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Originally published January 21, 2009 at 12:00 AM | Page modified January 21, 2009 at 9:34 AM


The view from the Republican wing: "This is their party"

For once-powerful Republicans, there were two ways to get through Tuesday's inauguration, and neither was without pain.

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WASHINGTON — For once-powerful Republicans, there were two ways to get through Tuesday's inauguration, and neither was without pain.

Some, such as former White House aide Suhail Khan, stayed in town to witness the transition, even though it meant hearing rebukes from the incoming president and sometimes worse from the inaugural crowd.

"The one sorry note were the boos for President Bush, Vice President [Dick] Cheney and Justice Roberts," said Khan, who was among a group of former Bush aides standing a short distance from Barack Obama as he was sworn in by Chief Justice John Roberts.

"And singing the goodbye song," Khan said. "That was uncalled-for."

Other GOP stalwarts, such as Ralph Reed, former head of the Christian Coalition, stayed away. But that offered only so much protection.

"Even on television, it was a lot more emotional to watch George W. Bush depart the capital than I thought it would be," said Reed, who watched from his office in Atlanta. "It's been more than 12 years that I have been involved with the Bush family political team, and it was difficult to watch it come to an end."

Inaugurations tend to be dominated by celebratory imagery, and Tuesday's event was a spectacle of historic dimensions. Americans swarmed to the nation's capital to witness Obama's swearing-in, to catch glimpses of the nation's first black president in a parade down Pennsylvania Avenue, or put on black tie for the constellation of evening balls.

But there is another side to the quadrennial ritual, an undercurrent of disappointment among those who are being replaced or watching their influence wane.

One of the city's most influential Republican lobbyists, Dirk Van Dongen, left Washington for New York and watched the speech on television, glad to have left the traffic jams and sidewalks filled with Democrats. "This is their party," Van Dongen said. "And they should have an open and clean playing field to celebrate their victory."

Other Republicans fled their homes in Washington for extra-long weekends in Aspen, Colo., or Palm Beach, Fla. Some who stayed found drink and sustenance at lobbyist-sponsored parties along the Pennsylvania Avenue parade route, such as one hosted by the Carmen Group, a bipartisan lobbying business.

Others attended a rooftop party sponsored by Prism Public Affairs. One of the company's members, Stuart Roy, aide to former House GOP leader Tom DeLay, called the event a complete success: "We ran out of vodka and eggs."

Obama seemed to add to the sting for Republicans by including in his inaugural address a series of unusually pointed critiques of his predecessor, even as Bush was sitting a few steps away.

At one point, Obama said the "time of standing pat, of protecting narrow interests and putting off unpleasant decisions" had passed.

Even so, some staunch Republicans said their frustration with the outcome of November's election was tempered by the historic nature of the transition. Khan, for instance, said he found much to like about Obama's speech, noting it sounded "conservative themes, like the need for individual responsibility and not depending solely on government."

Copyright © 2009 The Seattle Times Company

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