10 min read

Trump’s final iteration

Trump’s dinner with a pair of anti-semites reveals the “heart of darkness” at the core of his latest campaign. Plus: thoughts on “Kanye. Elon. Trump.”
Trump’s final iteration
(Gage Skidmore)

Good morning! It’s Monday, November 28, 2022. The 2024 elections are 708 days away.

Welcome back to Wake Up To Politics. I hope you had a great Thanksgiving — and that you’re ready to jump back into the swirling world of American politics.

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Analysis: Delving into Trump’s “heart of darkness”

Last Tuesday night, just before Thanksgiving, two of America’s most prominent anti-semites walked into Mar-a-Lago and shared a turkey-and-stuffing dinner with the former president of the United States.

Donald Trump has since clarified that he meant only to dine with rapper Kanye West, who threatened just last month to go “death con 3 on Jewish people,” and not also with far-right activist Nick Fuentes, who denies the Holocaust and has been labeled a “white supremacist” by the Justice Department.  

“So I help a seriously troubled man, who just happens to be black, Ye (Kanye West), who has been decimated in his business and virtually everything else, and who has always been good to me, by allowing his request for a meeting at Mar-a-Lago, alone, so that I can give him very much needed ‘advice,’” Trump wrote on Truth Social. “He shows up with 3 people, two of which I didn’t know, the other a political person who I haven’t seen in years... Fake News went CRAZY.”

Trump did not mention why West has been “decimated in his business” (his repeated embrace of anti-semitic rhetoric and conspiracy theories), simply writing in a subsequent post: “We got along great, he expressed no anti-semitism, & I appreciated all of the nice things he said about me on ‘Tucker Carlson.’” While continuing to praise West, the former president has repeatedly insisted that he did not know who Fuentes was.

Three iterations of Trump

Say what you will about Trump’s 2016 campaign — which featured its own controversy about his refusal to disavow white supremacists — but its success was at least partly due to the transmission of a clear narrative about why he was running and a platform of key policy ideas he would frequently return to.

Being Trump, the campaign was obviously checkered and unfocused at times — but there were real themes at its heart, about an outsider businessman running against the elites to “drain the swamp,” champion the “forgotten man and woman,” and shake things up in Washington by building “the wall,” ending the “forever wars,” and withdrawing from existing trade deals.

Trump 2016 won, of course, but eventually gave way to Trump 2020, the failed re-election bid with a focus not on policy or the “forgotten and woman” but on the never-forgotten Trump himself. Instead of seeking to again channel the emotions of his supporters, Trump often used campaign rallies to air personal grievances that he had built up over four years in office, railing against a hard-to-follow cast of characters in the media, Justice Department, and elsewhere. (See his 2019 acting-out of the romantic texts between two obscure FBI agents who had investigated him.)

Most symbolically, his second campaign for the presidency featured no policy platform whatsoever (the GOP merely declared its support of the 2016 platform and, above all, its loyalty to Trump); when Trump was pressed by dogged interviewer Sean Hannity to name the policies he would pursue in a second term, the then-president famously came up empty.

Now comes Trump 2024, the former president’s third run at the White House. It has only been two weeks since he announced, but there is scant evidence thus far that he has learned the lessons of his 2020 loss. Instead, Trump appears to be sinking even further into his own bizarro world.

This much can be seen by a survey of Trump’s recent posts on Truth Social, which has replaced his Twitter account as the most reliable peek into his unfiltered id. There’s election denialism (the exact kind rejected by voters in this year’s midterms), false claims about investigators, apologia for the events of January 6th, criticism of the Supreme Court (one of his major policy accomplishments), illogically racist taunts against his rivals, and a stream of reposts of QAnon memes.

As Trump’s third campaign continues, expect it to only get weirder and more disconnected from anything resembling policy. With establishment Republicans fleeing his circle (and fewer gatekeepers than ever), Trump will be left increasingly to mix with the fringes of his base, leading to incidents like his dinner with West and Fuentes.

