washington d.c.

Shunned by the Usual D.C. Circles, Trump Staffers Made Their Own Social Club

A campaign worker at an Indiana rally in August 2018. Photo: MANDEL NGAN/AFP/Getty Images

Just 4 percent of Washington, D.C.’s vote went to the Republican candidate last election, so it’s no surprise that President Trump’s staffers are having a hard time making friends in the District. “Instead of folks looking outward, more folks look inward,” a White House aide told Politico last summer, in a report on the toils of social life for the younger members of Trump’s staff living in, and attempting to date in, hostile territory.

Used to dealing with much more substantial crises, the team has figured out a solution. According to a new report from Politico, Trump staffers have founded the “45 Club,” a private group reserved for Trump’s current and former staff, as well as alumni of the campaign, the transition, and the inaugural committee. Members of the 45 Club, also known as “the Team,” wear a lapel pin that looks like a .45-caliber bullet casing. It is unclear if the president is aware of the club’s existence.

Co-founded by Paul Gates, the brother of Manafort underling and convicted felon Rick Gates, the club meets at faux-vintage diners, the Morton’s near the White House, and the Capital Yacht Club in the Wharf, a recently manufactured neighborhood “mostly devoid of true locals” that is popular with Trump staffers. Though attendance has waned since the rough-and-tumble first days of the administration, White House staff still seem to appreciate the opportunity to be among those with similar political views — even if they’re effectively their co-workers. “It’s like being a Yankee in Yankee Stadium,” former communications director Anthony Scaramucci told Politico. “When I’m on CNN, it’s like being a Yankee in Fenway Park.”

Though Trump’s status as a true political outsider is dubious, it appears that his staff is suffering the consequences of that reputation. According to Politico:

The 45 Club has taken on an outsized role as a refuge for junior operatives and appointees who have few connections in the capital. Barack Obama’s young staffers were the toast of Washington, and George W. Bush rode into town with a clubby, multi-generational political network that was heavy on the GOP establishment. But, in a reflection of his outsider campaign, Trump’s hires often came from outside the traditional feeding grounds of Republican politics.

“When you’ve kept the Washington Illuminati at a distance, I think you’re more likely to form groups of your own,” one 45 Club member told Politico.

Not all Trump staffers are members of the club, nor are they all into it. “Ironically enough, the two guys who started it were never on the campaign, never in the administration,” said Kevin Chmielewski, a member of the campaign advance team who later worked at the EPA. “We were all kind of pissed about it, because it’s like, ‘Who are you to do that?’”

The 45 Club is a more exclusive example of the phenomenon of young Trump supporters organizing to meet with like-minded individuals, or at least to avoid public shaming. There’s 63red, known as the Yelp for the MAGA crowd, where users can search for restaurants where they can wear red hats and not get yelled at. And there are at least four dating sites for Trump supporters — TrumpSingles, Righter, Donald Daters, and Trump.Dating — the last of which used the image of a user who is a sex offender in its ads.

Shunned by D.C., Trump Staffers Made Their Own Social Club