Wednesday, Jan 25, 2023

The Trump Conundrum

Republicans have a Donald Trump problem.

The former president has once again played into the hands of the Democrats who have been trying to destroy him for the past seven years, by allowing his frustration over the outcome of the 2020 election to goad him into making public statements that can be used to portray him as a would-be dictator trying to undermine American democracy. In his latest such statement, made last weekend, Trump condemned the nationwide Democrat effort to weaken voting rules to fix the outcome of the 2020 vote by declaring that, “massive fraud of this type and magnitude allows for the termination of all rules, regulations, and articles, even those found in the Constitution.”

Taken in the proper context, Trump’s meaning was clear. He was not calling for the authority of the US Constitution to be undermined, but rather trying to point out that Democrats in 2020 had distorted and weakened the voting process in several key battleground states to the extent that the outcome of that election could no longer be viewed as a legitimate expression of the free choice of the American people as the authors of the Constitution had intended.

But that benign interpretation of Trump’s words was not consistent with the false narrative that Democrats and their allies in the mainstream media have been promoting about Trump ever since he transformed the nature of American politics with his highly successful 2016 presidential campaign run.

Instead, the media deliberately misinterpreted Trump’s words, describing them as an attack on fundamental American constitutional values, rather than a call by Trump to protect them against the perceived Democrat voting fraud and media coverup conspiracy, which Trump and his supporters believe changed the outcome of the 2020 election and unfairly put Joe Biden in the White House.

Over the next several days, Republican officials across the country were put on the spot by Democrats and their liberal supporters in the mainstream media, who tried to get them to agree to the false narrative claiming that Trump was trying to undermine the authority of the Constitution.

Two days after he made the initial statement, Trump clarified his remarks, making his intentions much clearer. But by that time, it was too late to quell the political firestorm created by the deliberate misinterpretation of Trump’s comment about terminating the limits imposed by the Constitution.

In a pair of posts on his Truth Social media platform, Trump explained that his words had once again been distorted and taken out of context by his political opponents. He wrote, “The Fake News is actually trying to convince the American People that I said I wanted to ‘terminate’ the Constitution. This is simply more DISINFORMATION & LIES, just like RUSSIA, RUSSIA, RUSSIA, and all of their other HOAXES & SCAMS.” Trump also said he only meant that “steps must be immediately taken to RIGHT THE WRONG.”

In his second post, Trump explained that, “If an election is irrefutably fraudulent, it should go to the rightful winner or, at a minimum, be redone. Where open and blatant fraud is involved, there should be no time limit for change!”

Trump’s political ambitions have been back in the liberal media spotlight since last month, when he made the anticipated formal announcement that he will make another run for reelection as the GOP’s candidate for president in 2024. His speech announcing his candidacy had been well received by many conservatives, who noted approvingly that it was firmly based upon Trump’s successful first term domestic, economic, and foreign policies.

But Trump’s attempt to lay a firm foundation for his 2024 presidential run was quickly sabotaged by former Breitbart news editor Milo Yiannopoulos, an extreme right-wing activist. Using his political contacts within the Trump camp, Yiannopoulos engineered an event meant to publicly embarrass the former president by associating him with two notoriously antisemitic bigots — black rapper and fashion designer Kanye West, who now calls himself Ye, and a white supremacist named Nick Fuentes, who were both guests at a widely publicized November 22 dinner that Trump hosted at his Mar-a-Lago estate in Florida.

TRUMP’S DINNER WITH ANTISEMITES WAS A TRAP

Yiannopoulos, who was not present at the dinner himself, later told NBC News that he had arranged it to demonstrate to Trump that he should stop ignoring the far-right wing people, such as West and Fuentes.

“I wanted to show Trump the kind of talent that he’s missing out on by allowing his terrible handlers to dictate who he can and can’t hang out with,” Yiannopoulos said. “I also wanted to send a message to Trump that he has systematically repeatedly neglected, ignored, abused the people who love him the most, the people who put him in office, and that kind of behavior comes back to bite you in the end.”

Yiannopoulos also said that he had expected news of Trump’s meeting with the two racists to be reported in the media, and that the fallout from it would reflect badly on the former president.

