The mood swung from festive to fretful.
Hundreds of Never Trump Republicans – GOP voters who believe that their party’s nominee is too unpredictable and unprepared to be president – gathered in a downtown Washington, D.C., restaurant ready to celebrate his defeat to Hillary Clinton.
The alcohol flowed and the spirits were high when the evening began as patrons joyfully posed in front of a Trump cutout adorned in a black Never Trump T-shirt.
“Never in a million years did I think I would vote for Hillary Clinton…. I would have said you were insane,” said Andrew Weinstein, a Never Trump organizer who served as media relations director for Bob Dole’s 1996 presidential campaign and deputy press secretary for former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, R-Ga.
“This is an unexpected turning for me, but I think like everyone in this room I’m putting country over party and trying to stop a man who is dangerous for the country.”
But as the evening unfolded and the results rolled in, the party din turned to a worried murmur as Trump won state after unexpected state. At about 12:30 a.m. Wednesday, the partygoers went home dejected.
The idea of him representing our country is sickening, nobody would ever respect our country again
Miriam McCue, 22, a NeverTrump Republican
“People are clearly in shock here that this is such a competitive race,” said Cecil Wallace, who was a campaign aide Sarah Palin’s 2008 vice presidential run.
Weinstein tried to be optimistic, but said: “... The odds are real bad.”
“It’s turned into an excellent chance of Trump winning,” he said early Wednesday. “People are terrified; they’re scared about the outcome, scared for themselves. Trump is a vengeful individual.”
Caroline Campbell, a 28-year-old Republican from Tallahassee, Florida, who posed with the Trump cutout earlier in the evening, became stone-faced.
“How can you want someone who’s mean and bullies people in the White House? Are you OK with that?” said Campbell, who voted for Clinton.
The downcast mood brightened – only briefly – after Clinton carried Virginia in an unexpectedly close race.
“If we’re cheering Virginia, we’re in a bad place,” Weinstein said.
Candi Skipper, a Republican National Committee committeewoman, stared straight ahead at one of the restaurant’s TVs as she pondered the prospect of a President Trump.
“If he wins, I’ll no longer be Republican because Donald Trump doesn’t represent my beliefs,” said Skipper, a Hagerstown, Maryland, resident who cast a write-in vote for former CIA operative Evan McMullin, who ran as an Independent. “I’ll quit as a Republican committeewoman.”
I’ve taken quite a beating from my fellow committee members because I’m not supporting
Trump Candi Skipper, a NeverTrump voter and RNC committeewoman from Maryland
Concerned Republican lawmakers and national security experts signed petitions declaring Trump unqualified to be president. Anti-Trump PACs such as Our Principles were established and fueled by funds from high-profile GOP donors like Hewlett Packard CEO Meg Whitman and Wall Street billionaire Paul Singer.
Now, Trump’s Republican opponents are wondering what’s next.
“There are a lot of Republican Never Trumpers,” Wallace said. “Where will they go?”