I admit that I was stunned that Donald Trump won an Electoral College victory in 2016, but I was not surprised that he won the Republican Party nomination that year. By the late fall of 2015, polls consistently indicated he was the clear frontrunner, and I was skeptical that his support would vanish as the heat of the early contests heated up and he faced greater scrutiny. But I’ve always had a dim view of the Republican base and their so-called “values.”

So, I don’t believe that Trump can really commit a transgression that would seriously damage his prospects of being a frontrunner for the nomination in 2024. He might become stale and boring. The base might get excited by someone else. His circumstances could become so dire that few could be convinced of his electability in a general election. But if the base chooses not to support him, it won’t be because he’s credibly accused or even convicted of a crime. It won’t be because he associated with criminals or racists. His base is willing to forgive Trump of virtually anything, and his transgressions are his main selling point.

Now, the The Guardian reports from “two people familiar with the situation” that Trump cannot be persuaded to criticize Nick Fuentes because he’s worried that doing so “might alienate a section of his base.” If you’ve been under a rock, Fuentes joined Kanye West (now called “Ye”) on a visit to Mar-a-Lago the Tuesday before Thanksgiving. This caused a giant uproar both because Ye has been making vile anti-semitic remarks of late, and because Fuentes is a notorious racist, anti-Semite, Christian nationalist, and white supremacist.

Trump’s weak explanation is that Ye brought Fuentes as an uninvited guest and that he was unfamiliar with Fuentes or his views. That’s obviously unsatisfactory as an answer, even if you’re generously willing to grant it an iota of plausibility. The first question is why he invited Ye to spend Thanksgiving week with him at his Florida resort. I mean, his son-in-law is an orthodox Jew, his daughter is a converted Jew, and they’re raising their children as Jews, so Ye seems like someone who should be extremely unwelcome as a holiday guest. This obviously goes quadruple for Fuentes, and if Trump’s story is true he should be angry with Ye for bringing him along. Even cynically, he should be angry that Ye caused all this negative publicity and controversy.

But Trump isn’t expressing anger at either of them. The best he could do is say he was trying to provide business advice to Ye, “a seriously troubled man, who just happens to be black,” because he “had always been good to me.”

Meanwhile, with few exceptions, like outgoing Arkansas governor Asa Hutchison, almost no elected Republican officials are willing to openly criticize Trump over this–not even those seeking to challenge him for the nomination in 2024. It seems that they’re making a similar calculation to Trump, namely that they will need the support of virulent racists if they want to continue in office or have any hope of winning the 2024 presidential election.

One can agree or disagree with this political calculation, but the longer it persists the more it becomes a self-fulfilling prophesy. When you embrace or tolerate fascism, you obviously lose support from non-fascists, and it’s harder to win them back than it is to keep the fascists on your side. Pretty soon, the only near-term realistic chance of electoral success is to actually be a fascist party, not just one that gives them a wink and a nod. This is essentially what happened to Trump himself, and when he ran for reelection his fate became largely synonymous with the Republican Party’s fate. More than anything else, this explains why Republican elected officials so quickly got over being attacked by a MAGA mob on January 6, 2021.

And it explains why they can’t bring themselves to criticize Trump now for meeting with Fuentes.

Meanwhile, Fuentes went on to explain to his followers that the MAGA movement has been hijacked by Jared Kushner,  while “Trump and MTG [Georgia Rep. Marjorie Taylor-Greene] are being used as bait to lure the base back into supporting people like Kevin McCarthy, [RNC chairwoman] Ronna McDaniel, and [former Ambassador to Germany and acting Director of National Intelligence] Rick Grenell.”

He also said reports that he supports Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis are “borderline defamatory” because he considers him a moderate who will have a moderating influence on Trump’s 2024 campaign: “We need Trump and a NEW candidate who will outflank him on his Right.”

Nonetheless, as Jonathan Chait notes, DeSantis refuses to attack Fuentes and seems rather to be courting his base of nativist religious bigots.

The truth is that Fuentes spent Thanksgiving week at Mar-a-Lago because Trump wants his support, and that’s not some idiosyncratic moral failing on Trump’s part but the reality of how the greater Republican Party currently perceives their electoral circumstances. Because they think they need fascist support, they won’t criticize fascists. Instead, they increasingly cater their policies and messaging to attracting the fascists.

Fuentes might not be satisfied, but the GOP is more his party now than McCarthy and McConnell’s, or even Trump’s. If it were otherwise, you’d see a different response.

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