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Why there's reason to doubt Trump 'knew nothing' about Nick Fuentes
The former president dines with known white nationalist, an association not unfamiliar to Trump as he seeks to build his foundation for his 2024 presidential campaign.
Summary: Donald Trump has a history of reaching out to the extreme factions of his coalition when the chips are down and he needs to build a base of support. That’s why his denials he knew anything about his dinner partner Nick Fuentes are hard to believe.
In case you've been offline a bit for the Thanksgiving holiday (as have I), you may have missed the big news story over the weekend was Nick Fuentes being one of Donald Trump's guest at a dinner at Mar-a-Lago.
You may not be familiar with Fuentes or his record as a white nationalist or Holocaust denier. In recent months, his most high-profile act was his remarks at an event that coincided with CPAC when he told a crowd their "secret sauce" was being young white men. At a time shortly after the Ukraine invasion, Fuentes asked for a show of support for Vladimir Putin. The crowd gave Fuentes a very militaristic cheer. He's that guy.
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So Trump — who gave his Jewish son-in-law Jared Kushner and daughter Ivanka Trump senior positions in his White House; whose administration settled peace agreements between Israel and other countries in the Middle East; and who counted as one of his achievements moving the U.S. embassy to Jerusalem — dined with an open anti-Semite who had a key role in the 2017 "Unite the Right" white supremacist rally and subsequent violence in Charlottesville.
Trump has downplayed the meeting. If you were to believe him, he "knew nothing about" Fuentes or any of the guests with whom he was breaking bread with one exception, the rapper formerly known as Kanye West. Fuentes was just a companion for a small four-person dinner brought by Ye, who's now persona non-grata on his accord after his repeated anti-Semitic comments on social media cost him his corporate sponsorships. This dinner also happens when Trump is seeking publicly shortly after announcing his 2024 presidential campaign and when he knows everything he does will be heavily scrutinized.
Anyone who would accept Trump's denials would have to accept of all that as coincidence as well. So I'm very skeptical Trump was ignorant of the nature of his dinner guests, or that Trump or anyone on his team was unaware Fuentes would be among them.
At the same time, I concede I cannot rule that out. I realize by throwing cold water over Trump denials, I'm pushing up against reporting from major media outlets quoting anonymous sources close to Trump affirming he had no idea who Fuentes was. One such report in NBC News characterizes the Trump team in a headline as "doing damage control" after the dinner and quoting a Trump adviser as saying the situation is a "f----king nightmare."
Keep in mind, however, Trump is incorrect by saying he never previously met any of his dinner guests aside from Ye. The same article quotes anonymous sources familiar with the dinner as saying one of the guests was Karen Giorno, Trump's 2016 campaign manager in Florida. Trump knows this woman by sight, these sources were quoted as saying. Possibly, the sources quoted here are willing to concede that in an attempt to make Trump's denials seem more credible with respect to Fuentes. It comes off as the opposite way to me.
Believing Trump would also mean ignoring his history of signaling support for white nationalist like Fuentes while obfuscating it as the same time. Sometimes I think these supposed signals are made up or overblown by Trump's political opponents. I think the misrepresentation Trump said white nationalists at the 2017 Charlottesville rally were "very fine people" has been debunked enough times. But other times, I think he's in fact giving them a wink and a nod, which is all the more successful if he's able to do that under the radar.
Take, for example, the CPAC event where Fuentes spoke approvingly of Putin's invasion of Ukraine. That was around the time Trump during radio interview said Putin was a "genius" for declaring separatist regions of Ukraine were now part of Russia before moving in for the invasion. Trump was condemned for praising Putin, but would echo that during his CPAC speech when he said on one hand the Ukraine invasion wouldn't have happened with him in the White House, but on the other Putin was "very smart." Trump knew what interested Fuentes and his supporters and wanted their support, so he consciously made the effort to echo their praise for Putin despite the controversy.
If Trump knew nothing about Fuentes last week, Trump certainly knew exactly what to say in February during his CPAC speech to make Fuentes’ ears prick.
So why would Trump do this now? In many ways, his administration was landmark in the strides it made for Jewish Americans and the support he signaled for Israel. My view is when Trump thinks the chips are down, he's willing to delve more deeply into the more extreme wings of his coalition without any scruples. We saw that after his election loss in 2020, when he aligned himself with lawyers with unscrupulous and bigoted histories to challenge the election results and gathered among his supporters white nationalists for a rally on Jan. 6, 2021 before siccing them on the U.S. Capitol.
I would have to say the chips are down for Trump. Many of the key power brokers who supported him in the 2016 election — whether they be Ann Coulter, Rupert Murdoch or members of his own family — aren't there again for his 2024 campaign. The new favorite is Ron DeSantis, who has been shown to defeat Trump in a Republican primary in at least one recent poll. Trump isn't the front-runner in the Republican presidential field despite that widely held perception.
