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From haute cuisine to hate cuisine: Why Republicans are finally taking aim at Trump

A fascist and an antisemite walk into a bar.

It’s not the beginning of an old joke; rather, it captures last week’s troubling dinner between former President Trump, white supremacist and Holocaust denier Nick Fuentes and rapper and peddler of antisemitism Kanye West.

Theodore Roosevelt famously dined with Booker T. Washington. Barack Obama had a beer at the White House with Harvard University professor Henry Louis Gates and James Crowley, the Boston police sergeant who wrongly arrested Gates at his Cambridge home in response to a 911 caller’s report of breaking and entering at the residence.

Then there’s last week’s conversion of haute cuisine to hate cuisine. It wasn’t the first time Trump found himself in vile company. But this time, it’s worth focusing on the Republican reaction rather than the instigating action. Because, this time, it seems a bit different.

It’s a feeding frenzy.

The reaction by some Republicans wasn’t exactly a rapid-response chorus of outrage, but it did offer prominent and forthright denunciations of Trump. Former Vice President Pence called on the former president to apologize, and said that Trump had “demonstrated profoundly poor judgment” for holding the meeting. Sen. Mitt Romney (R-Utah) called the dinner “disgusting” and reminded us that “there’s no bottom to the degree to which President Trump will degrade himself and the nation.”

Former Gov. Asa Hutchinson (R-Ark.) called the meeting “very troubling” and “empowering” for extremism. Sens. Joni  Ernst (R-Iowa) and Shelley Moore Capito (R-W.Va.) summed it up with the same word: “ridiculous.”

Just as fascinating to watch was Trump’s own strained attempt at plausible deniability. In a post on Truth Social on Friday, he wrote: “This past week, Kanye West called me to have dinner at Mar-a-Lago. Shortly thereafter, he unexpectedly showed up with three of his friends, whom I knew nothing about. We had dinner on Tuesday evening with many members present on the back patio. The dinner was quick and uneventful. They then left for the airport.”

Fair enough, I suppose. Many of us have found ourselves stuck with strangers at the communal dining table or at the airport, striking up awkward conversations about the weather, sports or, say, the evil Jews and the satanic liberal cabal that’s allowing hordes of aliens across the border so they can rape, pillage and destroy America as the last bastion of white order (“and would you please pass the salt?”).

The condemnation of some Republicans was important, but not nearly unanimous. PBS asked 57 Republicans what they thought of the dinner as they returned to Washington this week. The response ranged from no response to calling the meeting a “bad idea” to “saying antisemitism can’t be tolerated but stop[ping] short of condemning Trump directly.” Sen. Tommy Tuberville (R-Ala.) suggested that Trump “could make better choices.” Another Churchillian moment of moral clarity came from Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.): “You know, when you hang out with people like that, it’s not good.”

Still, the willingness of some Republicans to pounce on Trump raises a question: When he commits moral outrages, is it now easier to go from holding one’s tongue to a tongue lashing? Has the glitter crumbled to a coat of dust? 

Timing is everything in politics, and Trump has had a tough few weeks. His endorsement of candidates, his prominence in the headlines, helped drag Republicans to a midterm “meh”; an almost historic underperformance.

In this week’s Quinnipiac poll, Trump running for president in 2024 is seen as a bad thing by 57 percent of Americans, including 27 percent of Republicans. Republicans are evenly split over whom they prefer to win the Republican nomination, with 44 percent preferring Trump, 44 percent preferring Florida Governor Ron DeSantis and 11 percent not offering an opinion. Not exactly omnipotent numbers for the former president only three weeks after announcing his 2024 campaign.

It’s true that Trump’s numbers were mediocre after he announced his first run. But there’s a difference. Then, Republicans (and Democrats) underestimated and misjudged him. By the time he became a real threat, they couldn’t figure out how to penetrate his political vulnerabilities. He was like the recurring alien Borgs in “Star Trek,” linked in a “hive mind” to an angry, resentful electorate. As the script said, “Resistance was futile.”

Now, Republicans may sense an opportunity to achieve Trump’s policies without Trump’s personality. To probe cracks in Teflon Don, to exploit moments of perceived weakness, to hit back. After all, in Washington, we always kick a man when he’s down … then drive over him with a bus … then back up the bus.

Whatever the motivation for the condemnation of Trump’s dinner with a fascist and an antisemite, it elicited the kind of response that we used to take for granted in America: “ridiculous.”

Steve Israel represented New York in the U.S. House of Representatives over eight terms and was chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee from 2011 to 2015. He is now director of the Cornell Jeb E. Brooks School of Public Policy Institute of Politics and Global Affairs. Follow him on Twitter @RepSteveIsrael. 

Tags Antisemitism Donald Trump Kanye West Kanye West Nick Fuentes Trump 2024 White supremacy

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