“The [former] president has descended deeper into the heart of darkness,” Marc Short, who served in Trump’s administration as former Vice President Mike Pence’s chief of staff, said on CNN on Sunday.

Rapper Kanye West was recently welcomed to Mar-a-Lago despite anti-semitic comments. (Kim Erlandsen / NRK P3)

The GOP’s response

Just like the many scandals of his presidency, the Republican response to the Trump-West-Fuentes repast has been largely one of silence, albeit with some notable voices speaking out. A sampling of the speakers-out:

Absent from that list: most of his potential rivals for the 2024 Republican nomination, including Gov. Ron DeSantis (R-FL) and former Vice President Mike Pence. Christie, a former Trump confidant who now seems poised to run a guns-blazing campaign against him in 2024, was one of the few exceptions; Trump’s other rivals appear (at least for now) to be nursing similar strategies to his 2016 opponents, trying to ignore him and hoping his support will magically dissipate on its own.

Trump’s former secretary of state and possible 2024 rival Mike Pompeo, for example, tweeted on Saturday that “anti-semitism is a cancer,” without giving any mention of why he suddenly saw fit to declare that. (RNC chairwoman Ronna McDaniel and the Republican Jewish Coalition also both issued statements criticizing anti-semitism without naming or criticizing Trump.)

Also absent from the list: the two top Republicans in Congress, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) and House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-CA).

As Congress returns from its Thanksgiving break this week, any comments on the dinner from McCarthy will be especially interesting to watch. He is currently in the throes of vying to be speaker of the House in the next Congress, a campaign that is reliant on far-right lawmakers like Reps. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-GA) and Paul Gosar (R-AZ), both of whom spoke at a conference organized by Fuentes in February.

Any move McCarthy makes could further endanger his already imperiled campaign: silence could lose him moderate support, Trump criticism could cost him far-right members.

In general, few congressional Republicans spoke out on the issue this weekend, although the silence will be harder to maintain when they have to face reporters on the Hill again this week. Nearly two dozen House and Senate Republicans, including co-chairs of caucus and task forces on anti-semitism, did not respond to Axios when the news outlet reached out for comments on the dinner.

Former Gov. Chris Christie was one of the few Republicans to condemn Trump for his dinner with anti-semites. (Gage Skidmore)

One final thought

I’ve found myself thinking lately about this tweet from the Republican staff of the House Judiciary Committee, as the three men mentioned in it dominated the normally-quiet Thanksgiving weekend news cycle:

It should be noted that this tweet came a few days before the worst of West’s anti-semitic outbursts — but it still remains live on Twitter and hasn’t been deleted, despite plenty of attention paid to it.

The tweet does not explicitly praise the trio, of course — it merely lists them, almost as a mantra — but, from the account’s other tweets, there is no mistaking the embedded message: holding up all three as figures to be celebrated, especially in the face of liberal criticism against them.

There is a lot that binds the three men, after all. Each has shown flashes of genius in their chosen fields but is consistently weighed down by a driving need — and knack — for grabbing attention. They are all proud provocateurs who have mastered the 21st-century media game, to the point that their every word can often merit headlines.

Fellow travelers across the ideological spectrum, they have all only relatively recently ensconced themselves in the political right: Trump, after all, was a Democratic donor and Clinton pal in the 1990s and 2000s; Musk and West were both Obama backers.

Their journeys to the right wing all took place at different times and for different reasons, but each had less to do with policy and more with culture wars. They have a shared delight in rebelling against the conventions of “political correctness” or, as it is now referred to, “wokeness”: West’s latest political splash began with a “White Lives Matter” t-shirt, Musk recently decried “the woke mind virus,” and Trump warned in his 2024 announcement against “the globalists, the Marxists, the radicals, the woke corporations...and the most dangerous domestic censorship system ever created by man or woman.”

The unlikely trio has now converged at the white-hot center of American politics, as Trump and West controversially break bread and Musk welcomes both back onto his recently-acquired Twitter (along with other right-wing accounts).