In an interview with NBC, Fuentes said that “true loyalists” to Trump, like himself, were growing frustrated with Trump’s recent, carefully prepared statements, and that he told Trump that his message was “better when he was fiery and [spoke] off the cuff.”

Trump’s dinner with the two notorious racists was especially disappointing and embarrassing to Trump’s many Jewish supporters who have rightfully praised his enlightened policies towards Israel during his four years as president.

KANYE WEST IS A DANGEROUSLY INFLUENTIAL ANTISEMITE

Kanye West had already developed a huge personal following on social media outlets. According to Carly Pildis, the director of community engagement at the ADL, West’s antisemitic statements are dangerous because he “has more Twitter followers than there are Jews in the world. There are an estimated 14.8 million Jews and he has over 30 million followers.”

Pildis also said that because “American Jews are experiencing a historic rise in antisemitic incidents, [West’s] actions are extremely dangerous and must be called out.”

West’s antisemitic tirades began on October 7, when he said on his Twitter account that he’d be “going death con 3 On JEWISH PEOPLE [because] you guys have toyed with me and tried to black ball anyone whoever opposes your agenda.” In response to complaints by the ADL and others about the post, Twitter locked West’s account and deleted the offending message.

West’s antisemitic rants were apparently triggered by his previous dialogue on Instagram with fellow rap artist Sean “Diddy” Combs, who had complained about West wearing a t-shirt declaring “White Lives Matter.” West responded by telling Combs that he intended to “use you as an example to show the Jewish people that told you to call me that no one can threaten or influence me.”

PROMOTING THE BLACK-JEWISH MYTH

In an October 6 interview with Fox News icon Tucker Carlson, West claimed that black people are actually “the 12 lost tribes of Judah,” and that it is impossible for him to be fairly described as antisemitic because as a black person, he is actually a Jew. West claims that Jews are using their purported control over the music industry to intimidate him and to “blackball anyone who opposes their agenda.”

West also told Carlson in that same interview that he believed that Donald Trump’s Jewish son-in-law, Jared Kushner, only arranged for the Abraham Accords peace agreements between Arab nations and Israel in order “to make money.”

According to the ADL, West’s claims are similar to followers of the Black Hebrew Israelite (BHI) movement, who reject Judaism and call members of the mainstream Jewish community “imposters” and “fake Jews” while referring to themselves as the only “true Jews.” West’s accusations that Jewish people control the entertainment industry and are using that power to exploit black artists and promote harmful behaviors to black people are similar to ideas promoted by Louis Farrakhan, the notoriously antisemitic leader of the Nation of Islam. West has also claimed that his life has been threatened by his Jewish managers, lawyer, and accountants in an effort to silence his political beliefs.

Most recently, West declared in a broadcast interview with right-wing conspiracy theorist Alex Jones, “I love Jewish people, but I also love Nazis… I like Hitler.” West also issued a social media message which featured a Nazi swastika overlaid on a Magen David.

West has paid dearly since he started issuing his antisemitic tweets in October. He has lost an estimated $250 million due to the cancelation of product endorsements from footwear-maker Adidas. Sales of West’s designer clothing by retailers the Gap and Foot Locker have also been discontinued due to his bigoted remarks, and he has also been dropped as a client by Hollywood’s CAA Creative Artists talent agency.

TRUMP’S DINNER GUEST WAS A SURPRISE

Meanwhile, Trump has insisted that his November 22 Mar-a-Lago dinner was originally supposed to be with Kanye West alone, but that instead, West “arrived with a guest [Fuentes] whom I had never met and knew nothing about.”

Though not a household name, Nick Fuentes has been a leader of several neo-Nazi, white supremacist, and Christian nationalist organizations, and publicly denies the reality of the Holocaust. Fuentes was one of the organizers of the racist rallies in Charlottesville, Virginia, in 2017, and has also called for the creation of a white, Christian theocracy that strips Jews of political power.

West claimed after the dinner that Trump was “really impressed” with Fuentes. According to reports published by Axios and the New York Times, Trump praised Fuentes during the dinner meeting and said at one point, “He gets me.”

