Trump’s dinner disaster triggers new rules for his campaign

NEW YORK (AP) — Donald Trump is betting he can win his way back to the White House by reviving the foreign appeal that fueled his success in 2016.

But his dinner with a Holocaust-denying white nationalist and a rapper who spewed anti-Semitic conspiracies demonstrates the risks of this approach. It underscores the dangers of his limited campaign operation and leaves the former president under fire from fellow Republicans. who increasingly see him as a liability to their party after a poor showing in this year’s midterm elections.

In an acknowledgment of the severity of the reaction and an effort to prevent a repeat, the Trump campaign is putting new protocols in place to ensure those who meet with him are fully approved and vetted, according to people familiar with the plans who requested anonymity to share internal strategy. The changes will 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 comes after anger and fury from some close to Trump over how the former president was embroiled in the scandal just two weeks after launching his third campaign for the White House. under the cloud of numerous investigations. And it underscores their concerns about Trump’s vulnerability as GOP strategists and officials increasingly conclude that the new leadership is the party’s best hope for winning the next election.

“Republicans, we’re looking at 2024 and we’re looking for a winner,” said New Hampshire Gov. Chris Sununu, who blasted Trump’s dinner as “absolutely reprehensible” and called ideas of white nationalism or anti-Semitism “the antithesis of who we are as Americans .”

Trump has repeatedly said he didn’t know until after he had dinner with Nick Fuentes, the far-right activist who used his online platform to spew anti-Semitic and white nationalist rhetoric. Fuentes drove up with Ye, the rapper formerly known as Kanye West, and was escorted into the club by security, even though only Ye had been on the security list, according to one person present and others briefed on the events.

(Fuentes apparently didn’t show his ID, and the car’s driver, a frequent clubgoer, got in using a credit card after losing his license.)

Some aides have advised Trump against meeting with Ye, who has made his own anti-Semitic comments. But the two have a long-standing relationship and Trump rejected the advice. They were supposed to meet one-on-one in the club’s library, but Trump, eager to show off his celebrity guest to his star-paying members, decided to divert the group to the club’s main dining area. Fuentes joined the dinner at Ye’s invitation.

Trump is no stranger to controversy of his own making. His 2016 campaign was fueled by an endless cycle of outrage. Trump would make an inflammatory statement calling for Muslims to be banned from the countrysaying that John McCain “was not a war hero ” because he was captured in Vietnam or stating that an Indiana-born federal judge had “an absolute conflict ” in one case because of his “Mexican heritage”. Those comments would spur days of media coverage as critics responded with outrage, keeping Trump in the news.

But the political landscape is fundamentally different now. Trump is no longer a political outsider or newcomer. He is a member of an elite circle — the former presidents’ club — and a seasoned politician mounting what is now his third campaign for office. After nearly eight years of dominating the news cycle, many in his party and the voting public have grown tired of the constant drama and chaos.

“If you have people constantly creating distractions and taking you off message and forcing people to answer questions like the ones you’re asking, that’s not a good thing,” South Dakota Sen. John Thune, the Republican no. . 2 of the Senate. , told reporters on Capitol Hill on Tuesday.

And while Trump has advised aides that he wants to try to recapture the energy of his first campaign, when he was an anti-establishment outsider battling better-funded and organized rivals, the Mar-a-Lago episode revealed the limits of his operation ugly. , which has not yet organized a single event since Trump’s announcement two weeks ago.

Trump aides had planned to wait until the new year to begin building a more robust and regimented campaign operation. And while he is still expected to remain largely quiet until the end of the year, with no travel expected, a plan will now be put in place to ensure he is permanently staffed by senior campaign advisers.

Following the dinner meeting, several GOP senators said whoever is responsible should be fired. Longtime allies not involved in the campaign have questioned how Fuentes was able to gain access to the club and why no one seemed to know of his presence or warn Trump not to meet with him.

So far, Trump has refused to condemn or even acknowledge the views of either visitor, despite growing condemnation from within his own party.including calls for an apology from his former Vice President Mike Pence.

On Tuesday, Senate Republican 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 view, in my opinion, is very unlikely to ever be elected. President of the United States.”

“The president can have meetings with whoever he wants,” added House Republican Leader 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. “

However, some longtime allies said they did not expect an apology from Trump, who generally sees the backtracking as a sign of weakness. He also has a long history of failing to convict bigotry and hate speech in what some have attributed to concerns about alienating parts of his base that are open to such views.

Amid pressure to impeach David Duke, the former Ku Klux Klan leader who endorsed his 2016 campaign, for example, Trump was heard assuring former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie “that he’s going to get to it, but that doesn’t have to happen. too fast,” reporter Maggie Haberman recounted in her book, “Confidence Man.” “A lot of these people are voting,” Trump said.

“Mr. Trump will not change, and the next two years will inevitably feature many more such damaging episodes,” The Wall Street Journal’s editorial board wrote on Sunday. “Republicans who continue to go along with Mr. Trump are setting themselves up for disaster in 2024.”

___ Associated Press writer Lisa Mascaro contributed to this report from Washington.

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