Young Republicans find their comfort zone

Attorney Howard Slugh plays pool at a recent meeting of Young Jewish Conservatives.
Photo by Dan Schere

Attorney Howard Slugh was playing a friendly game of pool one evening last week. The game room of a luxury Thomas Circle apartment building had doughnuts to snack on and beer to put a long, hard Washington day into perspective.

“Trey. Hey you’re looking pretty well,” host Joel Griffith said to his friend Trey Mayfield.

“Man, I didn’t know there was going to be all this,” Mayfield said as he looked around him.

In all there were 40 of them, Jewish millennial Republicans here to talk, network and listen to a summation of the Supreme Court session just ended.

The Young Jewish Conservatives is a group where Republicans can be Republicans, without having to look over their shoulders for a liberal reaction. In left-of-center Washington, it’s rare opportunity to discuss politics intensely and openly from a conservative point of view.

“Within the Jewish community, depending on the election year, about 1 in 3 vote Republican,” said Griffith, the group’s chair.

“A lot of Jewish young professionals move to D.C. from the right and left to make the world a better place. It just so happens that Republicans are outnumbered in that way.”

Being outnumbered can make Republicans feel out of place in heavily Democratic Washington, said a Trump administration staffer who asked that his name not be used because he didn’t want to be identified with his job. This was his first Young Jewish Conservatives event and he became comfortable in no time.

“I’ve been going to other Jewish events where the crowd is more mixed politically,” he said. “Here you’re among friends. You feel like you can let loose. You can enjoy the drinks and refreshments with your friends.”

The group hosts lectures and Shabbat dinners. It has a book club that most recently discussed “Suicide of the West,” by conservative columnist Jonah Goldberg. Griffith, who is 37, said the group’s unofficial age limit is 40. The aim of Young Jewish Conservatives is to be a meeting place for Republicans who are new to Washington and want to network and socialize.

Eventually Slugh put down his pool cue and walked to the front of the room. He was the evening’s speaker, and his topic was the just-concluded Supreme Court session. Slugh cofounded the Jewish Coalition for Religious Liberty, and filed a friend of the court brief on behalf of Jack Phillips, the baker who refused the business of a gay couple on religious grounds. The Supreme Court sided with Phillips in a narrow decision that skirted whether Phillips had the right to discriminate against the couple.
Slugh said the real question was whether Phillips was required by law to sell a cake endorsing something he personally disagreed with: same-sex marriage.

“It’s the same way you wouldn’t make a cake for Halloween, a bachelor party or the celebration of a divorce or any message you didn’t want to send,” Slugh said. “The real question is not, can you turn away same-sex couples? The real question is do you have to make a cake with a specific message.”

Later, Slugh, a 34-year-old Washington resident, said he joined Young Jewish Conservatives after hearing about it five years ago at CPAC, the Conservative Political Action Conference in Washington.

A staunch Republican, Slugh said he does not allow his politics to affect his social life. Outside of the group, Slugh hosts Shabbat dinners and trivia nights in his home for friends of all political stripes.

“There’s no reason for politics to encroach on who your friends are,” he said. “I’ve never taken that into account.”
Michael Callahan, a 23-year-old Washington resident, said even though he has friends who are liberal, conservatives often feel silenced, because they are afraid they will be ostracized for speaking up.

“Sometimes you have to watch what you say because it feels like you might be judged by some liberals,” he said. “I keep within the more conservative groups.”

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