While Donald Trump faces the fallout from dining with a white supremacist and anti-Semites, Ron DeSantis and his team are doing what the former president can’t: keep quiet.
According to three people with knowledge of the directives, DeSantis’ lieutenants have told his allies not to attack Trump over the now-notorious dinner. Instead, the potential 2024 Republican primary candidate and his advisers have aimed to keep the focus on Trump’s decision to dine with Kanye West, a vocal anti-Semite, and Nick Fuentes, a white supremacist agitator.
“In ongoing discussions following his reelection, including this week, I’ve been asked to keep my powder dry,” says Dan Eberhart, a longtime GOP donor — and former big Trump donor — recalling his conversations with Team DeSantis. (Eberhart is now backing DeSantis for 2024). “My understanding is that the DeSantis team doesn’t see upside in kicking off the fight with Trump this early, even if it may be inevitable. Wading into the Fuentes fiasco just isn’t worth it for them. The media will harpoon Trump without Team DeSantis lifting a finger.”
DeSantis’s calculated silence is in line with the Florida governor’s broader strategy for now in challenging — or, to be more precise, not challenging — Trump. The twice-impeached former president, who announced his 2024 White House bid earlier this month, has taken to enthusiastically trashing DeSantis, going as far as to publicly threaten to air alleged dirt about his likely 2024 GOP primary opponent. DeSantis, meanwhile, has generally declined Trump’s attempts to lure him into a very public mud fight.
But DeSantis’s decision to stay quiet comes at a time when some of Trump’s other potential 2024 challengers — including Trump’s former VP Mike Pence and onetime secretary of state, Mike Pompeo — have taken swipes at Trump over the dinner and the dinner with Kanye, who’s deep in the anti-Semitism-spewing phase of his career. The dinner quickly turned into one of the first major self-inflicted crises of Trump’s latest presidential campaign, and it has already caused Team Trump to change its security and vetting procedures. During and after the dinner, some of the former president’s closest advisers were so in the dark about what Trump was doing, that some resorted to simply asking reporters what they had heard.
“Did he really have dinner with the Nazi?” one prominent Trump adviser wrote to other Trump associates after the Mar-a-Lago sit-down, according to a message reviewed by Rolling Stone.
Even as a small number of GOP leaders, donors, and Trump administration veterans have now denounced Trump’s now-infamous meeting, a far greater number of influential conservatives and Republican elected officials still are refusing to cross the ex-president and 2024 Republican frontrunner.
Several longtime Trump associates and confidants have already scheduled meetings for December and January — “interventions,” as one describes it — to meet with the former president, to try to counsel him on keeping his excesses to a minimum ahead of primary season, according to two people familiar with the matter. (These excesses, of course, include buddying up with well-known anti-Semites and an avowed white-nationalist.)
Two pro-Israel conservative Jewish megadonors who generously backed Trump in 2016 and 2020 tell Rolling Stone they’ve recently had various conversations with others in their elite circles about permanently ditching Trump, or putting out joint statements vigorously denouncing his associations with these anti-Semites and a fascist Internet troll.
Both said they and others had decided against doing so, simply because they believe Trump’s chances of being the GOP presidential nominee again are extremely high.
But when it comes to some of Trump’s most Jewish and pro-Israel supporters who have spoken out against the dinner, the former president has been taking down names, as is his spiteful wont. In the past few days, some pro-Trump Jews — including his former Israel ambassador and bankruptcy attorney David Friedman — appeared to publicly back away from him or condemn his recent actions, the ex-president privately reacted with his typical fury and grievance, telling advisers that some of his top Jewish conservative backers were being “disloyal,” after all he’d done for them and for Israel, one person with direct knowledge of the complaints and another source briefed on them say.
“He saw it as a stab in the back,” says the source with direct knowledge, later adding that they initially characterized Trump’s feelings without meaning to reference an anti-Semitic trope of the “stab in the back” myth. “[Former] President Trump believes he gave David everything, and that this is a classless way to repay him.”
In the time since the details of the dinner became public information, Trump and his political operation have trotted out several different attempts at damage control, and have settled largely on just blaming rapper and on-again-off-again Trump supporter Kanye West for bringing his new pal Fuentes along to the meeting. “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’,” Trump posted to his Truth Social page on Saturday. “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.”