Pennsylvania Society was a postcard from an earlier age, Republican and Democratic politicians and insiders traipsing together in black tie and ball gowns from one cocktail party to the next in the Art Deco opulence of Manhattan’s Waldorf Astoria Hotel.
Then Donald Trump showed up for lunch in 2015 — and all hell broke loose. Yeah, that was only four years ago.
A different Republican Party rolls into Manhattan on Friday, in the throes of political metamorphosis, with insiders who once viewed Trump with disdain now obediently bent to the president’s will (or cast off to the fringes) as articles of impeachment appear on the horizon.
Trump was the party’s keynote speaker at its 2015 Pennsylvania Society kickoff luncheon — an invitation that opened a GOP fault line and was crashed by protesters angry at his aspersions for immigrants, Muslims and others.
» READ MORE: A 'toned-down' Trump draws Pa. pols, protests
A trio of former Republican members of the House — Charlie Dent, Ryan Costello, and Pat Meehan — were among the voices wary of Trump four years ago.
These three wise men — hey, ’tis the season — were insiders then and are outsiders now in the remade party. Clout asked: Does Trump dominate Pennsylvania Society, and how does the 2020 election play out in the state?
Dent, now a lobbyist and CNN commentator, said Republicans must address the series of electoral defeats suffered in 2017, 2018 and 2019, culminating in November’s loss of political control in the suburban counties of Bucks, Delaware, and Chester as well as Lehigh.
“The president has been a turnout machine for Democrats,” said Dent, who expects the 2020 congressional, state legislative, and local races to all be nationalized by sustained voter reaction to Trump. “The party that is on the wrong side of the national mood will always try to localize the election. The party on the right side of the mood will always try to nationalize it.”
Costello, a Trump critic who is expected to become a lobbyist next month after a one year “cooling off” period post-Congress, also expects nationalization of the 2020 down-ballot elections. But he doesn’t think there will be any deep discussions among his party this weekend about the president and his impact.
Costello expects two groups: Republicans on “the Trump train” and those who keep concerns to themselves. He attributes that to a death of “nuance” in political discourse.
With Trump, you are either with him or against him.
Not that Pennsylvania Society criticism would mean much, since Costello says it does not reflect what voters are thinking back home.
“I think the base has always had a growing suspicion of, frankly, people who go to Pennsylvania Society, the political class," said Costello. “They took their party back.”
Meehan, like Dent and Costello, sees a hardening of partisan sentiment. He recalls the Trump of four years ago as “not a completely formed persona” in politics. Now, Republicans shrug off or even revel in statements or tweets that would have been seen as outrageous from any other president.
“He is disruptive. He’s certainly even crude in his articulation,” said Meehan, now a lobbyist. “But I have been consistently impressed by the loyalty he engenders with people who believe he’s the one force actually standing up against the vested interests."
Those vested interests will gather again this weekend in the far less glamorous mid-century monolith that is the New York Hilton Midtown. Pennsylvania Society, too, has been remade.