Donald Trump was accused of a “serious lack of judgement” for meeting outspoken anti-Semite Nick Fuentes, with senior Republicans saying the former president was unfit to be the party’s candidate in 2024.
Mr Trump faced a chorus of condemnation as details emerged of last Tuesday’s dinner at Mar-a-Lago, which was also attended by rapper Kanye West – who has also been dropped by major brands for anti-Semitic comments.
“This is just another example of an awful lack of judgement from Donald Trump, which, combined with his past poor judgments, make him an untenable general election candidate for the Republican Party in 2024,” former New Jersey governor Chris Christie told the New York Times.
Mr Trump insisted he did not know of Nick Fuentes, a Holocaust-denier banned from Twitter, who was brought along to the dinner by Kanye West.
But influential conservative commentator Ben Shapiro was unconvinced, tweeting: “A good way not to accidentally dine with a vile racist and anti-Semite you don’t know is not to dine with a vile racist and anti-Semite you do know.”
Former Arkansas governor Asa Hutchinson, who is expected to run for the Oval Office, added: “I don’t think it’s a good idea for a leader that’s setting an example for the country or the party to meet with [an] avowed racist or anti-Semite.
“And so, it’s very troubling, and it shouldn’t happen,” Hutchinson told CNN.
“And we need to avoid those kinds of empowering [of] the extremes. And when you meet with people, you empower them, and that’s what you have to avoid. You want to diminish their strength, not empower them. Stay away from them.”
Marc Short, who was vice-president Mike Pence’s chief of staff, described the dinner as “terrible judgement”.
He added: “I think ever since the 2020 election the former president has descended into the heart of darkness.”
Asked about the meeting, Joe Biden said: “You don’t want to hear what I think.”
‘Bigotry, hate and anti-Semitism’
Andrew Bates, deputy White House press secretary, was more forthcoming. “Bigotry, hate, and anti-Semitism have absolutely no place in America – including at Mar-a-Lago.”
However, Ron DeSantis, Mr Trump’s main rival for the Republican nomination and Kevin McCarthy, who is likely to be Republican speaker of the house, chose not to become embroiled in the controversy.
The row erupted as some polls for the Republican nomination showed Mr Trump running neck and neck with Mr DeSantis, while others gave the former president a substantial lead.
One anonymous Trump adviser described the meeting with Mr Fuentes as a “f------ nightmare”.
It will also do Mr Trump few favours with Jewish voters, with whom the former president has a rocky relationship.
Only last month he accused US Jews of failing to support Israel in a posting on his Truth Social media channel.
He used the same platform on Saturday to distance himself from Mr Fuentes, in what appeared to be an exercise in damage limitation.
“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’.
“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. I told him don’t run for office, a total waste of time, can’t win. Fake News went CRAZY!”
But the rapper painted a very different picture, saying Mr Trump had been very impressed by 24-year-old Mr Fuentes.
“I like this guy, he gets me,” Mr Trump reportedly said.
Outflanking Trump from the Right
But in a series of Telegram posts, Mr Fuentes appeared to turn on his host, calling for a candidate to outflank Mr Trump from the Right.
“What are Christian Americans going to get out of a McCarthy speakership or new Trump White House? Lower gas prices? Reduce the corporate tax rate?
“Years will pass us by as things remain fundamentally the same. We must dream bigger.”
On his America First livestream show, Mr Fuentes, who describes himself as a Christian conservative, described Jews as a “hostile tribal elite” .
In a Telegram post earlier this month he wrote: “Jews have too much power in our society. Christians should have all the power, everyone else very little.”