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What Is to Be Done About Trump?
How should one respond to a political provocateur who craves attention?
The 2022 midterms provided about as clear a rebuke of Donald Trump as one could muster in these polarized times. The evidence strongly suggests that Democrats overperformed in swing states and key elected positions because an important fraction of Republicans were uncomfortable voting for 2020 election deniers and other assorted kooks.
Despite the underwhelming performance by Trump-friendly candidates, and
because of despite his mounting legal woes, the former president announced his 2024 candidacy the week after Election Day. Some argue that, in contrast to 2016, GOP party elites will decide on a single challenger to oppose Trump and oust him from power. I have my doubts.
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Former President Donald J. Trump on Tuesday night had dinner with Nick Fuentes, an outspoken antisemite and racist who is one of the country’s most prominent young white supremacists, at Mr. Trump’s private club in Florida, advisers to Mr. Trump conceded on Friday.
Also at the dinner was the performer Kanye West, who has also been denounced for making antisemitic statements. Mr. West traveled to meet with Mr. Trump at the club, Mar-a-Lago, and brought Mr. Fuentes along, the advisers said….
A Holocaust denier and unabashed racist, Mr. Fuentes openly uses hateful language on his podcast, in recent weeks calling for the military to be sent into Black neighborhoods and demanding that Jews leave the country.
It is unclear how much Mr. Trump knew of Mr. Fuentes’s well-documented bigotry and extremism before their dinner.
Axios’ Jonathan Swan and Zachary Basu, who broke the story, proffered more repugnant details.
A source familiar with the dinner conversation told Axios that Trump "seemed very taken" with Fuentes, impressed that the 24-year-old was able to rattle off statistics and recall speeches dating back to his 2016 campaign….
Trump at one point turned to Ye and said, "I really like this guy. He gets me," according to the source.
“To be honest, I don't believe the president knew who the hell [Fuentes] was," the source added.
[Just a quick aside here to consider that last point. Even if Trump didn’t know who Fuentes was (which I doubt), he sure as shit knew what Ye had been saying for the past month or so. Trump nonetheless had no issue whatsoever with hosting him for dinner. As the Times story makes clear, Trump has issued multiple responses to this story; none of them included an apology for consorting with known racists and anti-Semites. It’s almost as if Trump has been a bigot all along.]
My question: what is the proper response to this sort of odious behavior?
I have seen both conservatives and progressives argue that calling attention to egregious norm violations does more harm than good. After all, the one thing Trump craves most is attention. Controversies like unapologetically meeting with Ye and Fuentes give him the spotlight he wants.
One could further argue that repeatedly highlighting such behavior destigmatizes it. In other words, if Trump et al flout norms regarding racist and anti-Semitic behavior but continue to retain political influence, calling attention to the behavior accomplishes nothing more than the erosion of already degraded norms. Arguing that meeting with Fuentes is beyond the pale, for example, elides the voluntary meeting with Ye. That in turn crowds out Trump’s myriad other transgressions in this area. Those stretch back to questioning whether Barack Obama was an American, calling for the execution of the Central Park Five, and so forth.
I used to sympathize with this point of view, but not any more. This is not just about Trump; it’s about the large fraction of GOP officials not condemning it. CBS News’ Robert Costa (who got his start by reporting on the conservative movement for the National Review) explained it a depressing Twitter thread:
Here’s how it works: Most elected [Republicans] and their advisers closely follow the movements of base voters and track how they gather information. While they prefer to cast that ecosystem as something like a country club message board + Trump rallies, they know it’s anything but that…
For over a decade, since I began tracking it, there has been a rising, online extreme media landscape that now churns daily, but it is often on closed social media groups outside of media glare. It is in these spaces where unvarnished hate about Jewish people, racism is rampant.
People in the GOP have noticed. Fuentes is not someone who has slipped under the radar. If you follow the base, you can’t somehow not see it, just like you can’t pretend groups like the Proud Boys and Oath Keepers aren’t gaining ground in these same online spaces, too.
And some Rs are more overt than others in winking at, or meeting with, these types. But it’s often in the style of Rep. [Marjorie Taylor Greene] earlier this year, when she spoke at Fuentes event. A brush up against that bloc, then quick distancing. And the cost of the brush up? Not a career killer…
How scared are Republicans of not disciplining their wayward fringe? Even the Republican Jewish Coalition refused to call out Trump by name in response to the meeting.
If my choice is between not calling attention to Trump’s behavior for fear of boring people, or calling it out to periodically remind tuned-out folks about who Trump is and what he thinks, I’ll opt for the latter. Thankfully, the 2022 midterms suggest that Trump’s behavior does alienate a pivotal bloc of Republicans. Furthermore, it seems that Trump’s own staffers will continuing their long tradition of crapping all over their boss.
The hard-working staff here at Drezner’s World will endeavor not to obsess about Trump and his malignant tendencies. That is not good for anyone. There are plenty of other important topics that are column-worthy. But I am not going to ignore him either. Until and unless he is no longer the leader of the Republican party, it’s news when he crosses a line. And he will keep crossing lines.