BIDEN AND THE DEMOCRATS PILE ON

The intense Democrat criticism of Trump for his dinner meeting with West and Fuentes, as well as the distorted interpretation of Trump’s comment on the Constitution, has been led by the Biden White House. Biden’s Deputy Press Secretary Andrew Bates said that, “Attacking the Constitution and all it stands for is anathema to the soul of our nation and should be universally condemned.”

A statement also appeared on President Joe Biden’s Twitter account declaring, “I just want to make a few things clear. The Holocaust happened. Hitler was a demonic figure. And instead of giving it a platform, our political leaders should be calling out and rejecting antisemitism wherever it hides. Silence is complicity.”

Other Democrats were eager to follow the White House lead by piling on the criticism against the former president. Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer said, “For Donald Trump, last week it was dinner with anti-Semites. Now he’s calling for an end to America’s constitutional democracy. He’s out of control and a danger to our democracy. Everyone must condemn this attack on our democracy.”

New York Congressman Hakeem Jeffries, who will replace Nancy Pelosi as the leader of House Democrats next year, said that “Republicans are going to have to work out their issues with the former president and decide whether they’re going to break from him and return to some semblance of reasonableness or continue to lean into the extremism, not just of Trump, but Trumpism.”

JEFFRIES HAS A HISTORY OF HIS OWN

Congressman Jeffries added, “Suspending the Constitution is an extraordinary step, but we’re used to extraordinary statements being made by the former president.”

While Democrats have been trying to portray Hakeem Jeffries as an experienced and responsible replacement for Nancy Pelosi, he is in fact a self-described far-left Democrat and a consistent longtime election denier, especially when the candidate involved is Donald Trump.

Jeffries has consistently denied that Donald Trump defeated Hillary Clinton in 2016, by repeating citing the false claim that Trump only became president because of Russian meddling.  For example, in 2018, Jeffries tweeted, ““The more we learn about 2016 election the more ILLEGITIMATE it becomes. America deserves to know whether we have a FAKE President in the Oval Office #RussianInterference.”

Jeffries also claimed in another 2018 tweet that Trump stole two seats on the US Supreme Court and gave them unfairly to conservative judges because he was never properly elected president. Jeffries tweeted, “LIE (more than any administration in the history of the Republic.) CHEAT (2016 election/Russian Interference). STEAL (one or two Supreme Court seats). When will Republicans put country ahead of party? #CleanUpCorruption.”

DEMOCRATS WERE THE FIRST “ELECTION DENIERS”

Yet Democrats insist that these examples of Jeffries’ election denial should not disqualify him from becoming their leader in the next Congress, even though the same Democrats insisted during the midterm elections that Trump and his devoted MAGA followers are a threat to American democracy because they believe that Joe Biden stole the 2020 presidential election.

Democrats have also continued to eagerly lend their public support and encouragement to Stacey Abrams, despite the fact that she has refused to accept her losses in two Georgia gubernatorial elections to the GOP’s Brian Kemp.

Abrams is not an isolated example of Democrat election denial intended to discredit Donald Trump. It began on the morning after the 2016 presidential election, when Hillary Clinton and many of her supporters refused to accept the legitimacy of Trump’s victory and launched a four-year-long campaign of “resistance” whose explicit goal was to undermine his presidency.

In the wake of the 2000 presidential election, many Democrats also hotly contested the official vote count in the state if Florida, which declared GOP candidate George W. Bush to be the winner in the Electoral College thanks to a popular vote margin of just 537 votes in the state over his Democrat opponent, Vice President Al Gore. The outcome of that election was not finally decided until a month later when the US Supreme Court intervened, ruling by a 5-4 margin that Democrat attempts to force a statewide recount of the vote had to be discontinued, and confirming the legitimacy of the original vote count which declared Bush to be the winner.

A LOST TRADITION OF RESPECT FOR ELECTIONS

However, before that 2000 election controversy, there had been a longstanding American political tradition of accepting close electoral outcomes without complaint, even when the loser could have made a credible case proving voter fraud.

