Inside Team Trump’s Vegas Afterparty
They’re down in the polls and their man failed in the final presidential debate, but—for Trump’s coterie of top advisers—the party continues in fantasyland.
LAS VEGAS — “We’ve got Diamond and Silk, what do you think Hillary’s got?” Boris Epshteyn asked me. “Come on, admit it, Republicans are more fun!”
Epshteyn is a senior adviser to Donald Trump’s presidential campaign and late Wednesday evening, after the debate, he stood at the head of a long table in the half-empty restaurant of the Trump International Hotel here, drinking and eating jovially with the rest of the staff.
The hotel has served as the campaign’s mothership during this Vegas jaunt, despite its questionable cleanliness (I found a hair that didn’t belong to me on my sheets) and charmless decor. Earlier in the day, the restaurant had been shut down and shielded by a large curtain while Trump addressed a private crowd. His fans listened from the opposite side of the lobby, lined up like they were waiting to catch a glimpse of the pope.
Quality of the location aside, Epshteyn was delighted by the presence of Diamond and Silk, two African-American vloggers who support Trump’s candidacy and often attend his events wearing furs. On Wednesday they wore cheetah prints.
When your candidate who is losing in the polls loses the final debate before Election Day, it’s not usually cause for celebration. Wednesday night, Trump earned the distinction of being the first major-party nominee in modern American history to publicly say he might not accept the outcome of the election if he loses. He also called his opponent, Hillary Clinton, a “nasty woman.”
But Epshteyn and his dining companions understand that their presence in Las Vegas in late October 2016, 6.5 points behind Clinton nationally on average, is a miracle in itself—he was never supposed to get this far, and neither were they. Every night until Nov. 8 might as well be New Year’s Eve.
Epshteyn, who is in his thirties, is a bulky, friendly man with a passion for custom-made suits and garish cufflinks. He seems Italian even though he was born in the Soviet Union. Although he’s not a gifted public speaker, he frequently appears on TV to speak for his candidate. Earlier in the day on Wednesday, he’d been on CNN, where he declared that Barack Obama rigged the 2008 election. In the past, he claimed Russia never seized Crimea.
Next to Epshteyn was Kellyanne Conway, the campaign manager who sipped red wine and ate carrot sticks, and next to her Rebekah Mercer, the deep-pocketed Republican donor who looks like she could be related to Sarah Palin (though Palin was in the “spin room” after the debate, she wasn’t at the party). The two women whispered and hugged.
At the next table over sat Don Jr., with his slicked-back hair and Gordon Gekko outfit, and across from him Katrina Pierson, a campaign spokeswoman who is lovely in person but tends to say things on television like, “So what? They’re Muslim!” when discussing denying rights to certain people based on their faith.
The group ate pizzas and salads and passed around a large plate of shrimp as they posed for photos with supporters and fans.
Jeanine Pirro made the rounds by the bar.
Conway has become something of a celebrity in her own right, a frequent guest on cable news and the subject of an extensive profile in The New Yorker. When fans approached to take photos with her, Mercer, whom she’s very close to, happily snapped them on their iPhones.
Earlier in the evening, Mercer was overheard by another guest in the restaurant giving a negative review of Trump’s performance to Don Jr.
When she stopped by my table, she said she’d been reading the Drudge Report on the plane and was shocked that when she clicked on a link about a Republican mega-donor, the story turned out to be about her. “Oh, that’s me!” she laughed. “It was me! I thought it was somebody—I was like, oh, this is somebody who could help us! A disruptive donor who’s fueling Republican revolt, that’s my kind of person, I love it! And then I click on the article, I was like what the hell! These people are ridiculous, they’ve written enough stuff. I mean there’s not anything more you need to write about!”