JUST ANOTHER TUESDAY NIGHT INSIDE THE BELTWAY
11:00 PM, Nov 17, 1996
It's hard to know exactly how reckless Dick Morris must have been until you stand on the porch of Room 205, Morris's erstwhile suite at the Jefferson Hotel. This is the place -- an open stone verandah clearly visible to dozens of hotel rooms above -- where Star photographers caught the presidential confidant embracing his own confidante, Sherry Rowlands. Months later, the porch still smells of defeat, bad judgment (only a man with a professional death wish would carry on an affair in such a public setting), the crash of a successful, if sleazy, career. It is, in other words, the perfect vantage from which to watch the presidential returns on Election Night.
Republican media consultants Mike Murphy and Don Sipple have chosen Room 205, as well asmbrace yourself for a blast of irony -- the Presidential Suite on the eighth floor for their "It's Over" party. A couple of dozen consultants, reporters, and other wizened campaign hands sip drinks and chat as a television blares incoming results in the background. Others pose for pictures on the famous porch. Still others giggle and recline on what is said to be the actual Morris "foot couch." No one in the room doubts the Dole defeat is coming, of course, but somehow, viewed from the Hiroshima of Dick Morris's life, an ordinary electoral defeat doesn't seem like such a big deal.
In the absence of the promised conservative spin doctors, you can still get your ears bent at the buffet table by retired major general Jack Singlaub, the former contra-booster and all-around war hero. Buzz-cut and Perot-eared, still sporting his dogtags under an elegant spread collar, Singlaub is from the hoist-the-black-flag-and-begin-splitting-throats wing of the party, to which someone obviously forgot to circulate the memo on the New Civility.
If you ask Gen. Singlaub about Bill Clinton, you get: "He's such a professional fabricator, prevaricator, and liar that he could no doubt pass a polygraph." And on a second Clinton term: "He'll be indicted, or impeached at the very least." And why shouldn't he be? For if they don't nail Clinton for his actual criminal behavior, the major general says, he should be taken out for his defense cuts, Korea policy, foot-dragging on those Tailhookers' promotions -- and especially for "this whole concept of putting lesbians and sodomites in the armed forces. It's terribly damaging."
The networks called it a half hour ago. No surprise, of course, but the mood here at the Renaissance Hotel is a mix of agony and relief, like the last rites for someone whose huge medical bills the insurance company won't be covering. No one wants to speak about the patient while he's on his deathbed, but everyone is relieved the end is near.
Indeed, an unsuspecting visitor wouldn't guess that this party marks Dole's defeat -- what with all the freshly scrubbed Young Republicans exchanging glances, phone numbers, and sometimes more on the ballroom floor. Some senior Dole campaign staffers pass the time in the invitation-only "West Salon A," only to find a cash bar and cold cuts. The more entrepreneurial among them sneak their way into the VIP room, where at least the booze is free.
And from time to time, campaign chairman Donald Rumsfeld appears, to tell waiting reporters that Dole is still going to win.
Here is the big Democratic do of the evening, the Soccer More of All Election-Night Bashes, with thousands and thousands of guests in the half- dozen largest banquet rooms at the Capital Hilton. A madhouse, a mess -- lines all the way down the corridor for the men's rooms and five deep at the phones. Everybody who isn't anybody is here: One mid-level DNC employee estimates the crowd at one-third labor volunteers, one-third Clinton/Gore volunteers, and one-third interns for various Democratic pols. All the good Clintonites are down in Little Rock.
You can, however, get a good sense of who makes up Democratic activists: Hugging, flamboyant gays make up probably a fifth (take that, Alfred Kinsey!) of the crowd. The entire middle rung of the District of Columbia's local government accounts for, say, another tenth, with all of them lining up for interviews with Channel 8, the local all-news cable channel. Then there are the labor people, i.e., the welfare bureaucracy. If only the housewives in North Carolina who voted for Bill Clinton because "he represents people like me" could see it.