Election night at the Trump victory party in Manhattan’s Midtown Hilton was a tale of two rooms. In the main ballroom were the Trump VIPs in suits and cocktail dresses, growing looser and louder as the night went on. Down the hall in the media filing center, where rows of laptop-pecking journalists sat at long tables, the vibe was distinctly chillier. The first crack in the press corps’ collective, impassive façade came when Fox News (the only network playing on the dozens of televisions here) called Virginia for Hillary. I heard someone near me emit a quiet sigh of relief. Later, the mask dropped entirely: When some bad results came in from Wisconsin there was an audible “shit.”
The reporters at the edge of the ballroom floor, gazing at the party from its periphery, silently met each other’s tight-lipped, ashen-faced gazes. The reason we stood at the periphery was because we were not allowed to mingle with the Trump swells. I tried to wade in twice and was stopped and ejected both times by security. Press who wished to be near the action were sequestered in a pair of pens at the dark corners of the room.
I stopped a few Trump supporters who wandered into my vicinity. One of them, seeing my credential, asked me if Slate had predicted a Trump win. I hemmed and hawed. “I’d rather not talk to you,” he said. I asked him why. He just shook his head. Soon after, a Trump staffer walked by with a stack of red MAGA hats and tried to hand me one, though that press credential was large and visible. Perhaps they’ll be mandatory wear for those who wish to be White House correspondents?
I asked a few people if they thought the Republican Party would change under a President Trump. (The words President Trump caught in my mouth the first time I uttered them.) “A lot of Republicans who weren’t behind him are gonna have a lot of kissing up to do,” said a man who worked in the golf course division of the Trump Organization.
A trio of dudes in the hall outside had a different take. They were bankers in from out of town, and it turned out they were centrist Republicans who’d been Jeb Bush supporters in the primaries. They’d snuck in because they wanted to see the spectacle. “He’s crazy,” said one, leaning in close and speaking low. “It’s the end of days.”
Around 1 a.m., alt-right provocateur Milo Yiannopoulos took a strutting turn past the media tables, shouting things I couldn’t make out and throwing a piece of garbage in our general direction. A gaggle of reporters followed him out of the room, where he paused to give an impromptu press conference. “Donald Trump is ascending to the presidency as we speak,” he said, “on the back of your hurt feelings and ridiculous grievances. Social justice is over.”