Billed as an Irish wake, the handful of longtime GOP operatives and policy wonks assembled to pay their respects at The Dubliner, a popular Irish bar just a short walk from Capitol Hill.
The event’s organizers took the gag of staging a mock Irish wake seriously. A white wreath at the entry of the area said “RIP, GOP” and a guestbook for would-be mourners sat on a table alongside a piece of paper that said, “GOP IRISH WAKE: A hole is more honorable than a patch.” On one side of the room, a row of framed photos of Abraham Lincoln, Teddy Roosevelt, Dwight Eisenhower and Ronald Reagan memorialized Republican presidential icons and their values. And bowls of Jelly Belly jelly beans dotted the tabletops; they were Reagan’s favorite.
The turnout, like more formidable efforts to thwart Trump, was less impressive: About a dozen #NeverTrump Republicans were in attendance. At various points there were just as many or more journalists and onlookers.
The event was conceived by Andrew Weinstein and Chris Scheve, two veterans of Republican campaigns and Hill offices. Weinstein, now head of Ridgeback Communications, was director of media relations for Bob Dole’s 1996 presidential campaign and subsequently a top press aide to then-House Speaker Newt Gingrich (R-Ga.).
Scheve, a former environmental policy adviser in the George W. Bush administration, is the founder of AquaTerra Strategies, a government affairs firm.
Weinstein, a D.C. resident who supported Ohio Gov. John Kasich in the GOP primary, envisioned the gathering as a kickoff of the post-Trump recovery that he is sure will take place regardless of whether Trump is elected.
“Whatever happens in this election, there is going to be a process of rebuilding ― either the existing party or thinking of a new party going forward,” Weinstein said. “This group will be part of that process.”
Weinstein plans to vote for presumptive Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton in November. While he disagrees with her policies, he believes that, unlike Trump, she is qualified to hold the office.
Scheve, on the other hand, voted for Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) in the GOP primary. Scheve is unsure of his plan for November, but may vote for Libertarian Party candidate Gary Johnson or write in Ronald Reagan as a protest vote.
A common theme among the “mourners” was their disdain for Trump’s racially divisive rhetoric, lack of concrete policy convictions and disrespect for longstanding political norms and civic institutions.
A government affairs professional, who asked not to be named for work-related reasons, said Trump’s proposed ban on Muslim entry into the United States and commitment to deporting all 11 million undocumented immigrants prevented him from backing the Republican nominee.
“His policies bring out the worst in the American people by dividing us and sowing the seeds of suspicion and animus based on people’s religion and ethnicity,” he said.
The quintessentially Washingtonian get-together took place just a night after Cruz rocked the political world by refusing to endorse Trump in his speech at the Republican National Convention. While Cruz’s remarks may have won him few friends at the convention in Cleveland, including in the delegation from his home state of Texas, those at the wake on Thursday had only praise for him.
Cruz’s “speech was perfect,” Scheve said. He denied that it was a snub in any way to Trump. “When I was on the Hill, leadership said all the time to members, ‘Vote your conscience,’” he said. “When did that become a bad thing?”
“I have not heard a ton of Ted Cruz speeches I like and I think he is a generally unlikable person,” Weinstein said. “But last night was remarkable.”
Cameron Kilberg served on the legal team for Arizona Sen. John McCain’s 2008 presidential campaign and was most recently a policy adviser for the presidential campaign of New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie.
Kilberg still respects Christie, but she was “sad to see” he decided to support Trump.
“I’m all for security and immigration reform. Every which way [Trump] has gone about this is not gonna help us,” she said. “Turning our back on NATO is not gonna help us.”
Notwithstanding her presence at the wake, Kilberg is not as despondent about the prospects of the Republican Party.
“It’s all good fun and jest,” Kilberg said of the wake. “But I think the party is not over, and there is a way to reorganize and regroup.”