For example, serious questions were raised about the official vote counts in the 1960 presidential election. There was ample evidence that the Illinois vote count, showing John F. Kennedy to be the winner by less than 9,000 votes, had been fixed by the Democrat political machine of Chicago Mayor Richard Daley, and that the south Texas political allies of Kennedy’s running mate, Senator Lyndon Johnson, had also engineered Kennedy’s victory in that state by just 46,000 votes. If Nixon had challenged the count in both states, he would have gained just enough votes in the Electoral College to win the presidency. However, Nixon chose instead to accept the official vote counts, resulting in Kennedy being declared the winner, to avoid undermining the faith of the American people in the electoral process.

But that was 62 years ago, when American politics was still governed by a gentlemanly set of ground rules which put respect for the rule of law and the orderly transfer of presidential power above the personal ambitions of political candidates. These days, unfortunately, Democrats, through their remorseless attacks on Donald Trump, have shown that they have little respect for the sanctity and authority of America’s democratic institutions, and that they are willing to say anything and do anything in their pursuit of absolute national political power.

TRUMP HAS BEEN LEADING THE GOP TO DEFEAT

Meanwhile, many political analysts believe that the disappointing results for Republicans of this past November’s midterm elections were largely due to Trump’s endorsement of poorly qualified and inexperienced GOP candidates whose main qualification was their personal loyalty to him, as well as their willingness to publicly support Trump’s claim that he was the true winner of the “stolen” 2020 election. As a result, Republicans were unable to retake control of the Senate and gained only nine congressional seats, giving them a bare 222-213 majority in the House.

In recent weeks, Trump also suffered several legal setbacks, as state and federal courts ruled against his efforts to delay the presentation of evidence and testimony against him in a number of ongoing investigations. These include probes into the dealings of his family’s business, the Trump Organization; his attempts to challenge the outcome of the 2020 presidential election; his role in the events which led up to the riot at the US Capital on January 6, 2021; and his failure to return all the government documents that were in his possession to the National Archives after his presidential term expired.

As these investigations continue, Trump is potentially at risk of possible criminal indictments. He faces a long legal battle on multiple fronts which could potentially interfere with his ability to run for president in 2024, and which Democrats hope will disqualify him in the eyes of most American voters as a viable presidential candidate.

TRUMP’S TIME HAS COME AND GONE

Many Republican leaders now fear that Trump’s time as the recognized party leader has come and gone, and that he now represents more of a political burden to his party than an asset. Trump’s disruptive political style was uniquely suited to the 2016 presidential campaign. It was a time when many Democrat and Republican voters felt that their elected political officials in Washington were no longer responsive to their needs and the needs of the country, enabling Trump to convince them that he truly represented their long-neglected best interests.

President Trump’s conservative, pro-business domestic and economic policies were exactly what the country needed to achieve true prosperity before the arrival of Covid-19. Trump’s unapologetic America-first foreign and fair-trade policies also reestablished US leadership of the international community.

However, over time it became apparent that Trump’s deliberately disruptive governing style and his overdeveloped sense of ego were further dividing the country into warring political and ideological camps, making it far more difficult to govern effectively.

REPUBLICANS PAYING THE PRICE FOR TRUMP’S 2020 OBSESSION

In the campaign leading up to last month’s midterm election, Trump’s stubborn refusal to accept his defeat in 2020 interfered with his ability to appeal to the independent and working-class voters who had provided him with his margin of victory in the 2016 presidential election. As a result, Trump and his hand-picked candidates led the Republican party to defeat in three consecutive election cycles — 2018, 2020, and 2022.

Trump’s continued obsession with denying the outcome of the 2020 election plays into the hands of the liberal Democrats and their allies in the mainstream media. The early announcement of his presidential candidacy has also made it difficult for other, more qualified potential candidates such as Florida Governor Ron DeSantis, former Vice President Mike Pence, and former Secretary of State Mike Pompeo to come to the fore.

The advantage of these alternative 2024 GOP presidential candidates is that each of them would reinstate Trump’s successful domestic and foreign policies without the distractions and political baggage which now handicap any prospects for a successful Trump 2024 candidacy.

