Georgetown cocktail parties have long been a quick and easy target on the right, a stand-in for the establishment culture of Washington, D.C. These parties and the people they represent were an amorphous bogeyman that haunted Richard Nixon, have been criticized by everyone from Newt Gingrich to John McCain to prove their middle America stripes, and are supposedly so irresistible that they motivated every Trump-skeptical conservative to break away from the GOP rather than risk missing out on them. They are, in other words, the ultimate symbol of the out-of-touch elite class that the new right spends so much time railing against.
The Dumbarton House is one of those old, old homes that just reeks of old, old money. Built by the first register of the Treasury Department in 1800, it’s of the staid federal aesthetic so popular back then; a two-story, red brick home with a lovely little portico with tuscan columns at the front door, and spacious gardens. And, of course, it’s in Georgetown. It makes sense that Dumbarton House is now a popular event venue and that back in June, it played host to the Cicero Society Spring Garden Party. What doesn’t make much sense, at least on the surface, is why that Georgetown cocktail party was populated by so many rising stars of the new right.
The Cicero Society is an institution you’ve probably never heard of if you’re not of a certain age and living in the District of Columbia. The society is a “parliamentary debate society committed to developing excellence, preserving the Western intellectual tradition, and forming young leaders,” and its intellectual nature has made it quite popular with young, politically active adults in D.C. Cicero hosts a debate once a month at the City Tavern Club—a private social club in Georgetown—for its members and anyone willing to shell out $25, with a strict business casual dress code, an open bar, and, as of late, a list of attendees that includes a real who’s-who of D.C.-based new right.
One needn’t be a member of the new right to be a member of the Cicero Society—and, indeed, the membership is diverse, even if it generally skews to the right. But just like every rectangle isn’t a square but every square is a rectangle, it seems that if 1) an individual is young and 2) lives in Washington, D.C. and furthermore 3) identifies as part of the new right, such a person can be found one Saturday a month at those Cicero debates, cocktail in hand, arguing about whether or not to trust experts and whether beauty will save the world.
Many of them appeared at the Dumbarton House in June. Among them were Matthew Foldi, who became famous as the “number one minion” to Twitter personality Comfortably Smug—a pseudonymous right-wing Twitter troll—then went on to work at the Washington Free Beacon, and recently lost in the Republican congressional primary for the 6th District of Maryland. There’s also Saurabh Sharma, co-founder of American Moment. Sharma was joined by figures affiliated with The American Conservative, The American Mind, The American Compass, and a number of other populist right think tanks, publications, and advocacy groups whose founders were able to think of names that didn’t start with “The American.” Congressional staffers are a dime a dozen—possibly even cheaper and more numerous.
Sharma has spent much of his brief time as a new right activist fighting against these sort of elites who have, in his opinion, led America astray. American Moment’s website curates articles blaming elites and the “culture wars” for declining interest in military service, lamenting “male loneliness in the suburbs” and bemoaning globalization. In announcing the launch of American Moment, Sharma decried “bow-tie clad ‘intellectuals’ who fiddle while our cities burn.” American Moment was created in response to this fiddling, and works to land right-wingers jobs in the federal bureaucracy. He says another of the goals of American Moment is to create a separate culture in D.C., something the new right can participate in without running the risk of falling prey to the draw of elitist D.C. life.
“You know, at the end of the day, we’re testing a theory, we’re testing the idea that we can keep people on the straight and narrow, focused on what matters, being of the city but not a part of it,” says Sharma.
And that “being of the city but not part of it” entails something different from Georgetown cocktail parties, according to Sharma.
“I’ve done the numbers on it before, not more than a third of Cicero members are like us ideologically. So, you know, those people who like dressing up and going to a cocktail party will do so. It’s very different than what we’re trying to do here at American Moment. I’m not even a member of the Cicero Society.”
(Members of the Cicero Society say Sharma has applied for membership twice and been denied both times. When later asked about it, Sharma confirmed the fact. “There’s no animosity there,” said Sharma. “I go to Cicero events because I really like the people and I like dressing up, too, occasionally.”)
When asked how he reconciles this belief in the need for a separate culture with his own participation in the culture from which he sees a need to separate, Sharma replies: “I don’t really buy into the notion that in order to be an effective advocate for the interests of people across the country that you necessarily can’t live in a city or engage in the social scene of a city.”
“I think what matters is, above all and to put a very fine point on it, is what those people are advocating for.”
The Cicero party wasn’t all politicos and activists. The cultural movers and shakers of the New Right were also in attendance: Twitter personalities. They’re minor celebrities in this little niche of the world, walking about, talking about things you wouldn’t understand unless you’re extremely online, like “midwits”—someone of average intelligence and boring interests—and “chads”—an alpha male—and “based”—cool and original in a way the speaker agrees with, opposite of “cringe”—and a host of other words, phrases, and ideas used to assign moral judgments to cultural preferences and innocuous tastes, all of it smothered in irony even hipsters would think is excessive. At cocktail parties or debate nights, it’s typical to hear these “rad trads”—short for radical traditionalists—discuss how the world would be so much better if every man was musclebound, every woman had babies, and every family lived in a rural community. Thus far, these generally unmarried urbanites’ money and mouths are in decidedly different places.