Interestingly, they appear poised to head in different directions in 2024, as Trump and West plan competing campaigns and Musk lends his support to DeSantis. (Per West, Trump declined an offer to be his running mate.)

In the meantime, they are likely to trade off bobbling in and out of the political-entertainment-media fore for the foreseeable future, as if engaged in a rotation foretold by the pulsing rhythm of the @JudiciaryGOP tweet, which now appears to occupy our news cycles and, not infrequently, our minds: Kanye. Elon. Trump. Kanye. Elon. Trump. Kanye. Elon. Trump. Again and again and again.

🚨 What else you should know

CHINA: “Protesters angered by strict anti-virus measures called for China’s powerful leader to resign, an unprecedented rebuke as authorities in at least eight cities struggled to suppress demonstrations Sunday that represent a rare direct challenge to the ruling Communist Party.” AP

GEORGIA: With eight days to go until the Georgia Senate runoff, more than 180,000 voters have already cast ballots in the contest since early voting began in some counties this weekend. All 159 of the state’s counties are required to offer early in-person voting starting today.

2024: President Biden may have turned 80 last week, but he is still marching towards a re-election bid in 2024. And Democrats are increasingly consolidating behind him after their successes in this month’s midterms: most recently, Politico reported this weekend that Gov. Gavin Newsom (D-CA) promised Biden he wouldn’t challenge him for the Democratic nod.

Gavin Newsom says he won’t run for president in 2024. (Gage Skidmore)

🗓 What your leaders are doing today

All times Eastern. Click on an event’s time to watch or listen to it.

Executive Branch

President Biden will receive his daily intelligence briefing (10:30 am) and host the 2022 Nobel Prize winners from the U.S. at the White House (1:30 pm). Per the Washington Post, he will also sign a memorandum “directing U.S. agencies to strengthen their response to sexual violence in conflict zones, including in Ukraine.”

Vice President Harris and Second Gentleman Doug Emhoff will fly back to Washington (1:40 pm) from Los Angeles, where they have been since Tuesday.

First Lady Jill Biden will participate in a roundtable discussion with National Guard families on education for military-connected children (11:30 am) and deliver remarks to unveil this year’s White House holiday theme and offer a “holiday message of unity and hope” (12:30 pm).

White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre and National Security Council spokesman John Kirby will hold the daily White House press briefing (2:30 pm).

Legislative Branch

The Senate will convene (3 pm) and hold a procedural vote to advance the Respect for Marriage Act, which would repeal the Defense of Marriage Act of 1996 and codify federal recognition of same-sex and interracial marriages.

The House is out until tomorrow.  

Judicial Branch

The Supreme Court will hear oral arguments in two corruption cases:

  • Percoco v. United States (10 am), a case involving a former Andrew Cuomo aide that asks whether a private citizen who wields influence over public policy — but holds no elected or appointed office — can be convicted under federal public corruption laws. Read more
  • Ciminelli v. United States (11 am), which asks whether a government contractor committed federal wire fraud while bidding for a New York development project (also during the Cuomo administration). Read more

👋 Before I go...

Here’s something positive: You may have seen the viral story of Wanda Dench and Jamal Hinton, the accidental Thanksgiving duo who first celebrated the holiday together in 2016 after Dench accidentally invited Hinton to her family’s meal, meaning to text her grandson.

Hinton jokingly asked if he could still join, to which Dench replied: “Of course you can. That’s what grandmas do...feed everyone.”

This year, the pair celebrated their seventh Thanksgiving together at Hinton’s home in Phoenix. Netflix is even turning their story into a movie: “The Thanksgiving Text,” due to come out next year. Here’s more on Dench and Hinton via ABC15 in Arizona.

Dench’s overall message from the experience, shared with the ABC15 reporter: “You don’t have to have anything in common with anybody to be a friend. Get to know them. Sit down. Talk to them.”

Jamal Hinton and Wanda Dench, the viral Thanksgiving duo. (Twitter)

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