Trump has lost some of his popularity with Republican voters due to the disappointing performance of the GOP candidates he backed in the November midterm elections, but according to a newly released Emerson College poll, he is still 30 points (55%-25%) ahead of his most likely challenger, Ron DeSantis.

After spending seven years as a mainstream media target, Trump’s current support is largely limited to the true believers in his cause. He is well-known to every voter in America, and also has introduced no new policy ideas for his second term as president. As a result, few of those voters who do not currently support him seem likely to change their minds.

WHO WILL INHERIT TRUMP’S WORKING-CLASS ELECTORATE?

Nevertheless, Trump still remains popular among working class voters without a college degree — the same swing group of former Democrat voters which enabled him to win the presidency in 2016 by carrying the Rust Belt states. This is the same group of voters whom Democrats have abandoned in their radical ideological shift to the progressive left in recent years. While these working-class voters are not numerous enough, by themselves, to enable Trump to win the presidency again, at least three Republican senators now believe they do offer the GOP an opportunity to expand its traditional conservative voter base sufficiently to win back national power from the Democrats in future elections.

Josh Hawley of Missouri, Ted Cruz of Texas, and Marco Rubio of Florida have emerged as the new champions of GOP conservative populism. All three are considered likely 2024 presidential candidates who may try to beat Trump at his own game by appealing to the same working-class voters who were the key to his 2016 victory.

In the wake of the disappointing outcome of the November 8 midterm election, Hawley declared in a Washington Post op-ed that “The old Republican Party is dead. . . [and that it’s time for Republicans to] forge something new — a party that truly represents the cultural backbone of this nation: America’s working people.”

Similarly, Senator Cruz said in a recent podcast, “I think one of the most consequential political shifts of the last decade is that Republicans have become a blue-collar party. We are the party of working men and women. We are the party of truck drivers and steel workers. And we’re the party of the railroad union workers.”

The first example of their shift in political priorities came last week, when all three senators voted in favor of an amendment that would give railroad workers threatening to mount a crippling nationwide rail strike the seven days of paid sick leave they demand, which a deal brokered by the Biden administration would deny them.

REPUBLICAN SENATORS VOTE IN SUPPORT OF RAIL WORKERS

After the Senate voted on the amendment, which failed by a 52-43 majority, Rubio blasted his GOP colleagues for ignoring the basic needs of the rail workers. “This is hard work,” Rubio observed. “So we’re going to make life even more unpleasant? We’re going to send a message that once again that hardworking people that work with their hands in difficult conditions are going to get [ignored]?”

But while the amendment calling for sick leave ultimately failed, the vote by those three senators may lead to a long-term political realignment in which the GOP will win over a new, permanent working-class voter constituency that Donald Trump first exploited in his 2016 campaign, and which may turn out to be Trump’s most lasting contribution to the future success of the GOP.

MEDIA PRESSURES REBPULICANS TO CONDEMN TRUMP

Meanwhile, Democrats and liberal reporters have been eagerly pressing Republicans to publicly repudiate Trump for his initial remarks challenging the authority of the US Constitution, and for allowing himself to be associated with such disreputable bigots. Many Republican leaders, including House Republican leader Kevin McCarthy and Florida Governor Ron DeSantis, were reluctant to openly condemn the former president, while at the same time cautiously distancing themselves from his embarrassing words and associations.

In a Fox News interview, McCarthy, who is expected to become the next Speaker of the House, did not comment directly on Trump’s remarks about the Constitution. However, he was sympathetic to Trump’s accusation that Big Tech censorship of the evidence of wrongdoing by Joe Biden’s son, Hunter, in the weeks before the 2020 election, unfairly contributed to his defeat.

“Think about the timeline of when this was right before the election, just a couple weeks. And remember how close this election was,” McCarthy recalled. He did add that in his opinion, Nick Fuentes “has no place in the Republican Party. . . I condemn his ideology. It has no place in society. At all.”

However, several other prominent Republicans admitted that the controversies over Trump’s dinner in Mar-A-Lago and his comment on terminating constitutional rules will influence the GOP’s decision on whether to give Trump their nomination for president again in 2024.

