Trump's dinner disaster sparks new rules for his campaign
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NEW YORK (AP) -- Donald Trump is betting he can win his way back to the White House by rekindling the underdog appeal that fueled his success in 2016.
But his dinner with a Holocaust-denying white nationalist and a rapper who has disseminated anti-Semitic conspiracies demonstrates the risks of this approach. It underscores the dangers of his limited campaigning and exposes the former president to harsh criticism from fellow Republicans, who increasingly see him as a liability to their party after a lackluster showing in this year's midterm election.
Acknowledging the seriousness of the backlash and in an effort to prevent a repeat, Trump's campaign is introducing new protocols to ensure those who meet with him are approved and fully screened, according to people familiar with the plans internal strategy asked for anonymity. The changes include speeding up a system borrowed from Trump's White House, in which a senior campaign official will be present with him at all times, according to one of the people.
The decision follows anger and hand-wringing from people close to Trump over how the former president became embroiled in a scandal under the cloud of numerous investigations just two weeks after launching his third campaign for the White House. And it underscores their concerns about Trump's vulnerability, as GOP strategists and officials increasingly conclude that new leadership is the party's best hope for victory in future elections.
"Republicans, we're looking at 2024 and we're looking for a winner," said New Hampshire Gov. Chris Sununu, who called Trump's dinner "absolutely reprehensible."
"I think it makes him even less eligible in November 2024," he said.
Trump has repeatedly said he only knew after the fact that he had dinner with Nick Fuentes, the far-right activist who has used his online platform to spread anti-Semitic and white nationalist rhetoric. Fuentes arrived by car with Ye, the rapper formerly known as Kanye West, and was waved into the club by security, although only Ye was on the safety list, according to one of those present and others who briefed on the events became. (Fuentes apparently didn't show his ID and the driver of the car, a frequent visitor at the club, got in with a credit card after misplacing her driver's license.)
Some aides had advised Trump against meeting with Ye, who has made his own anti-Semitic comments. But the two have a long-standing relationship and Trump dismissed the advice. They were supposed to meet in the club's library, but Trump, keen to show his celebrity guest to his paying club members, decided to divert the group to the dining area on the club's main terrace. Fuentes attended the dinner at Yes's invitation.
Trump is no stranger to controversy of his own creation. His 2016 campaign was fueled by an endless cycle of outrage. Trump issued a inflammatory statement, calling for a ban on Muslims entering the country, saying John McCain was "not a war hero" because he was captured in Vietnam, or claiming an Indiana-born federal judge had "an absolute conflict." a case because of his "Mexican heritage". Those comments would spur days of media coverage as critics responded with outrage and kept Trump in the news.
But the political landscape is fundamentally different now. Trump is no longer a political outsider or newcomer. A member of a very elite circle -- the former Presidents Club -- he is a veteran politician embarking on his third campaign for office. And after dominating the news cycle for nearly eight years, many in his party and the constituency are weary of the constant drama and chaos.
"If you have people who are constantly creating distractions and distracting you from the message and forcing people to answer questions like the ones you're asking, that's not a good thing," said John Thune, South Dakota Senator, the No 2 in the Senate, told reporters Tuesday on Capitol Hill.
And while Trump has advised aides to try to regain the energy of his first campaign when he was the anti-establishment maverick battling better funded and organized rivals, the Mar-a-Lago episode revealed the limits of his flimsy Operation, which has not held a single public event since Trump's announcement two weeks ago.
Trump's team had planned to wait until the New Year to begin building a more robust and regimented campaign operation. Though no trip is planned until the end of the year, aides are stepping up efforts to ensure the people he meets with have been screened and that the former president is staffed with a rotating group of campaign workers - something the Fall was expected to begin by January.
After dinner, several GOP senators said those in charge of the meeting should be fired. Longtime allies not involved in the campaign questioned how Fuentes had access to the club and why no one seemed to notice his presence, or warned Trump against meeting with him.
So far, Trump has refused to condemn the views of either visitor, despite growing condemnation from his party, including calls for an apology from his former Vice President Mike Pence.
In an interview with Fox News Digital on Tuesday, Trump again said he had "never heard of" Fuentes. "I had no idea what his views were and they were not expressed at our very quick dinner table or it would not have been accepted," he said.
On Tuesday, Republican Senate leader Mitch McConnell told reporters, "There is no place in the Republican Party for anti-Semitism or white supremacy," and "anyone who meets with people who hold that viewpoint, in my view, most likely never will." elected President of the United States."
"The President can have meetings with whoever he wants," added Kevin McCarthy, "but I don't think anyone should have a meeting with Nick Fuentes, and his views are nowhere in the Republican Party and in this country itself."
Trump, who generally views backsliding as a sign of weakness, has a long history of failing to condemn bigotry and hate speech, which some have attributed to concern about alienating sections of his base who are open to such views.
For example, under pressure to denounce David Duke, the former Ku Klux Klan leader who backed his 2016 campaign, Trump was heard assuring former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie “that he can do it would, but that it didn't have to happen too quickly," reporter Maggie Haberman tells in her book Confidence Man. "A lot of these people are voting," Trump reportedly said.
“Mr. Trump will not change, and inevitably there will be many more such damaging episodes over the next two years,” the Wall Street Journal editorial board wrote Sunday ready for a catastrophe in 2024.”
___ Associated Press writer Lisa Mascaro contributed to this report from Washington.
45th President of the United States
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