I spent Election Night at a Republican Watch Party

republican party party.jpeg

Last night I watched the election results with the Republican Party of Wisconsin.

Devin and I ended up there almost by chance. It was one of the few public parties within walking distance of our house, and I was curious about what it would be like, since so much of the news has focused on the fight about Trump within the Republican Party.

Soon after we arrived, Fox News declared that Trump had won Wisconsin––the first time a Republican presidential candidate has won the state since 1984. The people in the ballroom chanted, “TRUMP! TRUMP! TRUMP!” I started to panic. Minutes later I lost sight of Devin, and I felt like I couldn’t breathe.

But then I met a very polite older woman from Dodgeville, whose life revolves around praying and hospice care because after taking care of her mother and husband as they died, she realized she had a calling. Talking to her felt so normal that I almost forgot where I was. She gave Devin and me advice about helping people we love if they ever develop dementia and talked about joining the Republican Party after visiting the Capitol to pray with the priest from her church during the historic Wisconsin protests. It was hard for me to imagine this kindly gray-haired woman voting for Trump, but watching the election results, she seemed genuinely happy.

“Have you ever seen A League of Their Own?,” she asked.

We shook our heads.

“Oh, when you go home you have to look up the scene where Tom Hanks says, ‘We’re gonna win! We’re gonna win!’ I had it playing in my mind all last week, and I didn’t know if it was about Trump or the Cubs,” she puts her hand over her heart, “Who would have thought it would be both!”

It didn’t seem ironic to her that the movie she referenced to celebrate Donald Trump’s victory over Hillary Clinton was about the triumph of a women’s team.

She gave us her card in case we ever want to talk about caregiving. On the front it has a dove holding an olive branch, the Christian symbol of peace.

The party was in a hotel ballroom, and at midnight they kicked us out. At the beginning of the night, there were approximately 70 people, and about 25 of us ended up watching the elections results in the hotel bar surrounded by hotel guests. The few I talked to explained that they were in town for various professional conferences.

A man who looked very young sat down next to me and asked where all these people had come from. I explained that we’d come from a election watch party upstairs. “For Trump?,” he asked, gesturing to one of the few apparent men of color wearing a “TRUMP” button on his suit jacket. I nodded.

He explained that he had been at a party in the bar on the 12th floor, where everyone was busy placing bets.

I asked him who he’d bet on, and he told me he doesn’t bet, and if he had, it wouldn’t have been for Trump.

“I mean, I voted for him, but I really didn’t think he’d win.”

He explained that he was in town for an electrical engineering training and had not figured out how to cast his ballot before coming to Madison.

“I woke up at 4:45 and drove back to Milwaukee to vote. A lot of people said, ‘Why are you even voting? Hillary’s definitely going to win,’ and I thought that, too, even though I did think there were a lot of people like me. I think there’s some truth to what she was saying––I don’t remember her name,” he looks toward the screen.

“Megyn Keylly?”

“Yeah, what she was saying about the ‘shy Trump voters.’ I think I’m kind of like that. Everyone around me said Trump would never win. Nobody was going to vote for Trump. And I was like, ‘I don’t know…there are a lot of reasonably––reasonable––people who are voting for Trump but not saying it publicly.’ That’s how I was.”

He told me that this was his first election, even though he could have voted in the last presidential election. “I had just finished high school. I didn’t really know anything. I don’t know… to me it’s a privilege––people say it’s a duty, and everyone has to vote, but I think it’s a privilege. If you’re uninformed, you shouldn’t vote.”

In the background a man dressed in sequined Uncle Sam suit yelled, “Let’s change the channel to MSNBC––don’t you wanna see Rachel Maddow cry?”

Most of the gathered Republicans shook their heads. Some gestured, “Oh, be quiet.”

“I can’t wait to see Hillary convulsing when she gives her concession speech!,” yelled the sparkly Uncle Sam.

A few people laughed. One White woman said, “My friend just texted me, ‘I’ve never wanted to see Hillary speak until tonight!’”   

The young man I was talking to furrowed his brow, “People like that give us a bad name.”

At 1:30 a.m. the bar abruptly turned off the television to announce that it was closed.

Again, Uncle Sam tried to get everyone’s attention. This time he tried to start a “Lock her up! Lock her up!” chant. About 10 people joined in, but it didn’t last more than a few seconds. My impression was that they were more excited to see Trump win than to see Clinton lose. The group clapped for a second before leaving the hotel.

On the sidewalk we ran into the older woman from Dodgeville again. Her friend, another older White woman, said, “It’s a great night.”

The woman from Dodgeville nodded solemnly, “It’s a great night.”

Devin and I said good night and started our walk home.

The people I met were not the caricatures of bigotry and misogyny I feared I would meet. But they still voted for someone who is.

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I spent Election Night at a Republican Watch Party