POLITICS

We Spent Election Day With Trump's Biggest Aussie Supporters

What could have been a wake turned into a party.

09/11/2016 5:59 PM AEDT | Updated 09/11/2016 9:10 PM AEDT
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"They're saying it's the only Trump party in town, but have you tried to find a Hillary party? Try to find one! There aren't any!"

It's 1pm on election day at The Rugby Club, a normally quiet little pub nestled down a side alley just back from Sydney's Circular Quay. It's a surprising setting for a party that will soon feature some of Australia's conservative elite, a clutch of Young Liberals, and many of Sydney's biggest Donald Trump supporters. The event has been spruiked by Ross Cameron, one-time federal Liberal MP for Parramatta and now Sky News host, with top billing given to former Labor leader and current conservative firebrand Mark Latham, and prominent right-wing voice Rowan Dean.

I'm speaking to Lachlan. Tall and young and bespectacled, Lachlan is getting around the second floor of the hotel -- the designated area for the "Trump's Aussie Mates" party -- with an American flag tied behind him as a cape. He's an avid Trump fan. He tells us he's a "proud deplorable".

"He just has the right instincts. There was this quote he gave where he was asked 'who do you consult on foreign policy' and he said 'I consult myself'. What he's really saying is 'I use common sense'," Lachlan said.

"It's common sense a country can defend its borders. It's common sense a country not get involved in foreign wars. He's a straight talker. Smart guy, too."

There are U.S. flags everywhere in here; on napkins, on bunting and pinwheels, stuck on the wall and in glitter thrown around on the tables. A giant 'Trump's Aussie Mates' banner hangs next to four framed rugby jerseys, from each of the captains from the 1987 to 1999 World Cups. There are life-size cardboard cutouts of both candidates around the room. At one point, when Dean gets up in front of the room to read a tweet from Sky News host Peter van Onselen where he admits that Trump will win, the room erupts in cheers and Cameron smacks the head of a nearby Clinton cutout, bending it forwards. Someone else quickly rights the cutout, putting its head in the right place, albeit with a bend mark clearly noticeable at the neck.

A mostly older, mostly male crowd sits glued to the TV. Earlier in the afternoon, most were rather quiet as the votes began trickling in and the electoral college tallies began ticking up. Most of the attendees The Huffington Post Australia spoke to did not have any real expectation of a Trump win.

"Expectations were low for a win for Trump," says Wayne. He's a Canadian man, now an Australian citizen, with a toothbrush moustache and a black Trump hat. He makes a football analogy.

"I expect it will end up that way [a Clinton win]. It's like watching State of Origin. Even though I'm a Queensland fan, you'd hope NSW won a game so at least the third game would be exciting," he laughed.

"Trump would shake up the establishment. He'd get rid of super political correctness, climate alarmism. Being progressive is fine, to a limit, but Clinton represents more of the same. Obama's record is dismal. Look at what he did to the budget. Can she do any better?"

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A cardboard cutout of Trump at the party.

Wayne said he wasn't worried by many of Trump's controversial comments, besides the "off the record locker room comments".

"I was disturbed by that, but I've heard a lot worse. Go spend some time on an oil rig sometime."

The crowd is glued to Fox News on a big projector screen. Australia's ABC 24 plays on a smaller screen. As the free beers are sucked down -- the American brews Budweiser and Coors are long gone, we're now onto the domestics like Pure Blonde -- the results begin going better than the gathered Aussie Trump-ites expected. When a Fox News host mentions "a Donald Trump presidency", a man in the corner cups his hands around his mouth and hollers a "woo wooo!"

Lachlan is circling the room, chatting with anyone who will listen. He spots me again.

"I'm very confident. The betting markets now are at $1.26 for Trump to win. Check your phone. It was at $5, then $4, then $3. I'm very confident he will win," he says.

It won't be the last time he updates me on the betting odds from various agencies.

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There's Bronwyn Bishop in the middle, talking to Rowan Dean.

As Trump wins several states in the eastern and middle parts of the country, the reaction is still subdued. Nobody looks in a celebratory mood just yet -- just quietly cautious and happy to wait and see. Latham is the star attraction here; he tries to sit by himself a few times, just to quietly watch the TV coverage, but it isn't long before he's pulled into a conversation or a photo or an interview with someone keen for a slice of his time. The former Labor leader's recent conversion into a star conservative commentator is interesting, and it seems everyone wants his take on what's going on.

Bronwyn Bishop, the former Liberal MP who quit the speakership over a helicopter-related travel entitlements scandal, is suddenly here.

She greets a few friends, makes some new ones, and soon bumps into Latham. The unlikely pairing have a long chat, before Bishop settles in next to Dean. She was later spotted with her back to the TV, scrolling through her tablet. Two young men grab a selfie. In turn, I grab one of them for an interview. In an unlikely turn of events, I've somehow found what must be the only non-Trump supporter in the room.

"Between you and me, I'm not a Trump supporter. I'm quite left-wing. I've come with my friend," the young man whispers. He talks about being at a time in his life when he's still trying to work out his own personal politics.

"In this world of partisan politics, where we pick parties like football teams and stick with them, everyone I've talked to here wants what's best for the world. It's just a different political philosophy. I think it's important to humanise our opponents, and that's what's happening for me today," he muses.

"These people were some that I had a dislike for, but they're still human beings. Even though we have different political philosophies, as long as we're all engaged in politics, that's the big thing."

As the day rolls on, as more electoral votes trickle in for Trump, the room cheers. A man with a Trump button pinned to his suit walks in and runs into Cameron, standing near the door. Clapping Cameron on the back, he says "bloody good turnout mate". Cameron himself even looks surprised. We hear about a rowdy pack of Trump supporters having fun at the University of Sydney, across town.

Conservative columnist Miranda Devine arrives later in the afternoon. Someone tells me Janet Albrechtsen, a columnist for The Australian, is in attendance too. Another former Liberal MP in Karen McNamara, who represented Dobell before losing at the recent election, is also here.

Lachlan gives me another update on the betting odds. Suddenly, it's at $1.01 for President Trump. As we're talking, he affectionately pats a Trump cutout on the head.

As news filters through that Trump is now the overwhelming favourite to win, the cheers go up, hugs are happening everywhere.

"Switch to the Clinton news network, they're probably crying their eyes out live on air," one yells.

An older blonde woman in a Make America Great Again cap is the life of the party. She's chatting to everyone. As the big news comes in, even though we're still some way away from an official declaration, she's already beaming.

"This is the best day of my life," she tells a group.

"All I need now is Tony Abbott back in office."

One group is gathered around the sole TV not blaring Fox News. ABC 24 has crossed to their reporter at the Clinton election night event. Subtitles on the television show that the reporter is saying that the mood is like a wake. Trump's Aussie Mates laugh.

"They're packing up, they're going home!"

At this point, it just seems a matter of time before we officially crown President Trump. I find a quiet-ish corner to sit and write. I pull out my laptop and begin to write. A man walks past and sees the Huffington Post logo on my computer. He makes a jibe about whether I'm checking my emails, which I interpret to be a reference to Clinton's well-documented email scandal.

"It's all over sunshine!" he cackles, as he walks into the closing doors of an elevator.

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