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The inside story of Trump’s explosive dinner with Ye and Nick Fuentes
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The inside story of Trump’s explosive dinner with Ye and Nick Fuentes

Donald Trump's dinner with Ye, formerly known as Kanye West, and white nationalist Nick Fuentes, turned into a PR nightmare. Here's the story of what happened.

Politics

Just two days before Thanksgiving, Donald Trump was planning to have a private, uneventful dinner with an old friend: Ye, the rapper formerly known as Kanye West.

The two had arranged to break bread Tuesday night at Trump’s Mar-a-Lago club in Florida after weeks of private phone conversations as Ye lost lucrative partnerships and became a mainstream cultural pariah for his antisemitic remarks, according to those familiar with the talks between the two men.

But Trump may have been walking into a trap in Mar-a-Lago’s gilded halls — one that leveraged his own penchant for spectacle and showmanship against him. Ye arrived with three guests, including white nationalist and antisemite Nick Fuentes.

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Trump has since said he didn’t know Fuentes or his background when they dined together, a claim Fuentes confirmed in an interview, but others at the crowded members-only club figured out his identity. News of the meeting prompted an avalanche of criticism, from some Republican rivals and allies of Trump and his then-week-old presidential campaign.

In damage control, Trump’s campaign is now instituting new vetting procedures and gatekeeping efforts as details emerge about how Fuentes and the former president found themselves at the same table, according to two people briefed on the plans.

The uproar underscores long-standing issues with Trump as Republicans consider whether they want him back as president again in 2024.

Both his campaigns and his administration were often characterized by chaos and buffeted by the consequences of his impulses as they stumbled from crisis to crisis. And Trump has repeatedly put himself in the center of controversies over racism, from falsely accusing the first Black president of not being a natural-born citizen to announcing his 2016 presidential bid by portraying most Mexican migrants as rapists and drug runners.

‘The master troll got trolled’

The headline-grabbing attention on his guests — and therefore the subsequent fallout — were all but ensured by Trump before the dinner when he made a grand entrance at about 8 p.m. on Nov. 22 to meet his guests.

“We saw everybody in the dining room get up and start applauding, and then the president entered,” Fuentes told NBC News. “He greeted us, and he invited Ye into dinner and Ye said that he wanted to bring us with him to the table. So we walked in and Ye took some pictures with some of the guests in the dining room and then we sat down at the table.”

Trump made sure they sat at his specially reserved table on the patio, for all to see, according to Fuentes.

But the dinner wasn’t the happy photo-op the president had planned.

Ye criticized Trump for not doing enough to help pay the legal bills of those arrested in the Jan. 6 Capitol riots; and he also told Trump he might run for president against him and said Trump should instead be his running mate — all of which angered the former president, who attacked Ye’s ex-wife, Kim Kardashian, according to two dinner participants and Ye, who blasted out a “Mar-a-Lago debrief” video to his 32.2 million Twitter followers the next day.

“Trump is really impressed with Nick Fuentes,” Ye said in the video.

Fuentes said that he praised Trump as “my hero” and criticized Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis for his potential GOP primary challenge to Trump, but he also told him to his face at the dinner that the onetime 2016 insurgent was in danger of becoming a scripted establishment bore who could lose in 2024.

Some Republicans, including former Vice President Mike Pence, have condemned the dinner, with Pence calling on Trump to apologize.

One longtime Trump adviser, who didn’t want to go on the record criticizing his preferred candidate, said it was clear that Fuentes’ presence was part of a headline-grabbing setup.

“The master troll got trolled,” the adviser said. “Kanye punked Trump.”

As advisers to Trump have attempted to quell the backlash, some have insisted that the former president was essentially tricked by the rapper and his guests — a suspicion backed up by Milo Yiannopoulos, the anti-Trump, far-right provocateur who is now acting as a political adviser to Ye.

Yiannopoulos, a former Breitbart editor who was banned from Twitter in 2016 for inciting a racist campaign against the comedian Leslie Jones, told NBC News that he was “the architect” of the plan to have Fuentes travel with Ye in the hopes of slipping him into the dinner with Trump. The intent, according to Yiannopoulos, was for Fuentes to give Trump an unvarnished view of how a portion of his base views his candidacy.

Yiannopoulos persuaded a former Trump 2016 campaign adviser from Florida, Karen Giorno, to give Ye a ride to Mar-a-Lago, which she said led her to become an accidental member of Ye’s dinner party. Yiannopoulos said he also wanted Giorno to brief Ye on Trump and politics and, if she went to the dinner, to lend a sense of political gravitas to the discussion. The fourth member of the party was a man Ye later identified as a parent of a student at his private school in California, Donda Academy. (Donda shut down for the year after Ye’s antisemitic remarks.) Yiannopoolos said he was unsure of why the man traveled with them.

Yiannopoulos said Fuentes is serving in an advisory capacity to Ye. Giorno is not an official member of the unofficial Ye campaign team but flew to Los Angeles to meet with them this week.

“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 told NBC News.

“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,” he added.

And, Yiannopoulos said, he arranged the dinner “just to make Trump’s life miserable” because news of the dinner would leak and Trump would mishandle it.

Fuentes echoed the sentiment: “I hate to say it, but the chickens are coming home to roost. You know, this is the frustration with his base and with his true loyalists.”

Trump fumed afterward that Ye had betrayed him by ambushing him. “He tried to f--- me. He’s crazy. He can’t beat me,” Trump said, according to one confidant, who then relayed the conversation to NBC News on the condition of anonymity to discuss private conversations.

“Trump was totally blindsided,” the source said of Fuentes’ presence. “It was a setup.”

Some in Trump’s orbit had cautioned him not to have dinner with Ye, under fire for antisemitism, in the first place, according to two sources who had been briefed on an internal damage assessment the campaign performed after the controversy erupted.

But Trump is known for refusing to heed cautious counsel, guardrails and gatekeepers. So he went ahead with the dinner alone, telling confidants that he thought Ye needed his counsel. One confidant told NBC that Trump acknowledged he wanted the rapper to be seen because “it would be fun for the members” of Mar-a-Lago.

Trump issued three successive statements in as many days on his Truth Social media platform admitting Fuentes was there while disavowing knowledge of his identity prior to and during the dinner.