PENCE’S CAUTIOUS CRITICISM OF TRUMP

In a Fox News interview, former Vice President Mike Pence expressed his disapproval of Trump’s Mar-A-Lago dinner by declaring that, “We need to make it clear we reject antisemitism left, right, and center.” Pence said that “President Trump was wrong to give a white nationalist, an antisemite and a Holocaust denier a seat at the table, and I think he should apologize for it. And he should denounce those individuals and their hateful rhetoric without qualification.”

“I don’t believe [Trump] is a racist or a bigot. I would not have been his vice president if he was,” Pence said, but then repeated once again that Trump had shown “profoundly poor judgement” in “giving those [antisemitic] individuals a seat at the table,”

Relations between Trump and Pence have been severely strained since the January 6 riot at the US Capitol, when Pence rejected Trump’s demand that he intervene to prevent Congress from certifying Joe Biden’s victory in the 2020 presidential election. Pence, who is considering making his own 2024 run, suggested that it was “for the American people” to decide whether these incidents disqualified Trump to serve as president again, and added that he believes that many Republican voters are now “looking for new leadership.”

The former vice president also weighed in on Trump’s controversial comment on the US Constitution. In an interview with a South Carolina radio show, Pence said, “I must tell you that I think that everyone that serves in public office, everyone that aspires to serve or serve again, should make it clear that we will support and defend the Constitution of the United States.”

Trump’s Mar-a-Lago dinner was also criticized by Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, who said in a statement, “There is no room in the Republican Party for anti-Semitism or white supremacy, and anyone meeting with people advocating that point of view, in my judgment, are highly unlikely to ever be elected president of the United States.”

Senator Marco Rubio (R-FL) told Politico he hopes that Trump will condemn Fuentes “because I know [Trump’s] not an anti-Semite. I can tell you that for a fact that Trump is not, but [Fuentes is] evil … just a nasty disgusting person. He’s a… clown, and he’s trying to legitimize himself by being around a former, maybe future president.”

CALLING UPON TRUMP TO LOOK FORWARD

Ohio Congressman Mike Turner, the ranking Republican on the House Intelligence Committee, said in a CBS interview that what Trump said about the Constitution “is certainly not consistent with the oath that we all take. I vehemently disagree with the statement that Trump has made.” Turner then added that, “There is a political process that has to go forward before anybody is a frontrunner or anybody is even the candidate for the party. I believe that people certainly are going to take into consideration a statement like this as they evaluate a candidate.”

Mike Lawler, the New York Republican who scored an upset victory over Sean Patrick Maloney in last month’s election, also had some criticism for Trump. “The Constitution is set for a reason, to protect the rights of every American,” Lawler said. “And so I certainly don’t endorse that language or that sentiment. I think the question for everyone is how we move forward.” He also said he thinks Americans are “tired of discussing the grievances of prior elections,” and that Trump would be “well-advised to focus on the future, if he is going to run for president again.”

In an interview with ABC News, Ohio GOP Congressman Dave Joyce sought to minimize the significance of Trump’s remarks, noting that the former president, “says a lot of things,” and then noted that even a president does not have the power to suspend the Constitution. “You have to take it in context … I can’t be really chasing every one of these crazy statements that come from any of these candidates.”

Joyce also said that he would still be willing to support Trump for president in 2024 if he were to win the GOP nomination, but then added, “I just don’t think that at this point he’ll be able to get there [win the GOP nomination] because there are a lot of other good quality candidates out there.”

NETANYAHU CAUTIOUSLY DEFENDS TRUMP’S RECORD

Even former Israeli prime-minister Binyomin Netanyahu, who worked closely with Trump during his time in the White House, said in an NBC interview that Trump “probably understands that [his recent dinner with the antisemites] crossed a line… On this matter, on Kanye West and that other unacceptable guest, I think it’s not merely unacceptable it’s just wrong. And I hope [Trump] sees his way to staying out of it and condemning it,” Netanyahu added.

