President-elect Donald TrumpDonald John TrumpSenate advances public lands bill in late-night vote Warren, Democrats urge Trump to back down from veto threat over changing Confederate-named bases Esper orders ‘After Action Review’ of National Guard’s role in protests MORE was funny and “self-deprecating” at a transition fundraising breakfast Wednesday morning, according to donors who attended the event.
The event, which cost attendees $5,000 a plate, also served as a “thank you” to those who had been supportive of Trump both before and after his win on Election Day. The money goes to fund his presidential transition effort.
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“It was a really interesting thing. I thought it was quite surprising,” said Robert Cresanti, the president and CEO of the International Franchise Association (IFA), who was in the crowd.
“I had seen him once before [during the campaign]. I’ll just say he was in campaign mode,” he continued. At the event, Trump was “very relaxed; he was very magnanimous.”
Several lobbyists called Trump naturally funny, with two describing part of his speech as self-deprecating, while maintaining that he kept up his famous bravado.
Trump complimented Democratic challenger Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonWhite House accuses Biden of pushing ‘conspiracy theories’ with Trump election claim Biden courts younger voters — who have been a weakness Trayvon Martin’s mother Sybrina Fulton qualifies to run for county commissioner in Florida MORE, but in a way similar to how a professional athlete may praise a competitor in a post-game press conference, all the while flashing a championship ring, Cresanti said.
An estimated 800 to 1,000 people were at the event, with one person saying that the venue had to have been at capacity.
“They filled it as if they were filling a discount coach airline,” said one attendee, who asked not to be named. “It was a sardine can, which is to their credit.”
Trump spent most of his speaking time giving donors an account of how he felt on Election Day all through the evening.
“Trump took a piece of paper out of pocket, put it on the podium, I don’t know if he ever looked at it again,” the unnamed attendee said. “I’ve never been in his presence before, so this was my first time to see him perform, if that’s right word. And the guy is just really good. He’s a natural; he knows how to work his crowd.”
As early exit polling began to come in, Trump told the crowd, advisers and pollsters had nothing but bad news.
It got to the point that he went to his wife, Melania, and suggested they take a vacation to get away from it all, guests recalled.
She talked him out of the idea, Trump reportedly said, and assured him that the pollsters and TV talking heads were wrong.
And they were.
Trump took the opportunity at the fundraiser to give some “backhanded compliments” to some attendees who had been part of the Never Trump crowd during the campaign, according to six sources in the room who spoke with The Hill.
“I’ve made a lot of new friends here in the room. It’s good to see you all,” a person recalled Trump saying.
Although the majority of the attendees were from Trump’s New York orbit, donors who spoke to The Hill estimated that anywhere from 60 to more than 100 of the individuals on hand were part of the Washington, D.C., powerbroker scene: industry group CEOs, board members and lobbyists.
Those spotted in the room included Mitch Bainwol, leader of the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers; Dirk Van Dongen, the president of the National Association of Wholesaler-Distributors; Dirk Kempthorne, who helms the American Council of Life Insurers; Cindy Chetti, a top lobbyist for the National Multifamily Housing Council; Wayne Berman of Blackstone Group; and Brian Smith, who works in the Washington office of Regions Financial.
K Street firms were also well represented, including Akin Gump’s Smitty Davis, Geoff Verhoff and Mike Rossetti, Washington’s No. 1 lobby shop by revenue; Robert Hoffman, a Republican consultant at Heather Podesta + Partners; former Sen. Al D’Amato, a New York Republican who runs the lobbying firm Park Strategies; Steven Phillips of DLA Piper; and lobbyist Geoff Gray.
Cresanti, the IFA’s leader, told The Hill that he had brought several of the group’s members, CEOs and board members of franchise companies. For many, this was their first political event of this kind. They walked away impressed.
“They’re not political,” he said. “They run their companies; they’re not people who sweat this stuff.”
There was no mention of “draining the swamp” at the event, several people told The Hill, in reference to Trump’s promise to stem the flow of lobbyists and moneyed influence in Washington.
“There are a lot of people in that room who, like him, are ready to get to work and actually govern. There are a lot of people who want to be there, to be constructively engaged, and who want to get things done and get the country going,” said Hoffman.
The event was held at the Cipriani event space, located across the street from the Grand Hyatt in Manhattan, a 1910s-era building that Trump renovated in 1980 — his first construction project in New York City.
“You couldn’t be there and not be optimistic. It was very impressive,” said Davis. “I went there with a positive attitude going in. I didn’t start the campaign season with him because I was with other Republican candidates, but long before Election Day, I knew I was voting for him.”
Trump received multiple standing ovations in the room, including one at the beginning, another during his remarks and one at the end.
He gave no indications of what the Trump administration would look like, however.
“I didn’t walk away thinking he’s my best friend or anything like that. For me, it was enjoyable, it was entertaining,” said an industry lobbyist who asked to remain anonymous. “I go to so many fundraisers that I don’t really take much away from them.”