'I've Known Donald for Years': 3 Hours Undercover at a Young Republicans Holiday Party 

'I've Known Donald for Years': 3 Hours Undercover at a Young Republicans Holiday Party 

The New York State Young Republicans—not to be confused with the New York Young Republicans, whose website is much nicer—is a scrappy group. Outnumbered in their home state, and somewhat less maniacal than their southern counterparts, its members seem to need a fancy Christmas gathering more than most; the occasion seemed as good a chance as any for members to keep each other warm on this tiny ideological lifeboat called life, navigating the chilly waters of northern liberalism.

This weekend, we decided to put on our spy hats and attend their holiday party undercover. We were embraced with open arms.

Ellie: The New York State Young Republicans’ 19th Annual Holiday Party was located on 51st and Fifth Avenue, which Joanna and I agreed during our extremely long train ride is a very Republican location. I was deeply hungover from the Gawker holiday party the night before, and the prospect of an open bar felt much less appealing than it had when Joanna asked me to come with her a few days earlier.

On the train, we developed our conservative backstory, which was already somewhat compromised by the fact that our real names were on the guest list. I thought it would be funny to tell people we worked at a babysitting startup, which Joanna immediately named UBaby. “It’s the Uber for babysitting,” we would tell people. This would probably backfire, we agreed.

Upon exiting the train, we were immediately engulfed in a human tide the likes of which neither of us had experienced before in New York, maybe because we have never opted to go to Times Square during the holiday season. “What’s going on?” I asked a street vendor. “It’s just New York,” he said, exhaustedly. Confused and clutching each other, Joanna and I arrived—already frightened—approximately five minutes after the event’s 7 p.m. start time, at which point almost 75 percent of the guests were already there. I had read the dress code as “business casual,” but in fact it said “business attire,” which is apparently very different; Joanna and I were the only women in the room wearing pants, which I had personally decided to pair with a chunky sweater (Joanna was in a blazer, which felt much less rude). We stared at the extremely fancy room filled with people in cocktail dresses and suits, and they appeared to stare back. I felt a strong urge to run away; instead, I asked for a white wine spritzer.

Joanna: Not only were we the only women wearing pants, we were also apparently amongst the only women who had not worn a bright red cocktail dress with a Drybar blowout—the default uniform of the young Republican woman.

I asked for a pinot grig from a bartender who looked scarily like Nick Cannon from Drumline, and then Ellie and I began to mingle, by which I mean we stood side-by-side in the entrance to the ballroom silently speed-drinking. We learned quickly how easy it was to make a young Republican friend when Dave*, who described himself as “probably the most senior person in the room” approached us and asked, “Who are you?”

“We are Joanna and Ellie,” we responded, with smiles that said “and we are here to meet our husbands.”

“What do you do?” he asked.

“We work at a startup,” I said. “It’s called UBaby. It’s like Uber for babysitting.”

During our short conversation we learned that Dave had been involved in YR (cool for “Young Republicans), that he knew “basically everyone” in the room, and that we were supposed to seat ourselves at any table that hadn’t already been reserved by a group of friends. He suggested the table closest to the Christmas tree, because it is very close to the Christmas tree, which is Good.

Ellie and I walked to the recommended table. The tree was nice, but the table was empty. We had been standing next to it stupidly for a few minutes when a middle-aged man with very thick glasses approached me and said, “Ah! You! The lecture!” and I said, “Yes, wow, hi!” He then gently shook my hand and walked away.


The scene.

Ellie: Since this was a sit-down dinner and we would be stuck with our seatmates, we spent the next 20-30 minutes moving from table to table while everyone else was still mingling, trying to imagine which one might have the best guests. This was not a great use of our time, especially since the table we eventually chose turned out to be terrible.

Perhaps the most interesting thing about the New York State Young Republicans’ 19th Annual Holiday Party was that over half of the guests were quite old, despite the fact that the crowd was supposed to be 40 and under. New York Republicans, it would seem, are a dying breed. To my right was a delightful 66-year-old man named Bob* whom Joanna and I immediately fell in love with. “I love Bob,” Joanna texted me. He was grandfatherly and wise, except for his political views and most of the sentences he said. His main pitch was “Let’s run the government like a business,” and I nodded along to this enthusiastically. “You need to hire a CEO. You need to give people report cards and if they get a C or an F, they’re out.”

“Yes!” I cried. “You need to incentivize people to run the government,” he said, explaining that politicians should be making millions, maybe billions of dollars. He was unhappy with the Republican nominees, but decided that Trump, who he’s “known for years,” would do an okay job as long as he hired a CEO to be president for him. Then we talked about his portable iPhone charger for a while, as I basked in the glow of his approval.

