Editor’s Note: Dean Obeidallah, a former attorney, is the host of SiriusXM radio’s daily program “The Dean Obeidallah Show” and a columnist for The Daily Beast. Follow him @DeanObeidallah. The opinions expressed in this commentary are his own. View more opinion on CNN.
Just one week after formally announcing his 2024 White House bid, former President Donald Trump dined at Mar-a-Lago with Kanye West, who recently made headlines for spouting antisemitic conspiracy theories, and Nick Fuentes, a White supremacist and Holocaust denier. And to be blunt, the only surprising part of this is that Trump is now trying to distance himself from Fuentes by saying he didn’t previously know the far-right activist or invite him to the dinner.
Dining with bigots is perfectly on brand for Trump, given his well-documented history of making vulgar comments about majority non-White countries and downplaying the threat posed by White supremacists. But let’s put aside for a moment whether Trump knew Fuentes, an avid Trump supporter who once said, “All I want is revenge against my enemies and a total Aryan victory.”
Trump certainly knows West — who legally changed his name to Ye — as evidenced by the rapper’s high-profile visit to the White House in 2018. Last week, Trump welcomed West to Mar-a-Lago despite the latter repeatedly making antisemitic comments.
Amid a maelstrom of controversy over the visit, Trump wrote on Truth Social, his social media platform, that West had shown up unexpectedly at Mar-a-Lago with three friends and that “we got along great.”
To be clear, West’s offensive statements weren’t a one-off controversy from decades past — they were literally made weeks ago. Some of his dangerous remarks, as documented by the Anti-Defamation League, included downplaying the Holocaust and perpetuating conspiracies about Jews controlling various industries and harming Black people. His antisemitic comments have led Adidas, Balenciaga and other companies to sever ties with the music star. Amid the backlash, West made rueful comments saying that the controversy — and the high financial price he is paying for his remarks — is a sign that he is “being humbled” by God.
Yet just weeks after this firestorm, Trump was not only dining with West but also defending his decision to host the music star in a post on Truth Social.
West, according to Trump, “expressed no anti-Semitism, & I appreciated all of the nice things he said about me on ‘Tucker Carlson.’ Why wouldn’t I agree to meet? Also, I didn’t know Nick Fuentes.” He noted that West sought “advice concerning some of his difficulties, in particular having to do with his business.”
Trump’s embrace of West — not to mention his failure to condemn his recent history of trafficking in hate against the Jewish community — normalizes what should never be normalized. Perhaps Trump’s own history of trafficking in antisemitic tropes makes him comfortable with such bigotry, although Trump and his supporters have asserted over the years that the former President cannot be antisemitic because his son-in-law Jared Kushner is Jewish and his daughter Ivanka converted to Judaism.
While we can debate why Trump would embrace West, what we do know is that the former President doesn’t seem to care about what the consequences are for a minority community if he sees some benefit for himself. After all, this is the same Trump who demonized Muslims during his 2016 campaign, from his call for a “complete shutdown” of Muslims entering the United States to refusing to walk back his wholly unsupported claim about Middle Eastern people in New Jersey cheering the 9/11 attack.
Trump knew that that would play well with the GOP base during the 2016 primaries — and he was correct, given that polls at the time showed broad Republican support for a ban on Muslims. Given that no one knows the GOP base better than Trump, it’s possible that he thinks embracing West will help him politically in 2024.
The same principle applies to the even more vile Fuentes. It’s difficult to take Trump at his word that he was unaware of who Fuentes is. Given the protection afforded him as a former President, it seems unlikely that his Secret Service detail would simply allow anyone to walk up to him without having vetted that person first.
It’s also worth noting that Fuentes is a star in Trump World. In 2017, he began hosting the show “America First” on the Trump-aligned Right Side Broadcasting Network until it parted ways with Fuentes after he attended the Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, that brought together White supremacists, neo-Nazis and the like.
Fuentes is also the founder of the Trump-inspired America First Foundation, with the stated mission “to educate, promote, and advocate for conservative values based on principles of American Nationalism, Christianity, and Traditionalism.”
In fact, Trump’s political allies such as GOP Reps. Marjorie Taylor Greene and Paul Gosar caused a furor earlier this year by attending a conference organized by Fuentes.
However, even if you believe Trump didn’t know who Fuentes was before the dinner, he absolutely does now, given the criticism directed at him from fellow Republicans such as former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie and the Republican Jewish Coalition. Yet Trump has still not denounced Fuentes or his hate-filled beliefs.
Perhaps in a few days, with enough pressure, Trump might denounce Fuentes the same way he “disavowed” David Duke during the 2016 campaign. At first, Trump claimed he didn’t “know anything about” Duke, a former Ku Klux Klan grand wizard who had endorsed him. After a firestorm of criticism, however, Trump — seemingly grudgingly — cut ties to Duke.
If past is prologue, future polls will show Trump has not lost any support among his fans for dining with West and Fuentes — and failing to denounce the hateful rhetoric they are known for. This Trump episode can rightfully be labeled many things, from normalizing antisemitism to emboldening White supremacy. But the overriding takeaway is that it is perfectly consistent with Trump’s brand.