Like an Ark floating securely above a sea of drowning atheists, the Philly GOP DNC Party (informally titled “Welcome to Philly, Hillary—You’ll Fit Right In!”) was a beacon of irritated conservatism in a town that had no time for it. Coincidentally, it was also raining very hard that night. We decided to take shelter with some Republicans, to see how they were enjoying the Democratic Convention from afar.
Ellie Shechet: On my way to the party on Monday night, a pole was struck by lightning a few feet in front of my Uber. This symbolized... something. “Fuck!” my driver yelled. Fifteen minutes early, I staggered inside the United Republican Club of Philadelphia, alone and completely drenched, with frizzy hair plastered to my head. “Oh noooo,” a young blonde woman said when she saw me, to no one in particular.
The United Republican Club of Philadelphia looked like the inside of a very neat fraternity house and smelled like the home of my cigarette-addicted childhood neighbor Sugar, where my mom used to drop me when she couldn’t find other childcare. The theme of the night was, loosely, “Democrats are criminals,” and festive orange crime scene tape marked the perimeter of the party. As I wrote my name on the handwritten sign-in list, a woman in an orange “Hillary for Prison” t-shirt handed me a complimentary set of plastic handcuffs and clucked good-naturedly at my soaking dress, pointing me towards the bathroom, where I hid until Joanna arrived.
Joanna Rothkopf: Crazy for Ellie to start her evening like that because I actually had a symbolic experience in my Uber too. To get to the party, Stephen (my lovely driver) had to whiz me up the Eastside of Philadelphia (I think), which ended up taking us directly into a truly apocalyptic-looking thunderstorm. Among other things (he loves the train!), he mused as we drove, “That’s what happens with these kinds of thunderstorms—it gets nasty and it gets nasty fast.” The same could be said for the convention, I thought, and wrote it down in my iPhone notepad. “Wow,” I thought.
I finally met Ellie at the party, where I was swiftly metal detector’d with a wand and jokingly asked if I had a gun. When I said no, the ticket taker at the door said, “Uh oh, she doesn’t have a gun, she’s probably a Democrat!” I laughed like this: HA HA HA!
Ellie: Despite the aggressive decor, which included mugshot and jail cell photo opps set out in the front room, the party was a pretty casual affair. There were green plastic coverings on the table, several different types of mac & cheese in tinfoil containers, and Fox News playing in the background behind the bar, which was manned by a friendly guy in a Make America Great Again t-shirt.
The first people we spoke to were Megan and Matt, an attractive couple who were new to Philly. Megan and Matt weren’t thrilled with the choices in this year’s election, but the prospect of a Clinton presidency made them fear for their baby daughter’s future. Matt came from a military background, and was frustrated by the fact that America wasn’t more like the military, where “we were all equal.” The Democrats, according to Matt, have stoked ideas of race and class divisions that don’t actually exist. He explained that the Republican party is actually very diverse, and urged me to look around. I choked on my pickle. “There are blacks here!” he said defensively (this was technically correct, there were two black people at the event).
I asked them how they think things have been going under the Obama administration. “Horribly,” Megan answered. After a beat, “Oh, our life is great!”
Joanna: The general vibe of the party was “Chill,” and also, “It smells oppressively like smoke.” I ate some food from the impossibly bizarre buffet (all that macaroni, meatballs but no spaghetti, large soft pretzels) and Ellie and I, both trying to get something going with ourselves, drank a wine each. This was a mistake, given the smoky smell, the quality of the wine, and our serious dehydration and sun exhaustion from the day. But it was fine—we didn’t have to be drunk because everyone we spoke with was nice and wanted to engage in nice conversation.
There was Jack, the consultant with slicked back hair, who, upon learning we were media revealed that he had actually worked on more Democratic campaigns than Republican ones. There was his friend Rob, who ran as a Republican for office in Northwest Pennsylvania and said that nobody in the party had ever blinked at the fact that he was gay. There was Albert, the communications guy for the Philadelphia Republican Party who had recently moved from Brooklyn. When it was time to go, they all repeatedly asked us if we had “enough for our story.”
Ellie: Yeah, as it often goes at these types of events, the vibe only turned contentious when a non-attending political adversary came up. At one point, a guy came out in a Hillary mask and prison uniform, lifting the top of his orange jumpsuit suggestively as the crowd jeered. But the event wasn’t just focused on Hillary—there was a large poster board covered in playing cards, each containing the image and crimes of a Philadelphia Democrat; U.S. Rep. Chaka Fattah Sr., recently convicted of political corruption, was given a place of honor on an Ace.
Joanna: So basically, I respected their right to be angry. And I respected them even more for their willingness to patiently answer all of our questions about why Trump was, for many of them, the lesser of two evils, though they still weren’t enthusiastic about November. At the end of a long day, at a party filled with people who feel their city has been invaded by, to their mind, the most corrupt public figures, the Republicans at this party weren’t even close to being the angriest or most closed-minded of the voters we had encountered. I think we all can guess who won that title!!!!
Ellie: It’s possible that even these Republicans, who had an actual mugshot set-up devoted to Hillary, want to put the presumptive Democratic nominee in prison less than the woman I saw get arrested at a Jill Stein march yesterday. As we walked back out into the damp night, pondering this, a Republican with an eye patch nodded goodbye.
Joanna: “Bye!” Ellie chirped.