WASHINGTON - Former US president Donald Trump’s impromptu dinner with Mr Nick Fuentes at Mar-a-Lago last week has drawn condemnation from only a handful of Republicans, while most sidestepped the matter or said nothing.
Those silent so far include Florida Governor Ron DeSantis, former vice-president Mike Pence, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell and House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, the chamber’s likely next speaker.
Mr Chris Christie, the former New Jersey governor who is rumoured to be weighing a 2024 bid for the presidency, told The New York Times it showed an “awful lack of judgment” by Mr Trump that, when combined with other transgressions, made him an “untenable general election candidate for the Republican Party in 2024”.
Mr Fuentes, who repeatedly expresses white supremacist and anti-Semitic views, arrived at Mar-a-Lago as a guest of Ye, formerly known as rapper Kanye West, who has run afoul of sponsors and social media with anti-Semitic remarks of his own.
Mr Trump’s former ambassador to Israel, Mr David Friedman, called Mr Fuentes “human scum” and urged Mr Trump to disavow both men.
Arkansas Governor Asa Hutchinson, speaking on CNN’s State Of The Union on Sunday, called it “very troubling” and said Republicans should reject anti-Semitism.
“I don’t think it’s a good idea for a leader that’s setting an example for the party or the country to meet with an avowed racist or anti-Semite,” said Mr Hutchinson, another potential 2024 candidate.
Representative James Comer, a Kentucky Republican, told NBC’s Meet The Press that Mr Trump “certainly needs better judgment in who he dines with”.
Republican National Committee chairman Ronna McDaniel criticised the meeting without naming Mr Trump.
“As I had repeatedly said, white supremacy, neo-Nazism, hate speech and bigotry are disgusting and do not have a home in the Republican Party,” she said in a statement.
Former secretary of state Mike Pompeo, yet another potential 2024 candidate, condemned anti-Semitism without saying what prompted his comments.
“Anti-Semitism is a cancer,” he tweeted. “We stand with the Jewish people in the fight against the world’s oldest bigotry.”
Mr Trump sought to distance himself from the meeting, saying he did not know Ye would bring Mr Fuentes. The former president, who announced his bid for a second term on Nov 15, still wields tremendous influence over the party, casting uncertainty over Republican efforts to move on.
With the 2024 race still taking shape, Mr DeSantis has avoided direct confrontation with Mr Trump in recent months, even when the former president has attacked him head-on.
The Florida governor’s office did not respond to a request for comment at the weekend, nor did the offices of Mr Pence, Mr McConnell and Mr McCarthy.
President Joe Biden, who has cited Mr Trump’s reluctance to condemn a 2017 white supremacist rally in Charlottesville as pushing him to seek the presidency, deflected a reporter’s question about the Mar-a-Lago meeting.
“You don’t want to hear what I think,” Mr Biden said while shopping in Nantucket, Massachusetts, during a family holiday.
A White House spokesman criticised the meeting earlier on Saturday.
“Bigotry, hate and anti-Semitism have absolutely no place in America – including at Mar-a-Lago,” spokesman Andrew Bates said in a statement. “Holocaust denial is repugnant and dangerous, and it must be forcefully condemned.”
Other Democrats have condemned the meeting, with some portraying Republicans as mostly unwilling to take a stand.
“Most Republicans will say zero about their leader meeting with a white supremacist leader,” Senator Chris Murphy, a Democrat from Connecticut, tweeted.
Mr Fuentes is the founder of the America First Foundation, which advocates “conservative values based on principles of American nationalism, Christianity and traditionalism”.
The New York Times reported that Mr Fuentes is a Holocaust denier who, in his podcast, has recently called for the military to be sent into black neighborhoods and demanded that Jews leave the country.
Mr Trump has said Ye came to ask him for advice.
“We got along great, he expressed no anti-Semitism,” Mr Trump wrote on his social media platform, Truth Social. “Also, I didn’t know Nick Fuentes.”
In a video posted afterward, Ye said Fuentes impressed Mr Trump.
“So, Trump is really impressed with Nick Fuentes,” Ye said. “And Nick Fuentes, unlike so many of the lawyers and so many people he was left with on his 2020 campaign, he’s actually a loyalist,” he said. BLOOMBERG