Andrea Catsimatidis suggested we meet at Avra Madison, the clubstaurant of choice for conservatives in New York City on nights when they aren’t knocking back pineapple martinis at Del Frisco’s. My first trip to Avra Madison, in 2017, was to meet Anthony Scaramucci, who was holding court with a rogues’ gallery of political misfits connected, in one way or another, to Donald Trump: There was Kimberly Guilfoyle, South Jersey Democratic boss George Norcross, and former NYPD detective and sometime right-wing personality Bo Dietl. (Roger Stone was said to be on his way.) My second trip there was with Catsimatidis, who became the chair of the Manhattan Republican Party in 2017 and occupies a Norm-like role in the Cheers-ian universe of the Establishment. At one point during our dinner, she looked up from her lobster to squint across the football field of a dining room. “I think that’s my brother!” she said, gesturing toward a table in the distance. It was.
Catsimatidis, who is 29, said she became a Republican as soon as she learned what it meant. In 2009, her father, supermarket billionaire–slash–bipartisan megadonor John Catsimatidis, first explored running for the party’s nomination for mayor of New York City. (He ultimately withdrew.) She’d been under the impression, all her life, that he was a Democrat because of the close relationship the Catsimatidis family had with the Clintons. “I still have great admiration for them, just ’cause I’ve known them since I was 2 years old,” she told me. So his decision left her “confused,” she said. “I looked up what it meant to be a Republican, and I saw that being a Republican stood for freedom and opportunity for all, and I was like, Of course I’m a Republican!” This definition struck me as simplistic to the point of being meaningless. Nevertheless, she said the message appealed to her enough to make her a convert. “To me it just made more sense,” said Catsimatidis, who went on to lead the NYU College Republicans. “It’s just your definition of what you believe is inequality: Do you believe in equal opportunity or equal outcomes? And to me, I believe in equal opportunity.”
When we sat down, I realized that I’d half-expected the chair of the Manhattan Republican Party to show up for dinner at Avra Madison wearing an American-flag-printed string bikini and MAGA hat. The bikini is to A.J., as she calls herself, what the extra-long necktie is to Donald Trump or the oversize flip phone was to Barbie — an essential accessory to an artifice she has diligently perfected. On Instagram, where she’s accumulated close to 50,000 followers, she’s often posed in South Beach or the Hamptons or Mykonos, displaying a kind of camp, bro-friendly, self-aware sexuality: part Betty Boop, part Paris Hilton, with the mind-set of the comments section on the blog Barstool Sports or male-centric website the Chive.
In the photo that perhaps best captures her essence, she holds a small American flag and is wearing a MAGA hat and fire-engine-red bikini. “Happy #independenceday everyone,” reads the caption. “Today I am feeling grateful that I get to live in America, the greatest country in the world, and thankful for those who fought to defend my country and my freedom! ❤️🇺🇸 ❤️🇺🇸.” In another, she’s on her knees, playing in sand. “I’m just going to build the wall myself,” she wrote. “😂.”
“When people want to be mean, they’ll just make fun of my appearance because that’s the petty default that people have,” she said of the population of trolls that discovered her on social media after she appeared on CNN to weigh in on the government shutdown earlier this year. “They usually tend to complain about my feminine anatomy.” She added, “The Democrats started attacking my breasts, and the Republicans were defending them, and then I thought to myself, I didn’t realize that my breasts were so partisan.”
Recently, all of this has resulted in more attention. Earlier this month, the New York Post’s Jon Levine called Catsimatidis, a principal of her family’s company who studied business as an NYU undergrad, “a rising GOP star.” In the photos that ran alongside the item, she wore a red bikini and wedges on a rooftop, a red bodycon dress and Louboutins perched near the window of a conference room, and a flag-printed bikini standing in front of a large grill cooking hunks of meat. Never passing up an opportunity to run half-naked photos of a potentially controversial woman, the Daily Mail aggregated the item along with a slideshow of 17 images.
But the publicity is a reintroduction to the tabloidosphere for Catsimatidis. In 2011, she first gained curiosity status after her marriage to Richard Nixon’s grandson, Christopher Nixon Cox. Or, to be precise, after the New York Times “Vows” column about the wedding, which disclosed that the couple had met in 2008, when the bride was a 17-year-old senior (“five days shy of her 18th birthday,” as the article put it) at the Hewitt School, on the Upper East Side, and the bridegroom was a 29-year-old staffer on John McCain’s presidential campaign visiting the high school to appear on a debate panel. Catsimatidis filed for divorce a few years later, in 2014, but she doesn’t regret the flashy event and says she and Cox remain good friends. “We had so many people to celebrate with us. Hillary Clinton was at my wedding. We had Henry Kissinger, we had Rudy Giuliani, we had Chuck Schumer. It was a beautiful, bipartisan wedding — everyone had an amazing time.” (Trump once told the couple he persuaded her father to pay for the expensive affair.)
Obviously, America is not a beautiful, bipartisan place. The fact that Catsimatidis goes to Mar-a-Lago or the White House Christmas party is likely enough to make her seem unacceptable to many critics of the president. But it’s a selling point to the people who like him and who view people of his same (alleged) socioeconomic class aspirationally. Catsimatidis might be what happens when an Ivanka Trump merges with a Sarah Palin — off-putting to you, perhaps, but irresistible to a certain type of Fox News devotee.
Whether she becomes a political celebrity nationwide may depend on how well she can boost the Republican Party in overwhelmingly Democratic Manhattan. Catsimatidis said the borough’s eight-to-one ratio against her interests doesn’t bother her too much, but she was frightened when party headquarters was vandalized by antifa.“They threw bricks at the windows and spray-painted our doors.” She’s soldiered on, going about the business of attending the odd fund-raiser, finding people willing to run, and getting them on the ballot.
Overall, she doesn’t think the city is entirely unwelcoming to her worldview, and she sees her job, in part, as reflecting what her constituents want as much as what she personally believes. She openly supports LGBTQ rights and — with some trepidation — the right to an abortion. “Do I have to answer that?” she said when I asked if she’s pro-choice. “My belief is, I’m pro-life, but at the same time, as Manhattan GOP chair, I’m doing my best to fulfill the role that represents our Manhattan Republican Party, and our Manhattan Republican Party is pro-choice, all of our candidates are pro-choice, all of our candidates are pro–gay marriage, all of our candidates are very socially liberal. So I feel like I’m acting in the interest of what our constituency is. That’s what I’m going to do.”
Still, some parts of the city — like the room at Avra Madison — feel safer than others. “The Upper East Side is very welcoming and Republican,” Catsimatidis said. “But if you go downtown, say, where the registration is seven-to-one, then people get a little bit more hostile.”
*This article appears in the July 22, 2019, issue of New York Magazine. Subscribe Now!