At Dumbarton House, the done-up nouveau righters enjoy Bellinis and wine with little sweet potato biscuit ham sandwiches along with lavender and lemon cookies while their conversations mix and mingle:
“I had to read up on critical race theory, because, you’ve got to, you know, know your enemy and stuff.”
“Alex Jones was right, the water is making the frogs gay.”
“My coworker at work? Big time Jew.”
“I start my Sunday by listening to Tim Dillon and then going to church.”
“Alec Baldwin murdered someone.”
These sorts of conversations are typical of a new right hangout, both in real life and online. An unofficial Cicero Facebook group chat with hundreds of participants was scrapped after the discourse became dominated by new right figures and Sharma alluded to the Great Replacement Theory—the fringe theory that nonwhite immigrants are being brought to Western countries to replace the white populations. “Life becomes a lot easier when you realize the baseline that immigration policy should be argued from is not 1 million legal aliens a year (plus countless illegal ones), but 0,” he said in one message that was shared with The Dispatch. “Would encourage any conservative or right-leaning patriot to consider adopting that posture.
“American ruling elites have a creepy obsession with ensuring there are as few white voters as possible in the year 2100. I, and Tucker [Carlson], not sharing this creepy obsession, speak out against this priority. For this we are called white nationalists,” Sharma said in another.
“I feel like in 30 years when various people are up for appointments to be cabinet secretaries this chat is going to come back and haunt us all,” one member of the Facebook group wrote.
When asked for comment about these messages, Sharma replied: “It is my belief that it is immoral when news outlets write pieces celebrating the decline of certain segments of the American population. I believe all American citizens should be treated equally under the law.”
Sharma did not reply when asked by The Dispatch if he was a proponent of the Great Replacement Theory.
It must be stressed that these conversations are not being had by every, or, indeed, even most, of the Cicero Society. The members of the new right are just a slice of that crowd. But their presence is uniquely fascinating. By their own self-declared identities, these are deeply populist people. They claim to represent the forgotten man. And yet they will dress to the nines for a Georgetown cocktail party and participate in a debate society that meets in one of the most exclusive clubs in the District to mingle with other elites.
Another fixture in this world is a friend of Sharma’s and perhaps the most prominent public face of the young new right—the left-wing media’s go-to voice for insight into this crowd, Nate Hochman. (Hochman interned for The Dispatch in 2020.) Hochman describes the Cicero Society as “particularly decadent” and an “over-the-top, silver-spoon” club. He can be found at the meetings fairly regularly, and says he was planning on going to the spring cocktail party until a conflict arose.
Hochman is now a Claremont Institute fellow and an Intercollegiate Studies Institute fellow, the latter of which got him a yearlong spot at National Review starting last August. Sharma and Hochman know each other from general D.C. social life, and also occasionally intersect in the professional sphere, such as when they both appeared in a Twitter Spaces chat room—an audio-only space on Twitter where conversations are not saved once they end—with prominent Holocaust denier and white nationalist Nick Fuentes in December 2021. The conversation was ostensibly to discuss whether Fuentes and his ilk have a place in the new right.
The Dispatch obtained an audio recording of the Twitter Spaces conversation from an individual who listened in. Hochman argued that Fuentes shouldn’t be a part of the conservative movement, quarreling with Fuentes about his tactics and understanding of racial politics in America. But he praised what Fuentes had accomplished throughout the conversation.
“You’ve gotten a lot of kids based, and we respect that for sure,” Hochman told Fuentes. (Urban Dictionary defines “based” as: “A word used when you agree with something; or when you want to recognize someone for being themselves, i.e. courageous and unique or not caring what others think. Especially common in online political slang.”)
“I think Nick’s probably a better influence than Ben Shapiro on young men who might otherwise be conservatives,” he said at one point. “The fact that kids are listening to you, there are good things and bad things about it. But the fact that you have said super edgy things means that there’s a pretty strong ceiling to what you can accomplish in politics.”
Most of Hochman’s criticisms of Fuentes were less about substance and more about style, as Hochman stated repeatedly that while he has respect for Fuentes, he thinks his white identity politics isn’t a winning strategy in America right now.
“If you are going to insist on a political coalition that is strictly organized around white identity at the exclusion of other people that might be allies in the electoral vote, you are going to lose because that kind of politics is no longer viable in America. Maybe it would be ideal if it were, but if you are running a political campaign, a political strategy around activating white identity as an organizing principle of your politics you are going to lose. I respect some of what you’re doing, but this, fundamentally, is why I was saying earlier, I don’t think you’re a serious political operator because the kind of politics that you are advocating is disconnected from the reality of what America is in 2021. It’s just not gonna work.”
