By John Woodrow Cox and Ben Terris
The Washington Post
WASHINGTON — In the middle of a city overwhelmingly opposed to Donald Trump, hundreds of devotees gathered Tuesday night in his Pennsylvania Avenue palace of marble floors and Swarovski crystal chandeliers to plead, pray and scream that he would win the presidency.
The Trump International Hotel, just blocks from the White House, served as a bastion for a legion of his supporters, whose ardor only intensified as his momentum built through the night.
When televisions flashed Trump’s lead in Ohio and Wisconsin, the room erupted. People pointed at the TVs and yelled “Call it!” and chanted “Trump! Trump! Trump!”
A thickset man with a red beard and a tattoo sleeve wearing a red “Make America Great Again” hat high-fived his smaller friend in a white “Make America Great Again” hat. Nearby, a blond woman in a leopard-print dress tried not to spill her on-the-rocks cocktail as people bumped around her.
News soon followed that the Dow Jones industrial average futures had dropped 700 points.
“That’s just because Wall Street bet on Clinton to win,” a muscular man with close- cropped hair and a white button-down shirt said to a woman standing beside him. “After Day One, that’s going to skyrocket up.”
For much of the night, the ornate atrium of the $212 million, 263-room hotel felt more like a sports bar devoted to an out-of-town team: a Washington Redskins pub in downtown Dallas. While 93 percent of voters in the nation’s capital backed Hillary Clinton, Trump supporters could wear their favorite color – bright red – and join in familiar cheers – “Lock her up!” – and watch their preferred TV channel – Fox News – free from fear of opposition or judgment.
“It’s nice to hang out here and not look over your shoulder,” said a District psychotherapist in a T-shirt that showed a cartoon Trump in a Superman outfit. “I would be fearful wearing this on the street.”
The psychotherapist, who is gay, had come to the hotel with his partner, a senior manager at a left-leaning D.C. nonprofit group. Fearing both a personal and professional backlash, both men declined to give their names. They had initially planned to attend a friend’s party but were, essentially, uninvited because of their political views.
“We have had more vitriol from gays than anyone,” the nonprofit manager said.
Both men, who support Trump because of his stance on immigration and fiscal conservatism, said they avoid divulging their political leanings at work. “Advertising it is not worth it,” the psychotherapist said.
Just two weeks ago, Trump himself attended the hotel’s grand opening celebration amid his campaign for an even grander property in the nation’s capital.
“With the notable exception of 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, this is the most coveted piece of real estate in Washington D.C., the best location,” he said, standing behind a gold and dark-wood lectern adorned with “Trump hotel.” (In the days since, tourists in jeans and baseball caps have posed for cellphone pictures behind an identical lectern in the atrium as they repeat Trumpisms like “bigly” and “Gina.”)
Protesters angered by what they see as the Republican nominee’s racism and misogyny have demonstrated outside the hotel repeatedly in recent weeks. On Saturday, the building was defaced for at least the second time in a month.
On Tuesday, hours before the polls closed, two tall, square-shouldered men in dark suits and Republican-red ties wandered the lounge, asking visitors whether they had questions about the hotel. But the pair seemed less like concierges and more like polite, well-dressed security guards.
What did they expect would happen at the hotel Tuesday night?
“Preparing for the worst,” said one, who had two fading blacks eyes. “Hoping for the best.”
The night was free from unwanted disruptions, but Trump employees ordered out any journalists they spotted interviewing guests, including one of two Washington Post reporters.
Trump’s unlikely election night success – driven in large part by a populist message to middle-class Americans – felt surreal in a room where people in velvet chairs can order rare Hungarian wine for $140 per crystal spoonful.
On Tuesday, the hotel’s website advertised a special “Inauguration Rate,” though Inauguration Day isn’t until January. “It is our pleasure to welcome you to Trump Washington DC on this historic night,” the site said of the $705 single-day price tag, which was the cheapest room offered to anyone other than AAA members ($680) and military veterans ($604).
The 6,300-square-foot “Trump Townhouse” was listed at $28,625, including taxes. That’s about $2,500 more than the annual per capita income in Michigan, where at Trump’s final rally of the campaign, he railed against elites and vowed, “The American working class is going to strike back.”
On Tuesday night, the people at his D.C. hotel reveled in his surging electoral count.
After he won North Carolina, they chanted “Lock her up!” After Florida, they exploded in cheers, high-fives and pumped fists.
“We’re going to build a wall so big,” a collection of seemingly drunk supporters said to one another after Trump took the lead in the key state of Wisconsin. “Who’s going to pay for it? Mexico!”
Slowly, the people packed into the atrium acted less and less as if they needed a refuge as their candidate’s chances soared.
And in that moment, no one could have explained election night 2016 better than the hotel’s own online slogan.
“Washington,” it declares, “will never be the same.”