Joanna: Also an interesting thing about Bob is that it seemed like he was on a date with the woman next to him, Vickie*, who I am convinced was Jane Curtin masquerading under her Republican pseudonym, and who also took a pill while glaring at me. But we ultimately realized (to our delight) that they were not together; they were just old timer Young Republicans who had really seen some stuff and wanted to shit-talk the current YR management.

Anyway, it became clear very quickly that we had not actually chosen the “cool” table, despite us trying so, so, so hard. Instead, our table was filled with very sweet young men from Rockland County and Long Island who were both incredulous that we were actually Republicans that lived in Manhattan, and extremely happy with the addition of young ladies to their world. We asked all of them who they were voting for for president, and to our surprise, no one had a fucking clue. Bob was a McCain/Romney man, which is a detail that I didn’t know could make me love someone even more; a younger man with an intrusive class ring said “Rubio, maybe, but he’s not there yet.” Two of the other guys honestly didn’t seem like they had ever voted or were planning to.

There was also a French man at our table who asked us two questions in a very thick accent, and then spent the rest of the evening vacantly staring into space, playing on his phone and laughing, and stroking his wine glass. His entire shtick has left me permanently baffled.

Ellie: My main line of the evening was “I love Carly,” and it turned out to be an excellent one. Whenever I was asked who my favorite nominee was, I would just say, “I mean, I love Carly,” and would be met with murmurs of approval. “I’d like to see her on the ticket,” multiple men told me. “Not for president, but definitely VP.”

One very young-looking guy at the table was clearly trying to out us from the get-go. I don’t blame him; it was our fault for wearing pants and looking vaguely Semitic. “Is this your first time here?” he asked incredulously. We nodded. “How did you hear about the event?” he demanded. “I just found it on Facebook,” Joanna shrugged politely.

He stared at her, and then at me, then launched into a brutal 15-minute investigation that really tested our ability to come up with lies in tandem on the spot. “Where do you live?” (Murray Hill and the East Village) “What do you do?” (Social media for a start-up.) “How did you find out you were both Republicans?” (It’s a really conservative start-up.) “I thought you said it was a babysitting startup?” (Yeah but no one there is like, liberal.) “What’s it like to work at a start-up?” (So fun!) “I didn’t know there were Republicans in Manhattan?” (Oh, really? I feel like there so are.) And so on.

I decided to turn the tables and ask a few questions of my own. “So, would you vote for Trump if he was the nominee?” I inquired of our new frenemy. He shook his head no. “So you would vote for Hillary?” He shook his head no again. “I’d vote for Bernie, though. I don’t agree with anything he says, but at least he’s telling the truth.”

Soon after this, dinner was served.

Joanna: First I want to point out the similarity between that guy and Alexander Hamilton: Hamilton had to choose whether to endorse Aaron Burr or Thomas Jefferson for president. Ultimately, he chose Jefferson—even though he disagreed with many of his policies—because “Jefferson has beliefs; Burr has none.” I tried to explain this parallel at dinner but he stared at me as if I was a ghost.

Anyway, the dinner was very Republican. It was basically the Reagan of dinners. First of all, we were not allowed to eat it until we had said the Pledge of Allegiance and a prayer. “Lord, please continue to give us fortitude to remain compassionate and tolerant of those who do not share our values and beliefs,” said a man at a podium. “Let our compassion speak to our conservatism, and let America once again be the nation we all know it can be. Amen.”

Ellie pointed out that there were little fleurets of butter on little plates on each table, which she loved, and wondered aloud if fancy butter was a Republican thing. They gave us a green salad with two cherry tomatoes each, then a bread roll, then the main course: one very big piece of chicken covered in mushrooms (this was advertised as a “Chicken Entree,” so it was not unexpected), a fancy little glop of mashed potatoes, and a small pile of vegetables including exactly one (1) brussels sprout per plate. I didn’t eat my brussels sprout and now I am wondering whether or not Ellie did and if it was worth it! [Ellie: No I did not, if it was good they would have trusted us with more of them.]


The chicken entrée.

Meanwhile, the bar continued to be open and serving free wines, so Ellie and I got second glasses of wine spritzer and pinot grig, respectively, filled to the absolute brim, and brought them back to the table.

Then a little bit later we all got one circle of cheesecake that was covered in red goop, and I was so tired of smiling by that point that I ate all of it.