In 2016, I know a lot of experts said Trump had no reasonable path to the presidency ended up having egg on their faces when Trump pulled off a surprise victory. I always thought he had a chance at winning and the general election would be close. But from my view in 2022, I really don't think Trump having the same fundamentals in place to make lightning strike again.
At the end of the day, I don't see a lot of electoral value in Trump associating himself with Fuentes, to say nothing of the moral implications. I find it remarkable to think there's enough of the white nationalist strain in the American public to propel a victory to the presidency, or even the Republican nomination. I may be naive on that front. Trump could be reaching to Fuentes with a goal in mind altogether different from the presidency and is building a faction of supporters for another purpose. Knowing what happened on Jan. 6, 2021, that goal might be a frightening thing.
With that unpleasant thought in mind, here are a few news stories over the weekend that caught my attention:
UKRAINE PRESIDENT SAYS HE WON’T TALK COMPROMISE WITH RUSSIA: Despite the reports the U.S. government was privately urging Ukraine’s leaders to negotiate a compromise with Russia, as well as President Biden’s open suggestion a during a recent news conference a deal could be reached, Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelensky is having none of that.
The Ukrainian threw cold water on that suggestion in an interview with the Financial Times, saying any territorial concessions would be unacceptable.
'We must return all lands,' Mr Zelensky said, 'because I believe that the battlefield is the way when there is no diplomacy. If you can’t get your land back entirely, the war is simply frozen. It’s a question of time before it resumes.'
Zelensky may not be able to hold that position much longer if he wants continued global support against the Ukraine invasion. The U.S. has been pushed privately pushing Ukraine to reach a deal out of fears the Western coalition that has sworn off Russian oil won’t be resolute forever.
SANCTIONS FOR INVADING UKRAINE CATCHING UP WITH RUSSIA: In other Russia news, the cost of the economic sanctions imposed on the country are beginning to show their impact, according to a report in The Washington Post.
The economy has deteriorated to such an extent that statistics from the Russian government demonstrates a loss in tax revenue in the non-oil and gas sector to be as much as 20 percent.
From The Washington Post:
Recent figures show the situation has worsened considerably since the summer when, buoyed by a steady stream of oil and gas revenue, the Russian economy seemed to stabilize. Figures released by the Finance Ministry last week show a key economic indicator — tax revenue from the non-oil and gas sector — fell 20 percent in October compared with a year earlier, while the Russian state statistics agency Rosstat reported that retail sales fell 10 percent year on year in September, and cargo turnover fell 7 percent.
Shortly after the invasion, Vladimir Putin scoffed the “economic blitzkrieg” had failed and observers pointed out the ruble was stronger than ever. If the economic impact on Russia is as bad as these figure seem, time may have been the necessary ingredient to see the sanctions take effect.
U.N. HUMAN RIGHTS COUNCIL VOTES TO INVESTIGATE IRAN PROTESTS: As the demonstrations continue in Iran and media reports indicates the government had exacted the death penalty and forced confinement to mental institutions as punishment, the United Nations Human Rights Council has voted to investigate.
From The Guardian:
At a special session convened by Germany in Geneva the HRC voted by 25 to six to set up the inquiry, with 15 abstaining. The vote is regarded as a significant victory for human rights defenders, since a mechanism now exists to file evidence of abuses by the state, making the possibility of prosecutions in international courts more likely.
The United Nations has a reputation for being too preoccupied with developed nations as opposed to more critical human rights abuses in other places. The vote to investigate Iran appears to be a step in the other direction. According to The Guardian, the United Nations “has never set up such a powerful mechanism in respect of Iran before.”
The six nations with membership on the council who voted against the investigation were Armenia, China, Cuba, Eritrea, Pakistan and Venezuela, according to Al-Jazeera. The very membership of these countries speaks volumes about the nature of a body within organization charged with overseeing human rights.
Meanwhile, news analysis in the New York Times says developments in Iran, including its support for Russia as part of the Ukraine, has brought any chance of the Biden administration re-entering the 2015 nuclear deal to death knell.
From the New York Times:
Now, President Biden’s hope of re-entering the United States into the deal with Iran that was struck in 2015, and that President Donald J. Trump abandoned, has all but died. Negotiations halted in September, and in recent weeks Mr. Biden has imposed new sanctions on Iran and expressed support for protests that Iran’s hard-liners have portrayed as a mortal threat.
At the White House, national security meetings on Iran are devoted less to negotiation strategy and more to how to undermine Iran’s nuclear plans, provide communications gear to protesters and interrupt the country’s supply chain of weapons to Russia, according to several administration officials.
I remember shortly after the Ukraine invasion, the White House was facing a lot of tough questions from skeptics of the Iran deal about continuing to allow Russia at the negotiating table. It appears the relationship between Russia and Iran has, in fact, served to blow up a deal, but at a level of cooperation not exactly seen at that time.
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