There’s Jared Kushner eating deviled eggs at Founding Farmers, Ivanka at Open City with girlfriends, the two of them hosting Shabbat at their $6 million house in Kalorama, the Trumpian neighborhood of choice, with streets blocked off so that a hairdresser, makeup artist, catering trucks, tables and chairs, florists, and, incidentally, Rabbi Levi Shemtov, could enter. And then the controversial appearance of the couple at the tony Alfalfa Club dinner, Ivanka in a silver sheath, the night the president issued his travel ban for citizens from seven Muslim countries.
It is always risky to party while governing, though there are good reasons for doing so. Some are worried there won’t be enough opportunity to get to know the new Administration with no live-in First Lady and a president who prefers to entertain at his other properties. A lot hangs on Ivanka and Jared. Revolution or not, Washington hopes somehow for that long lost time of bipartisanship, a throwback to the day when Tip O’Neill and Ronald Reagan battled during the day and shared a whiskey at night.
And so, the Washington establishment carries on with a catered version of the welcome wagon. To that end, hosts and hostesses are lining up not to woo Trump—that looks futile—as much as his court. Half the capitol slams Trump for sending the Carl Vinson to saber-rattle a nuclearized North Korea but they aren’t going to hold it against General H.R. McMaster, his fireplug of a National Security Adviser, who is surrounded with well-wishers one recent night at Café Milano, the second hottest spot after the bar at the Trump International Hotel where $24 drinks keep out all but the wealthiest member of the Administration.
Trump’s socializing so far is unusual. Where the Kennedys hosted Pablo Casals and threw cabinet secretaries in the pool at Hickory Hill, Trump hosts Ted Nugent, Kid Rock, and Sarah Palin to make fun of Hillary Clinton in front of her portrait. He almost forgot to order eggs for the traditional Easter Egg roll on the South Lawn. He tolerated the governors coming for dinner. He invited Senators to sit for an evening of music by the U.S. Army band and, less socially, just last week bused all 100 of them to the White House for a briefing on North Korea at which he made the briefest of cameo appearances. Even his ally who was seriously considered for Secretary of State, Foreign Relations Committee Chair Sen. Bob Corker said it wasn’t worth the field trip.
It’s clear the president much prefers playing maitre d’ at Mar a Lago (with national security briefings at the dinner table as needed) to throwing open the doors of the White House. Visiting heads of state like Germany’s Angela Merkel and Britain’s Theresa May came and went. It looks like the Summer White House is going to be his golf club in Bedminster, New Jersey. Maybe the prime minister of Uzbekistan will want to spend a weekend.
The biggest party so far was thrown by Bush Administration Ambassador to Barbados Mary Ourisman who wanted nothing more than for those already here, no matter who they voted for, to welcome the new. To that end, she and her fellow hosts—Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, Republican Sens. Marco Rubio, Roy Blunt and John Cornyn—opened the doors of Café Milano to tout le swamp. Someone spotted what would have been the get of the evening, the reclusive Steve Bannon, in a flowing black coat and silk scarf. It turned out to be a nobody who drops in on large parties to graze the buffet table.
This was followed a few weeks later by a party hosted for the new commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross and his wife Hilary. If there’s an It Couple, it is they who have bought a real mansion for $12 million promising to bring everyone together. Even mansions can be improved, so the Rosses are living in the Ritz Carlton and being lionized. The party at the Georgetown house of Boyden Gray was hosted by Don Graham, his wife Amanda Bennett, and sister Lally Weymouth, whose mother Washington Post publisher Katharine Graham hosted presidents, prime ministers, and princesses for decades. Everyone came out: National Economic Adviser Gary Cohn, Goldman Sachs CEO Lloyd Blankfein, Gen. McMasters, Debbie Dingell and Rick Perry, along with lots of Senators (including one who voted against Ross’s confirmation).
For her party for the Rosses, Rima al-Sabah imported Rudy Giuliani, Georgette Mosbacher, Adrienne Arsht, and Steve Mnuchin for their occasion. Buffy Cafritz, Ann Nitze and Jo Carole Lauder have had Hillary to lunch. The madness will stop when Hillary throws her first party.
Fact is nights in the capitol aren’t what they once were: The Obamas had young children, the Bushes liked to go to bed early, and no one drinks the way they used to. No matter who is in the White House, it’s a new day. With all the troubles in the world, it looks frivolous. But as long as an animating principle of life is to be included, starting with the first birthday party in kindergarten to wishing you could be at your own funeral, parties will help make the city go around.
We’ll miss the president at Saturday night’s dinner. There is an old saw that Washington changes presidents more than presidents change Washington. Dear Mr. President, about that White House Correspondent’s Dinner. See you same time, next year.