For a large chunk of this dinner, Ellie was in the middle of a very intense conversation with Bob that I couldn’t quite hear, which left me to talk to Pedro*, a Canadian man with bangs sitting to my left. He was at once the sweetest person I’d ever met and also the most literal. Often, apropos of nothing, he would say things like, “This salad is dressed,” and “I own my own company.” Since he wasn’t a United States citizen, he couldn’t vote, but had nonetheless found his way to Republican events via an older man who, we learned from Vickie, had been kicked out of every Republican club in the city for groping women. “Don’t you say his name in front of me,” she hissed at Pedro, who blinked, then smiled helplessly.

Ellie: Word on the street was that there would be a gun raffle, which Joanna and I immediately resolved to enter. We chased down the gun raffle guy, who looked like he was probably armed, and purchased one $10 ticket. “Ellie,” Joanna whispered to me over our chicken entrees, “I am almost positive we are going to win.” The winner’s (our) options were as follows:

1. Savage .30-06 Rifle
2. Remington 12 ga. shotgun
3. Walther CCP 9mm pistol
4. $500 Cash

We momentarily toyed with getting the Remington shotgun (“I’m familiar with that brand,” Joanna said mysteriously) and mounting it on the wall above the snack table in Jezebel’s office space, but eventually, actually convinced we were about to win, we resolved to split the $500 prize. “Can you even own a gun in New York City?” our interrogator from earlier sneered. “Ya,” I said, which actually turned out to be true. Anyway, they called someone else’s number.


Our gun raffle ticket, and our wines.

The entire night, Joanna and I had been staring at a young man in what appeared to be an 8-piece pinstripe suit, slicked back hair, and red designer loafers. He was attractive, tall, and looked like the worst person I had ever seen. I needed to meet him, but unfortunately, he was sitting at one of the cool tables with some of girls in red cocktail dresses. A short, eager-looking guy with a unibrow was by his side the entire evening, who Joanna correctly pinpointed as our In. As the party wound down, we hovered behind this small companion for approximately 4 seconds before he picked up our scent, whirled around, and introduced himself.

“Hey ladies,” he beamed. “I haven’t seen you two around!”

Bart*, we learned, was #AllInForJeb, working on his campaign in some very minor way. I asked him what he thought Jeb’s chances were. “Oh, we’re taking it all the way to the White House,” he twinkled, with a confidence that I am not sure Jeb himself shares. During this time, Joanna had inched inside the circle, and was standing directly next to Pinstripe Guy, who was on his phone and didn’t respond to her questions. (We eventually discovered that he was a 22-year-old investment bank employee and die-hard Trump supporter.) When Bart asked me what I did for a living, I burst out laughing, because I was on my third spritzer and had said UBaby 9 times that evening.

“I’m sorry, I’m laughing about something else,” I explained.

Joanna: The crazy thing about that cool kid circle was how totally accepting of us they were (with the exception of Pinstripe Guy, who couldn’t have been less interested, and another red dress hottie, who visibly scowled at me when I mentioned our childcare start-up). Ellie immediately bonded with a college senior (also in a red dress) and they talked by themselves for maybe 20 minutes while I relived my unfulfilling high school social life with Pinstripe.

When Ellie and her new best friend finally rejoined us, we all started toward the door. “You guys have to come to Dorrian’s,” they said, referencing a bar on the Upper East Side they were all heading to. Even Pinstripe echoed the sentiment: “Yeah, definitely, Dorrian’s.” Ellie and I huddled off to the side to determine whether we had it in us to go to a second location, ultimately determining that we had fallen too deeply in love with our new social circle and would struggle to keep up our undercover personae (and/or someone would try to add us on Facebook). At Dorrian’s, the night would have undoubtedly ended with Ellie asleep in the lap of her college friend, having promised herself to the Bush campaign, and me drunk-crying while koala-hugging Bart.

As we left, I shook hands with Pedro, who pulled me close to him and kind of grinded my knuckles sexually while staring into my eyes with disturbing longing. Ellie actually hugged the girl in the red dress. We had just spent an evening in Midtown Manhattan in December, expecting to knock heads with an unbearable throng of closed-minded people. That is kind of what happened, except we also had a very lovely time. “You guys are coming to the debate viewing on Tuesday, right?” the Women’s Republican Club director asked us hopefully. We were the hottest new members of the New York State Young Republicans.

We waved at our new friends and walked out into the night, stopping briefly by the Rockefeller Center Christmas Tree, which neither of us had bothered to visit before despite living in New York for a number of years. It was nothing special, we agreed.

*Names have been changed.

Illustration by Tara Jacoby

Contact the authors at [email protected] and [email protected].

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