Every four years, the presidential election creates winners and losers in Washington. In the political world, the victors celebrate, the vanquished stay home.
But in the social world, elites from both parties gather — in the bipartisan spirit of patriotism, of course — to mark the inauguration with receptions, dinners and plenty of alcohol.
It’s part of the unspoken rules of engagement: Don’t gloat, don’t pout. No matter whom you voted for, be civil.
In a year when nothing seems normal, Washington’s establishment is determined to carry on as if everything is perfectly normal. Part ritual, part tradition, the operating principle every four years is to put on a good face and welcome the new administration with respect and excruciating good manners. If they go low, we still go high . . . tea.
Part of it stems from the belief that Washington changes presidents more than presidents change Washington. Part of it is the genuine hope for everyone to come together for the greater good of the city and its institutions. And part of it is the desire to stay in the social mix, regardless of who’s in the White House.
This raises the larger question of how much the new president and his advisers will engage with the city’s establishment — and to what degree it will embrace him. That’s a question for every incoming president, and it takes at least a year to answer.
But for now, these celebrations aren’t specifically about Donald Trump. They’re about the country and the peaceful transfer of power.
Mary Ourisman, a Republican whom George W. Bush appointed ambassador to Barbados, is throwing an “Inaugural Afterglow Party” on Friday for all her friends.
“My whole premise is for the old guard of Washington and members of Congress to welcome the new people coming into town with the new administration,” she said.
Although her Palm Beach house is literally next door to Mar-a-Lago (and she’s a member of the club there), she said that she’s just a “social acquaintance” of the president-elect’s. Oursiman, the wife of automobile magnate Mandy Ourisman, has teamed up with Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, Republican Sens. Marco Rubio, Roy Blunt and John Cornyn, and Rep. Mike McCaul for the party at Cafe Milano. The guest list? Ambassadors, government officials, Supreme Court justices, business leaders — in short, about 500 people on the D.C. social list. “It’s mostly bipartisan, but it will be interesting to see who comes,” she laughed.
Connie Milstein, owner of the Jefferson Hotel and a generous donor to Democrats, is hosting a “Salute to the Senate” on Thursday. On Election Night 2014, Milstein teamed up with Republican strategist Rachel Pearson for a party at the hotel; this year, Kristi Rogers, wife of former GOP congressman Mike Rogers of Michigan, is joining them for a salute to the upper chamber. The trio have invited about 200 people in the hope that we can all just get along.
“Now more than ever is the time to encourage a spirit of graciousness here in Washington,” Milstein said. “It’s important for us to gather together, put aside partisan bickering, place country first and enjoy one another’s company. Remembering simple courtesies, along with a few cocktails, could actually go a long way!”
Missing from the party list this year: the quadrennial party hosted by philanthropist Buffy Cafritz that was a staple of establishment Washington, a place for all the A-listers to mingle and congratulate the incoming power brokers.
Cafritz and her late husband, Bill, came up with the idea of throwing an inaugural party after the 1984 election. They were Republicans but had hundreds of friends who were Democrats. “We wanted to have a bipartisan gathering because the county seemed so divided,” she said. “It was a great success, so together we said, ‘Let’s have this every four years.’ ”
For years, the late-night reception was held at the Jockey Club, with celebrities and politicians crammed together in half-lighted booths and corners until the wee hours. In the ’90s, Clinton confidants Vernon and Ann Jordan joined as co-hosts, and four years ago, philanthropists Roger and Vicki Sant signed on, greeting more than 600 guests at the Madison Hotel.
The death of Bill Cafritz in 2014 “took away the joy” from doing the party this year, said Cafritz. She consulted with the Jordans and the Sants, and they all decided to sit this one out. “Hopefully, it will be back on the calendar in four years,” she said. “I have some regret because the premise of 1984 is even more acute today.”
Diplomats, masters in the art of not taking sides, approach inaugurations from the lofty perch of international relations.
British Ambassador Kim Darroch will kick things off with a reception Wednesday, inviting officials of the current, former and incoming administrations, members of Congress and leaders of the media, business, academia and the arts. The embassy hosted a similar event in 2013.
“The presidential inauguration is a celebration of the values that the U.K. and U.S. share: democracy, representative government and the peaceful transition of power,” explained a British Embassy spokesman. The reception honors those values and “the close U.K.-U.S. partnership with the new administration and Congress.”
Embassy Row’s preeminent hostess, Rima al-Sabah, is having another invitation-only party at the Embassy of Kuwait on the same day. The cocktail buffet is co-hosted by her husband, Ambassador Salem al-Sabah, Sen. Roy Blunt and Abby Blunt, Wayne and Lea Berman, and Georgette Mosbacher, who made quite the splash when she first landed in Washington as the wife of then-Commerce Secretary Bob Mosbacher back in 1989.
French Ambassador Gérard Araud is hosting one of his A-list cocktail receptions the next day. The Canadian Embassy, which sits on the inaugural parade route, will host its traditional invitation-only viewing party Friday. The Russian Embassy did not return calls about inauguration plans.
Beginning Tuesday, lobbyists, corporations and media outlets will host lavish open houses, receptions and cocktail parties around the nation’s capital, with those on the parade route getting the best response on Inauguration Day itself.
But Washington veterans typically skip the official balls (as life experiences go, one inaugural ball is enough for most people) and opt for smaller parties that night.
Trump and Vice-President-elect Mike Pence have a packed schedule of official events this week, including a candlelight dinner Thursday night for donors who gave up to $1 million to the Presidential Inaugural Committee. The dinner, designed by New York event planner David Monn, is expected to include Trump family members and senior administration officials. Trump and Pence are not scheduled to make any surprise appearances at unofficial parties — but that doesn’t mean that they haven’t been invited to drop by.
And the other guests? None of the hosts disclosed who would be attending their events, but expect CEOs, celebrities, political donors and more than a few billionaires.
“The money coming into town that weekend is out of control,” confided one diplomat.