The Azure Rooftop Lounge sits atop a twelve-story luxury hotel, and because this is Cleveland, not Manhattan, those twelve stories get you a practically unadulterated view of the city and surrounding areas. Long after the open bar had closed at BuzzFeed’s “Red White and Blacklisted” RNC party last night, a fellow journalist pointed out a column of flame poking into the sky, far out toward the horizon. I’m not sure where it was coming from—an oil refinery, probably—but it felt like an appropriately cheap symbol for the night.
Hours after an evangelical brain surgeon went off-script in front of millions of TV viewers, drawing a line between the presidential candidate he opposes and the devil himself, as police brought in from every corner of the country stood with guns on the sidewalk and a charismatic authoritarian millionaire formally seized the Republican nomination, with apocalypse preachers stalking the streets carrying megaphones and the crumbling remains of American industry all around us, we were at a swanky open bar, double-fisting free gin and tonics and free Miller Lites.
BuzzFeed organized the “Blacklisted” party for members of the media in town covering the convention; the title was a cheeky reference to the Trump campaign’s habit of blocking access to its events from reporters and news organizations it doesn’t like. Most of us in attendance had spent the year covering the Trump campaign closely, either on the trail or from our offices in New York and Washington. I can’t speak for my colleagues, but I’ve spent that year watching the campaign’s forward march and its imperviousness to criticism and basic reporting, first with amusement, then in denial, then in dumb shock, then with hollow resignation to the powerlessness of journalism. So many mindless pundits have attributed Trump’s rise to the failure of the press to cover him adequately, but the press has done hardly anything other than cover him over the last several months. The fact is that the people who support Trump, people who lost their jobs in 2008 and never got them back, who are hateful and afraid of American immigrants, and yearn for a pastoral version of the country that never existed in the first place, do not care one lick what we have to say about their leader. Donald Trump’s press blacklist is an unnecessary fixture of his campaign, because the people who matter aren’t listening to the press anyway.
But the Blacklisted party was fun. I arrived at the Azure at about 11 p.m. with my colleague Ashley Feinberg, after watching the night’s speeches from the downtown apartment that Gawker Airbnb’ed for us for the week. The woman outside the party who gave me my wristband was profusely apologetic about catching a few of my arm hairs in the glue, and there were lots of smart and fancy people in attendance. It felt like every single person I follow on Twitter was together in one room, bopping to a bad mashup of Montell Jordan and 50 Cent. When they briefly closed down the bar and I couldn’t get a drink, I felt disappointed, and then I saw MSNBC’s Chris Hayes a few feet away, also being denied, and I felt solidarity with him. Later, we talked about his interview with GOP Congressman Steve King from the day before, in which King pondered whether “any other sub-group of people” had contributed more to global society than whites. Hayes was worried that he hadn’t done enough to push back against King’s incredible outburst, but me and a few others assured him that the segment had been great: He’d gotten a sitting U.S. legislator to admit on camera that he believes in white supremacy, and it looked like he’d done it without even really trying. The morning after the party, I wondered how many Trump supporters had seen Chris’s segment, and if they had, what they’d made of it.
But the press didn’t spend the entire evening ensconced in our leisurely safety bubble. Just after midnight, a Daily Beast reporter tweeted that Rudy Giuliani had been spotted in the Azure Rooftop Lounge. The news sent me—and plenty of other reporters, I’m sure—scurrying around bar looking for him, but the old man was nowhere to be found. After my failed search effort, Ashley and I dismissed the supposed Rudy sighting as a perfectly executed prank: Force a room full of journalists who’d rather not be doing journalism into a brief, frenzied search for one of the legendarily crotchety figures of politics, only to find that he was never there at all. Inspired by the Giuliani-spotter’s nihilistic spirit, Ashley pretended she’d seen the doomsaying radio personality Alex Jones.
It turned out that Rudy had been there after all. Some acquaintances told us that John Stanton, BuzzFeed’s DC bureau chief, had attempted to ask him a question, and that Rudy’s security detail had tackled him to the ground. I don’t know Mr. Stanton personally, but I’d seen him earlier in the night, recognizing him from photos, and I feel obliged to tell you about his physique. He’s tall, a little burly, with a Bic-razored scalp and a chain wallet, and I’m not sure whether he was wearing combat boots, but I’d bet money on it. I’m a big guy, and he’s the kind of guy I look at and say to myself, “Damn, that’s a big guy.” The point is, Stanton cuts an intimidating figure, and I imagine it would take an impressive show of force to get him on the ground. Could the rumor possibly be true? A Politico report from this morning confirmed it, and gave us another detail from the party to savor and contemplate: Karl Rove had apparently been there for a moment, sticking “his head in to see what was going on.”
After Sam Roudman, a reporter with the digital news startup Vocativ, pointed out the strange pyre in the distance, at 1:30 or so, the decadence and dread became a little too heavy to bear, and we left the Azure Rooftop Lounge. We were headed toward what we thought was going to be home, but what turned out to be a dive bar downtown, for another hour or so of drinking with the editor of the local alt-weekly and a handful of other journalists. On our way to the elevators at the Azure, I spotted Sam Nunberg, a fired Trump staffer who was recently sued by his old boss for $10 million, and asked him whether a steamy campaign affair he’d alluded to in a counterclaim had really happened. A tall, drunken friend of his I didn’t recognize immediately threw his body between Nunberg’s and mine, ushering him toward the elevator and protecting him from the accosting I’d given him. I pleaded with Nunberg as the doors closed: Would he talk about it off the record? Nunberg only smirked, and his friend, for some reason, did a pantomimed jerk-off motion at me and shouted, “Oh yeah, suck it!” I guess he didn’t want to talk about it.