Hochman was also, until very recently, a fellow in the Robert Novak Fellowship Program, which sponsors young journalists as they work on a yearlong project. When reached for comment, the Robert Novak Fellowship Program said it had rescinded his fellowship on Thursday after the organization became aware of his comments in this Twitter Spaces discussion. ISI did not respond to requests for comment, and when asked for a statement Thursday, Hochman said: “Several months ago, I was speaking in a Twitter space that we initially formed to criticize Nick Fuentes, who later joined on a burner account because he had found out—and was upset about—that criticism. Because of the writing and research I’ve done about right wing factional debates, I was eager to get the chance to actually debate him. In retrospect, [Fuentes] was not at all worth engaging with and I should have left the call after he joined. In an attempt to get him to engage–to signal that I wasn’t out to ‘get him,’ so that I could actually get him to talk to me—I said some really stupid things, which I don’t actually believe, that signaled agreement with Fuentes, even though I couldn’t disagree more with his vision of the world. My record on this has been clear: I’ve written entire pieces–in March, for example, I wrote that Fuentes was a ‘verifiable racist’ and that the ‘Groypers’ are ‘noxious’—about why Fuentes and his politics are both wrong on the merits and profoundly immoral.”
Hochman’s concept of what will work right now in America is a strain of conservatism that stresses class over race. He said in an interview with The Dispatch in July that the problem with the current crop of elites is that their lives are so wildly disconnected from how the average American lives: “It’s not necessarily like a Marxist, Bernie Sanders sort of class and economic inequality kind of thing, although that’s definitely a part, but it has much more to do with the kind of culture.”
“They watch different shows, they speak a different vocabulary a lot of the time, they eat different food, obviously, their consumption habits are different. There is an insular culture that is also driven by the fact that elites live in a few different places and cultured cities now rather than living in the towns that they are sort of governing, that has caused a much more sort of hard wall between the upper classes and the lower classes.”
One needn’t be one of the based chads dissecting niche political topics while sipping Bellinis and munching on lavender cookies to find Hochman’s description of an insular culture familiar. When pressed on the matter, Hochman concedes that his fellow travelers might not actually be living any differently from the old elite he’s railing against.
“How are young conservatives who are sympathetic to this stuff living distinctly in D.C.? I don’t know that they necessarily are,” he says. And that includes himself.
“I would never pretend to be of ‘real America.’ I’m from Oregon, I’m not of the community that serves as the core voter base for a lot of the politics I’m interested in. But I just think those politics are good for the country.”
Whereas he thinks the divide between the elite and normal Americans proved problematic in the past few decades, Hochman argues that this new elite the new right wants to forge can avoid those blindspots even without having to increase familiarity with middle America.
“I don’t think you have to be making pilgrimages to rural Texas every week to think that policies [American Compass founder Oren Cass] supports are good for the country,” said Hochman.
The solution, according to Hochman, is a return to an elite culture from even further in the past, in which he claims families like the Rockefellers lived in a way that was more in touch with middle America than today’s elites do.
“The old ruling class, like the Rockefellers, in that kind of era, the people that are pejoratively described as the ‘robber barons,’ the food that they would eat was basically the food that people in middle America would eat. They might have nicer steaks or something or whatever, but there actually is a completely different cuisine now.”
(The Rockefeller family is an interesting one to cite—John D. Rockefeller’s diet was so unique it got a write-up in the New York Times when he died. The vegetables that made up 75 percent of his diet were shipped from across the globe or grown in gardens on his various estates. The article noted: “The lamb that was made into broths and soups for him was grown on his own places. He also produced, on his estates, the fresh milk he drank, in order to be assured of its purity and quality.” This piece was published in 1937, during the Great Depression.)
Hochman might yearn for what he considers a bygone age of cultural equality, but he argues that how someone lives his life is less important than the political ends he’s trying to achieve.
“I think the helpful distinction in separating hypocrisy from legitimate politics is whether or not the populist politician or political activist in question is claiming to be ‘of the people’ or is trying to be ‘for the people,’” he said.
Another regular who missed out on the spring gala, Micah Meadowcroft, managing editor of The American Conservative, agrees that it’s beliefs, not lifestyle that ought to be of significance. While at the end of June he tweeted that he wants political leaders who say “No to the cocktail parties,” Meadowcroft can be found at the City Tavern Club in Georgetown for Cicero meetings occasionally, and defends cocktail parties when they’re among the new right.
“Really when people, say in a small town, complain, if they do in fact complain about cocktail party attendance, what they misunderstand is the cocktail parties I want are not actually qualitatively different from going to your friend’s house after church and having church supper,” says Meadowcroft.
In fact, he thinks an elite lifestyle replete with cocktail parties needs to be encouraged among the right, citing New York’s “salon and books, culture and arts culture” as an example that ought to be followed.
“The existence of cultural classes is inevitable, there will always be a cultural elite.”
It’s a sentiment that is brought up frequently by the nouveau right. They have a disdain for the elite class that they dress up in populist rhetoric, but underneath it is that view Meadowcroft espouses: “There will always be a cultural elite.” And the ever-present implication underneath that is “So why not make it us?”