The Trump Hotel offers a lobby where nearly everything is painted gold. There are scattered couches throughout the floor and the glass ceiling shining the blue of a Washington, D.C., night is 10 floors above visitors’ heads. Of course there are chandeliers and of course they are bolted hideously into metal crossbeams. The back bar is a horseshoe with four televisions mounted on the wall and an American flag nearly three floors tall dripping from the ceiling.
I set the scene so that you have some idea what it is like when it is empty and not on the night that I was there as the midterm elections arrived in the lobby. On that night, the bar is so full that it takes half an hour to get a drink through the horde of gathered watchers. Some of them wear red hats but not in the Trump rally, air of brashness way—these supporters are in suits and red dresses cut uncomfortably tight.
I get into the hotel just after six, and when I try to walk across the street for cigarettes half an hour later I am told they are at capacity, and I will have to wait in line to be let back in.
Still, the room somehow swells as the results begin to register. There are jeers at the early numbers showing Beto O’Rourke ahead in Texas. A pair of reporters I recognize order coffee at the bar and drink together on one of the couches while the man beside me puts his hand on my shoulder and shouts “over the past two years the Dems showed their true colors backing these ‘Antifa’ fuckers.”
Charlie Kirk and Candace Owens—two right-wing trolls—arrive and disappear, and somebody says that they saw Donald Trump, Jr. I walk around looking for him and spot outgoing congressman Darrell Issa of California. Somebody says they just saw Melania. Somebody says they just saw Lara Trump. They cut the music and begin playing the audio on Fox News where Tucker Carlson is running down the score, but there are too many people talking at each other, so I start judging the numbers by the shouts and boos.
Outside the Trump Hotel looks like a castle with a sign stamped Presidential Ballroom on the far end. I wonder how long it’s been called that.
At the bar a woman turns to her friend and says “what kind of champagne do you want?” and the other shouts, smiling “the Trump kind!”
The polls are getting increasingly close, and it looks like Ted Cruz might go down. I ask the man next to me, who is wearing a Team Trump pin, about this. He frowns and mumbles “fuck it.”
The lobby of the Trump Hotel in Washington was edging on a holy site for the supporters of the president as the midterms came in.
Fox News announces that the Democrats have taken the House of Representatives, and there is a stunned silence. America First, a pro-Trump group, is having a party in the back room but Playboy has been left off the list.
I’ve forced myself upon a group of reporters who have gotten a table upstairs overlooking the bar, and the crowd is still thick on the floor. A handful of men looking like Secret Service agents pass by, and somebody says that Steve Mnuchin is here. Somebody says that Melania is back at the White House. Ted Cruz sneaks out the win, and the crowd drowns itself in cheers and that victory is followed by a tweet from the president, declaring the night a “tremendous success.” Everybody in the room seems very happy, though they don’t seem to know why.
The America First party is still underway in the back and disgraced former Fox News anchor Eric Bolling has showed up. But it’s full of the worst sort of glad-handing Republican ladder-climbers. Sebastian Gorka—a human cartoon villain who has spent the last year skating off a nonsense gig in the White House—is taking photos with well-wishers. When the screens blink red with a Republican victory, Gorka looks lazily at the cheering crowd and returns to his conversation.
Jack Posobiec, an internet troll who pushed the Pizzagate conspiracy that ended with a North Carolina man shooting up a Washington, D.C., pizza parlor is here, ostensibly for the America First party. Somebody says that they heard Donald Trump Jr., is at the residence party, by which they mean the party at the White House.
At nearly every other event in Washington, the scene is entirely different. Friends send photos of them hugging each other as Nancy Pelosi takes the stage to usher in a new era in which she will be Speaker of the House—her gathering is across town at the Hyatt.
But at the Trump Hotel, and only at the Trump Hotel, the era of the president and of the worshipping of figures idolized yet somehow foreign to nearly all of America is the theme. People walk around gingerly and the hushed tones take on a new chorus—was Donald Trump, Jr. ever even here?
The lobby of the Trump Hotel in Washington was edging on a holy site for the supporters of the president as the midterms came in. All of your favorite prophets were on the floor, or maybe they weren’t. But you just missed them. When another reporter, widely regarded as one of the best in Washington, asked Gorka what he thought about the results, he told her “I’m really not interested in talking to you.” And why would he be, who needs the press when everybody wants a selfie, and they’re close enough to take it?
In that crowd, it became increasingly clear that these elections were about the president. When the screens flashed red to signal a Republican victory, it didn’t matter what the name was. They even offered mumbled approval for Mitt Romney, Trump critic. This wasn’t about picking races to win or supporting a candidate because he had even some vague set of ideals aimed at nudging the country into a better place.
This was about Donald Trump the president and Donald Trump the Republican Party and Donald Trump the Hotel, by which I mean the brand. And I’ve never been more sure that those three things are synonymous.