot recently for going off the rails with a string of antisemitic statements complaining that Jews control the media and are somehow persecuting him. His new friend Fuentes launched his career at the infamous 2017 neo-Nazi rally in Charlottesville. He is the leader of the “Groyper” faction of white nationalists and is one of those guys who alternates between denying the Holocaust was real and threatening to do it all over again. Fuentes once promised to deliver “the most racist, sexist, antisemitic, Holocaust-denying speech in all of Dallas this weekend!” Even many MAGA types can’t stand him. If he weren’t an incredibly pathetic incel, he would be the worst of the worst.

Yet there he was over the holiday, at the former president’s table.

A small cavalcade of Republicans who have been in the Trump circle all along have now declared themselves “aghast” and expressed their dismay that Trump is not “better than this.”

Well. If only someone could have warned them.

Let’s be clear exactly how bad this meeting was.

Ye has been open and public in his recent expressions of Jew-hatred, promising to go “death con 3 on Jewish people”—presumably a bungled reference to the DEFCON alert system that implies he is going to murder Jews. It got even worse from there, with Ye defending himself by claiming that “I actually can’t be antisemitic because black people are actually Jew also.” This is a reference to the longstanding Black Hebrew Israelite conspiracy theory in which blacks are the real descendants of the Biblical Jews and modern-day Jews are usurpers.

As for Fuentes, Trump and his people may be pleading ignorance, but it was one of Trump’s own former top advisors, Karen Giorno, who brought West and Fuentes to the meeting. And does anyone really believe that our first extremely online president has no knowledge of a guy who is entirely a creature of the extremely online right?

It hardly matters because it appears that once Fuentes was there, he and Trump got along like a house on fire—a fitting metaphor for what they are doing to the Republican party.

Kanye West has said Donald Trump is really impressed with white supremacist Nick Fuentes, following his visit to meet the one-time president at his Mar-a-Lago residence. The rapper, who has legally changed his name to Ye, made the comments in a two-minute campaign-style teaser video on Twitter.

According to another account:

During the dinner . . . Fuentes told Trump he was among the former president’s supporters, but that he had been unimpressed with the 2024 campaign launch speech because it appeared stilted instead of appearing “authentic” with his ad-libs and off-the-cuff remarks. Trump, who had told Fuentes that his advisers preferred him to read speeches as scripted, turned to Ye at one point and said: “He gets me.”

Even now Trump still refuses to disavow Fuentes.

Donald Trump repeatedly refused to disavow the outspoken antisemite and white supremacist Nick Fuentes after they spoke over dinner at his Mar-a-Lago resort, rejecting the advice from advisers over fears he might alienate a section of his base, two people familiar with the situation said. . . . [N]one of the statements from the campaign or on his Truth Social account included criticism of Fuentes, despite efforts from advisers who reached Trump over the Thanksgiving holiday.

Trump has just confirmed every accusation and every fear that he is soft on neo-Nazis and other bigots. Surely everyone will see that and acknowledge it, right?

You may be surprised.

You could say that this incident is more open and flagrant than anything before. In the past, Trump could fall back on excuses and dodges. It may not have been 100 percent clear after Charlottesville whether he was condemning white nationalists or calling them “very fine people”—but now he’s settled the matter by inviting the very fine people to dinner.

But it was pretty open and flagrant the whole time, wasn’t it? Donald Trump has been telling us all along who he is and the latest news is perfectly in character.

Remember that Trump’s first big foray into Republican politics, more than a decade ago, was his promotion of “birther” conspiracy theories claiming that President Barack Obama’s Hawaiian birth certificate was fake and that he was actually born in Kenya. It was a claim that had definite racist overtones. Trump launched his first presidential campaign in 2015 by smearing Hispanic immigrants as rapists.

In 2016, there was the Trump meme that showed Hillary Clinton labeled with a Star of David. Trump tried to claim retroactively that he thought it was just a sheriff’s star, but it turns out he picked up the meme from a white nationalist who was using it to claim that Clinton was controlled by a secret cabal of Jews. That was in 2016. Before anyone had heard of Nick Fuentes, there was already a pipeline from white nationalist message boards into the Trump campaign and straight up to the big guy himself.

Then there was Trump’s reaction to Charlottesville in 2017, when he praised “very fine people” on both sides, when one side consisted only of Nazis.

More recently, Trump has been chasing after the crackpot vote by openly amplifying and appealing to followers of the QAnon conspiracy theory, helping bring it into the mainstream of the right.

And now people are finally becoming concerned that he might have sympathies for crackpots, antisemites, and white nationalists? If only there had been warning signs.

I am happy if some people are having belated conversions on Trump. (Though I would have found these conversions more convincing if they had happened before Trump was clearly causing Republicans to lose elections.) But these converts are discovering that resisting Trump belatedly, reluctantly, and half-heartedly has consequences.

After a third election in which candidates he backed, who promoted his talking points, lost key elections, Trump not only announced the launch of his 2024 campaign but fired off a series of broadsides against other Republicans, from Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell to some of the most successful recent Republican politicians, Virginia Governor Glenn Youngkin and Florida Governor Ron DeSantis.

And now, to further intensify his party’s civil war, Trump super-supporter Mike Lindell, an erratic entrepreneur and election conspiracy theorist, is running to take over the Republican National Committee. A crackpot with no political experience would become a key figure and chief fundraiser at the center of the Republican Party.

In short, Trump has demonstrated his intention to tear the Republican party apart to feed his own vanity. This is now starting to be recognized, with one right-wing agitator fretting, “If he continues his ego-driven meltdown, he’ll drag the whole movement” down.

If only someone could have warned them.

Obviously, we did warn them. Repeatedly. Our warnings were dismissed, we were diagnosed as suffering from Trump Derangement Syndrome—and then every damn thing we said came to pass. So why didn’t mainstream Republicans listen to us? Why are they still resisting the truth?

Consider the response from Trump’s supposed rivals for the 2024 primaries, which has mostly been crickets, plus one tepid expression of disapproval from Mike Pence.

If one of them really wanted to make a name for himself by taking Trump down, now would be the time to go in for the kill. But they are following what has been the Republican strategy toward Trump all along: Hug Trump as closely as possibly while hoping that someone (or something) else takes him out of the running so that they can inherit his populist base without ever having to alienate the crackpots and bigots who, by inference, Republicans believe make up a significant portion of their base.

Hence the well-established process by which Republicans have trained themselves to make excuses for Trump, convincing themselves that he didn’t really mean to do what he did, or say what he said (e.g., “very fine people”)—until such time as he says or does it all over again.

When those crisis points come, when Trump says or does something clearly beyond the pale, mainstream Republicans are shocked into a moment of sanity, and it takes them time to re-suppress their qualms. So in this moment, while a few of you are still shocked, I would ask you to imagine how liberating it would be to not have to pretend it didn’t happen.

The problem, after all, is not a lack of evidence about who Donald Trump is and how he is hurting the Republican party. The problem is a kind of mental block, a submission, a willingness to not see a thing because it is inconvenient for one’s partisan allegiances. It is a habit of seeing things in terms of what you think the people around you will accept, rather than in terms of what things actually are.

Republicans didn’t just sell out to Trump in a purely pragmatic way. They sold out to him cognitively, and what they need to reclaim is their ability to see the world independently and evaluate it through their own eyes. It’s not too late—it’s never too late—but it gets harder the longer one puts it off.

This, too, is something that we warned you about.

Robert Tracinski

Robert Tracinski is editor of Symposium, a journal of liberalism, and writes additional commentary at The Tracinski Letter.