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Last week, former President Donald Trump dined with Kanye West and Nick Fuentes at his Mar-A-Lago resort. West, you’ve probably heard of, he of the bipolar disorder, anti-Semitism, and former Kardashian in-laws (sad we don’t even talk about his music anymore).
Fuentes, if you’re a normal person going about your day, was probably a new face and name. He’s a young goon, the fringe (!) of the Trumpjuegend brigade whose outbursts about racism, the Jews, and his desire for a tyrannical, Trump-led fascist state might be new to you.
On cue, Trump denied (sort-of) who he was eating with, and the media and Twittersphere (such as it is anymore) went ballistic. Rightfully so, of course. Of the three, West was probably the least objectionable - a sign of the relative repellence of the cadre.
Soon, the questions for every other Republican leader, operative, and financier began: What do you think of this meeting? Aren’t you appalled by Trump’s palling around with the crazed and ugly dregs of the MAGA movement?
A few Republicans, like Mike Pence, John Thune, and Susan Collins (very disappointed, I’m sure,) have decried Trump’s three’s company evening. Telling that it’s mostly Senate Republicans, desperate to hold onto some vestige of the past. Most likely, though, they’re not up in 2024.
No one should be surprised Trump met with these people at his home. He’s the same guy who was held liable 40 years ago for explicit racial discrimination in his apartment buildings. He’s the same guy who waited two weeks to decline David Duke’s endorsement. He’s the same guy who told us there were very good people ‘on both sides’ in Charlottesville, Virginia, in the before-times of 2017.
Nope, none of the ‘normal’ Republicans were surprised. But, damned as they already are, were they going to say anything publicly about it. Why? There are a few reasons.
When you hear someone say, “I love Trump’s policies, but I don’t like him,” they’re being honest, as far as it goes. Trump, in a rare example of a politician keeping his promises, gave his biggest supporters everything they wanted. They just had to trade the country for it - something they’re more than happy to do.
The big money guys in the GOP: Steve Schartzman, Chuck Schwab, Ken Griffin, (the now-deceased) Sheldon Adelson, were happy to finance Trump. He gave them the biggest personal and corporate tax breaks in recent memory. They wanted to be left alone by the Feds, and so long as they stayed in line, they were. Trump let them keep their money and play god in their little worlds; they delivered the cash.
The evangelical movement, which on parchment should have nothing to do with Trump, got everything it wanted. They wanted a radically remade federal judiciary, remade in their image: white, Christian, nationalist, and misogynistic. Trump supplied the justices, the churches brought the voters.
The rank-and-file Republican voter? They got what they wanted, too. They got someone who finally gave body and voice to their diminishing role in the country. Trump gave them license to be their biggest, baddest, loudest asshole selves, and they love him for it. He let them strike back at the elites (the same bankrolling his campaigns), and they showed up for him in droves.
A note here: While there is an inclination to believe that most die-hard Trump supporters wear MAGA hats and eagles on their t-shirts, we cannot and must not overlook the shocking number of college-educated, professionally successful, suburban white men who also thrive on Trumpism. Look at the January 6th rioters. These were largely people of means.
Most Republican voters, for that matter, can’t be shocked. They knew what they signed up for when 61 million of them elected him in 2016, and 75 million voted for him in 2020.
So why don’t more GOP leaders speak up and speak out against Trump’s latest transgressions? First, because they need his core voters: Ye and Fuentes speak to (and for) a significant portion of #UltraMAGA. Without those voters, who are nihilistic by nature and happy to stay home if Trump tells them to, must be placated.
Next, why tangle with the dragon before it’s necessary? As Mitch McConnell’s top lieutenant, Josh Holmes said in November 2020, “What’s the harm in humoring him?” Republicans know what’s happening is wrong, but they’re not going to tell anyone outside their family and friends that.
Lastly, at least half the country, and maybe more of it, seems perfectly willing to accept Donald Trump as a mainstream part of American political culture in the third decade of the 21st Century. If the country is split down the middle, why take a stand on things like dignity, decency, and democracy?