Netanyahu also said he does not think that Trump’s meeting with the antisemites would “wipe away [the many] good [deeds] he did for Israel” while he was president, such as recognizing Yerushalayim as Israel’s capital and moving the US embassy there, recognizing Israel’s annexation of the Golan Heights, walking away from Barack Obama’s Iran nuclear deal, and permitting Israel to continue to develop its settlements in the West Bank.

In a separate interview with blogging journalist Bari Weiss, Netanyahu said, “I condemned Kanye West’s antisemitic statements. President Trump’s decision to dine with this person I think is wrong and misplaced. He shouldn’t do that. I think he made a mistake. I hope it’s not repeated.”

HAS TRUMP DISQUALIFIED HIMSELF FOR JEWISH SUPPORT?

While Netanyahu was obviously trying to avoid being too critical of Trump, other Jewish community leaders were less willing to give him the benefit of the doubt. Former New York State Assemblyman Dov Hikind, who represented Boro Park in Albany for many years, told the Jerusalem Post that, “Trump has disqualified himself, plain and simple, it’s over for him.”

“This incident goes beyond the pale,” Hikind said. “It never should have happened in the first place, but after it did happen Donald Trump should have apologized. He should have said something. He said he didn’t know who [Fuentes] was. He said he didn’t know a Holocaust denier was sitting at the same table with him enjoying dinner. Nobody Googled who was having dinner with the former president?

“I don’t know if I believe that, but let’s say it’s true. By the next day he knew, how come he didn’t say anything? And [Trump] said he likes Kanye regardless of what he says because ‘he says nice things about me.’ It’s pathetic.”

Hikind added that “This is a very sad chapter in this country and we are at an important junction… Antisemitism is spreading like wildfire [and] Jews are getting beat up because of Kanye’s words.”

Expressing his frustration, Hikind said, “Donald Trump telling me that he is such a great friend of the Jewish people, I’m tired of it. He did do great things, but does that give him a pass to hang out with antisemites and Holocaust deniers? No, it is not okay… There’s no question this is a breaking point within the Republican party. You can’t let anyone get away with this kind of behavior.”

A GROWING FEAR OF ANTISEMITISM

Morton Klein, the longtime head of the conservative Zionist Organization of America, was also highly critical of Trump for meeting with West and Fuentes. “I am a child of [Holocaust] survivors,” Klein began. “I have become very frightened for my people.”

“Donald Trump is not an anti-Semite,” Klein continued. “He loves Israel. He loves Jews. But he mainstreams, he legitimizes Jew hatred and Jew haters. And this scares me.”

Even Trump’s longtime friend and lawyer, David Friedman, whom he appointed to serve as his US ambassador to Israel, expressed his disappointment, tweeting, “To my friend Donald Trump, you are better than this. Even a social visit from an antisemite like Kanye West and human scum like Nick Fuentes is unacceptable. I urge you to throw those bums out, disavow them and relegate them to the dustbin of history where they belong.”

Rabbi Moshe Hauer, executive vice president of the Orthodox Union, expressed concern over Trump’s apparent insensitivity to “the level of anti-Semitism being expressed, anti-Semitic acts at a very elevated level, and the acceptability of anti-Semitism. It is all creating an environment which is, thank G-d, unusual for the United States, and it has to be nipped in the bud.”

Rabbi Hauer also emphasized that Trump’s pro-Israel policies as president did not excuse his tolerance for hateful antisemites, and urged “responsible leaders, especially those in the Republican Party, to speak up, as former US Ambassador to Israel David Friedman has, and be counted among those who explicitly reject anti-Semitism.”

It is still unclear just how seriously Trump’s strong support within the Orthodox Jewish community will be hurt by his ill-advised Mar-a-Lago dinner meeting with West and Fuentes, as well as the much larger question of whether Trump’s presidential candidacy will ultimately hurt GOP prospects to beat Joe Biden’s expected bid for a second term in the 2024 election.

Trump will certainly be remembered as one of the most pro-Israel presidents in American history. It would be tragic if that legacy were to be permanent tarnished by the unfortunate dinner at Mar-A-Lago, in which Trump was the victim of a public relations trap by a right-wing activist who has admitted that he knew it would embarrass the former president.

