The God That Couldn’t Possibly Fail

An afternoon at the New York Young Republican Club in Manhattan, now a house of worship for Trump

Donald Trump's face eclipsed by a halo of sunshine
Jonathan Ernst / Reuters

In the 1990s, The New Republic and other magazines published, under the byline of the pathological fabricator Stephen Glass, a series of lies about Republicans: that a group of them worshipped at a literal “First Church of George Herbert Walker Christ” and considered the one-term president a messiah; that young Republicans would, when the bowtie-wearing portion of their conventions concluded, cut loose and put on orgies. Some lies are obvious even at the time but somehow become less so in retrospect. These ones seem more plausible in light of recent events.

Last week, the New York Young Republican Club posted a statement about former President Donald Trump’s indictment and hailed its own one-termer in terms normally reserved for deities and kings. “President Trump embodies the American people—our psyche from id to super-ego—as does no other figure,” wrote the club’s vice president, Nathan Berger, 32. “His soul is totally bonded with our core values and emotions, and he is our total and indisputable champion. This tremendous connection threatens the established order.”

Yesterday, minutes after Trump’s appearance before a Manhattan judge, I tailgated past security, behind a delivery man who had been buzzed in to deliver tubs of Chinese food to the New York Young Republicans at their clubhouse in NoMad. The clubhouse sits above a salon, a humble storefront, and an awning advertising the Gupta Watch company. Berger; the club’s president, Gavin Wax; and its executive secretary, Vish Burra, were expecting me, although they were briefly confused that I had arrived bearing chicken and noodles. Soon, though, I was in a nice leather chair, observed by a portrait of Governor Thomas Dewey (1902–71)—of “Dewey Defeats Truman” fame, and the club’s chairman from 1931 to 1932—and in heated, friendly conversation about the tangerine messiah to whom these young men are so touchingly devoted. Their love for him is real, but it is a strange, trolling love, invented by the young to the consternation of the old.

They had just come from rallying for Trump as he entered the courthouse a few hours earlier. Club members claimed that the pro-Trump crowd was organized and turned out by them. “We probably had five, six hundred people,” Wax told me. Now was time for an “after-action report,” Burra said. Wax, 29, is a journalist at The Babylon Bee, a right-wing satirical site; Burra came to the event with his friend Representative George Santos, now his boss on Capitol Hill. “It was packed, but it was peaceful,” Wax said. “And then you got the Naked Cowboy”—a muscular, seminude vaquero who poses for tourists in Times Square—“showing up. So it was a real New York scene. We enjoyed it.” He said media wanted to see violence and didn’t get their wish. “It was peaceful,” he said. “We got the press. So I say: Mission accomplished.”

I wanted to know about their statement, which suggested a love for Trump that my withered heart has never felt for any politician, ever.

“I don’t get up in the morning and worship at an altar to Donald Trump,” Berger told me. “That isn’t the point. But he really is a singular figure.” Berger said he considers the present “an era of everyone subverting boundaries.” And Trump ushered in this new era. He kept calling this Trump-catalyzed mass subversion “tremendously exciting,” but to me, it sounded exciting only in the sense that breaking the seventh seal from the Book of Revelation would be a wild ride. “There’s a stability that this country has relied on since the Spanish-American War,” Berger told me. He acknowledged that this subversion was risky, and he said although Trump had unleashed the instability, he also provided a way through it.

And there was, the group’s leaders conceded, an element of PR in the statement. “A lot of Republican organizations put out the same boilerplate stuff. Hey, liberty lovers! Fight socialism! Guess what: No one cares,” Wax said. “When we put out a statement, we want attention. We want to provoke.” Ego and superego? “We just threw a Sigmund Freud thing in there. Why not? We said it in a lofty way. But at the end of the day, I think a lot of people view him that way.”

Burra suggested that my view, that politicians—even the good ones—exist to be mocked and harassed and not held up for adulation, was “a view mostly held by people who think of themselves as smart.” “But there are still plenty of normal people out there,” he said, in the nicest possible way. He acknowledged that politicians were merely human but urged me to recognize reality, which is that in politics, “everyone’s a personality today.” The way of politics is not dry disillusionment. “Everyone’s got their own cult following”—and that includes left and right alike. Some on the left live vicariously through Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s Instagram.

“When things were very mellow, politically, the politicians reflected that,” Wax said. “But the country is very divided. And Trump is a reflection of society.” He said Trump spoke not only for the people but also in the medium that the moment favored. He gestured at Dewey’s portrait and at others on the clubhouse walls. “Once, you had to have a voice for radio to be a good politician. Then television came, and you saw the Nixon-Kennedy debate. If you were not [good] on television, you weren’t gonna get elected. Now it’s social media.”

Others, he said, might appeal to the eggheads—Blake Masters, say, or Senator J. D. Vance of Ohio. “They serve their purpose. But they’re not going to be these electoral juggernauts. Trump is unique, and our statement calls that out: the id and the superego, the baseline emotions, the raw.” Moreover, Trump’s appeal to these animal instincts has not stopped him from reframing politics ideologically too. “Everything we talk about today, it’s because of how Trump has framed things.” Immigration, trade, culture wars, the deep state—all debates whose terms were dictated entirely by him. “He does have that ability to be sort of a thinker on a substantive side, but he puts it in a simplistic way that appeals to the voter. That’s a winning formula.”

Betting on that formula allowed Wax, Burra, and other Trump supporters to execute a hostile takeover of the New York Young Republicans. “It was on its deathbed,” Wax said—a moribund, blue-blooded institution of just 50 members unable to accept that even in New York, the center of energy was the working class. Wax is from Queens, Burra from Staten Island.

Burra described their takeover as “negotiated,” and their leverage as originating in their willingness to actually do things—such as put out crazy-sounding statements and turn out crowds. He and his colleagues saw earlier than others that the old way was dead, that “nothing is going to get changed if you keep having these softies and pussies who are not willing to do the absolute necessary to move the movement forward.” A martini toast to Jeb Bush was not going to be enough. “They were out of vision, out of gas,” Burra said. “We’re actually willing to push the big red button and be like, Fuck the optics, we’re going in. We’ll put out the statement. Everybody will pay attention to it.

The older members “didn’t want to give it up to us,” Burra said. “We were like, ‘OK, well, who else are you going to give it to?’ They were lazy. And we were the only ones that were willing to take it. And so it was very Peter Stuyvesant, you know: They gave it up without us firing a shot.”

Bridge and tunnel crowd,” Burra said, savoring the old slur against those who can’t afford to live in Manhattan. “Outer borough. How many times did we hear that? But you know what? Fuck you. Now we’re in your house.” The club has been around in various forms since the 19th century, and the current clubhouse was acquired in 2019—and located in Manhattan, of course. Their address, he said, “is the ultimate shitpost.”

Unable to resist playing my smartypants role in this conversation, I suggested that there was a paradox in the group: They pride themselves on their willingness to do anything to win power, using whatever cynical means necessary—yet their view of Trump is uncynical true love, a sitting-on-a-rainbow level of fondness.

“Have you ever been so jaded that you come out the other side?” Burra asked. “This is a dirty business. You need a dirty guy. You need operatives.” He was wearing a MAGA hat with four-inch letters, and a shirt from Project Veritas, which runs hidden-camera stings against journalists and unsuspecting leftists. “I have my ideals—America First, an America I’m fighting for—but how do you get that done? By any means necessary. A lot of people are coming around to that.”

I looked back over at Thomas Dewey and wondered what he’d think about this statement. Then I remembered: He lost.