TRUMP IS FOLLOWING THEODORE ROOSEVELT’S EXAMPLE

Interestingly, there is a close historical parallel to this situation, when a former US president came out of retirement to challenge the incumbent president in the White House for reelection.

It happened in 1912, when former president Theodore Roosevelt decided to challenge the man he had personally picked to succeed him in the White House four years earlier, William Howard Taft. Roosevelt was the most progressive American politician of his era. He had championed many reforms, including a living minimum wage, the creation of a social safety net that included workmen’s compensation and pensions for the elderly, while Taft, who was a traditional conservative Republican, refused to continue many of Roosevelt’s enlightened policies,

Initially, Roosevelt attempted to mount a challenge to Taft by seeking to defeat his bid for the presidential nomination at the 1912 Republican national convention. When that failed, Roosevelt decided to abandon the Republicans and formed his own third national political party, the Progressive Party, to enable Roosevelt to run against both Taft as a Republican and Democrat presidential candidate Woodrow Wilson. Not surprisingly, Roosevelt’s challenge of Taft badly divided Republican voter support, which made it easy for Wilson to win the vote in every state of the union except for Utah and Vermont.

ANOTHER PRESIDENT DRIVEN BY EGO

It also turned out that in addition to his profound policy differences with Taft, Roosevelt, much like Donald Trump, was driven by an insatiable ego. Presidential historian Doris Kearns Goodwin has written that Theodore Roosevelt craved the public spotlight “as a plant craves sunshine.” Roosevelt’s own daughter, Alice, also once said about her father that, “He wanted to be the corpse at every funeral, the bride at every wedding, and the baby at every christening.”

Ironically, according to Lawrence University historian Jerald Podair, Wilson’s relatively liberal presidential policies were close to those that had been espoused by Theodore Roosevelt, but “Roosevelt was resentful of anyone who would steal the spotlight from him. He was openly jealous and resentful of Wilson, though he really didn’t disagree with Wilson about very much except whether the United States should enter World War I.”

Like Trump, Roosevelt was virtually unknown to most Americans when he assumed the presidency in 1901 after the assassination of President William McKinley. At the age of 42, he became the youngest US president up to that time — but unlike his predecessors, he immediately set out to dominate American political life using his sheer audacity, physical vigor, and a clever sense of public relations. Again, like Trump a century later, Roosevelt was a pioneer in using the news and information media of his era to increase the power and influence of his presidency.

THEODORE ROOSEVELT WAS THE DONALD TRUMP OF HIS ERA

According to Podair, Roosevelt “was a completely outsized political character, the likes which had never been seen in Americans politics… He was our first celebrity president, our first modern media president. He was a reality show unto himself… He was the Donald Trump of his day.”

Among his notable accomplishments as president, Theodore Roosevelt built the “Great White Fleet,” which turned the United States into a major international naval power; he attacked and broke up the predatory giant business monopolies of the era with vigorous application of the federal anti-trust laws; he won a Nobel Peace Prize for negotiating the end of the Russian-Japanese War of 1905; and he restarted the construction of the Panama Canal, one of the world’s most difficult and ultimately most successful civil engineering accomplishments.

But very much like Donald Trump in 2020, once Theodore Roosevelt had experienced the power of the presidency, he had a hard time accepting defeat at the hands of the voters in 1912, and then adjusting to the relative quiet of his former private life.

Donald Trump now faces much the same challenge that Roosevelt did after his 1912 defeat. Eventually, Roosevelt found a new outlet for his energies. Following up on his lifelong interest in natural history, Roosevelt embarked on a daring exploration of the Brazilian jungle. And while nobody expects Trump to follow Roosevelt’s example by physically going exploring, he does have an opportunity to use his unique set of communication skills to become the GOP’s most respected and influential senior statesman — if he is willing to accept the fact that most voters do not want him to run for president again.

Trump does have the knowledge and political insights necessary to help his party win over a new working-class voter constituency and help the next generation of Republican national candidates achieve future victories. Trump’s alternative is to follow his current course, which means repeating the bitter defeats of the last three election cycles. But that choice remains up to him.

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