Chris Hughes and Sean Eldridge were liberal celebrities three years ago. A true “gay power couple” was the Facebook co-founder and his politically ambitious husband. Hughes saved The New Republic from financial ruin in 2012 and established himself in Washington. In upstate New York, Eldridge was quietly preparing to run for Congress.
Young, handsome, Ivy League-educated, rich (“the wealthiest openly gay men under 30” according to The Advocate, a stretch considering Hughes’ fortune), and liberal politically, the Hughes-Eldridge partnership was destined to change America.
How quickly things change. In the past two months, one half of this pair single-handedly destroyed a historic journalistic institution, while the other lost a crushing electoral defeat in New York’s 19th Congressional District. Last week, 31-year-old Hughes forced the resignations of The New Republic’s editor and literary editor, whom he presided over at a star-studded gala in Washington, D.C.
The majority of TNR’s senior and contributing editors resigned in protest of the new CEO’s plan to turn the magazine into a “vertically integrated digital media company.”
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Despite outspending his opponent nearly 3-to-1 in a district President Obama won by 6 percentage points, 28-year-old Eldridge lost his congressional bid by a stunning 30 points weeks before TNR’s implosion. After another gay Democrat won the 18th district in 2012, the couple bought a $2 million home in the district to run Eldridge there.
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Hughes bought The New Republic for an undisclosed amount less than three years ago, and the media fawned over the young Harvard graduate and his husband (Full disclosure: I was on the editorial staff of TNR from 2007 to 2009, and a contributing editor from 2010 until last year, dropped from the masthead before it was cool).
“It’s difficult not to get swept up in Hughes’s sincerity, his life-of-the-mind swagger,” wrote New York’s Carl Swanson (no mean feat).
The couple hosted a Paris Review fundraiser at Cipriani, according to a New York Times profile (the 42nd Street location, not the Wall Street one, where they celebrated their wedding with 400 of their closest friends). In it, Manhattan literary and media figures prostrated themselves before the two.
Former Clinton administration staffer and television pundit Richard Socarides said, “They are very generous with their money and time.” They’re young, rich, smart, and attractive. The combination is potent.”
Powerful. Hughes and Eldridge raised money for gay marriage and Nancy Pelosi and Andrew Cuomo at their 4,000-square-foot, $5 million SoHo loft. In the mainstream and gay press, they received positive coverage. Hughes was No. 28 on OUT’s “Power List” in 2012, and in 2011, Hughes and Eldridge were on The Advocate’s “40 under 40” cover.
The young men’s precocity was mentioned in most profiles. The Advocate called them “wise beyond their years.” An unnamed friend of Atlantic Publisher David Bradley called Hughes “the youngest old man any of us knows.”
In an email earlier this year, former TNR staffer and Washington Post columnist Dana Milbank called Hughes a “21st-century Walter Lippman” for buying the perpetually losing magazine.
Last May, former TNR editor Andrew Sullivan portrayed Hughes as a slightly more liberal, twinkie version of himself for a T magazine feature on successful twentysomethings.
Sullivan wrote that Hughes “rescue[d]” TNR, “is a young person’s idea of what an editor should be,” and “felt as if I were a kid talking to a grownup” while posing in a coffee shop in a $2,800 coat, $680 sweater, and $650 shirt (all Valentino).
Hughes is being denounced by former TNR writers and the media today. “A dilettante and a fraud,” Milbank calls the man he once called the journalistic second coming of Jesus Christ. Sullivan signed an open letter with other disgruntled TNR alumni accusing Hughes of “deal[ing] a lamentable blow” to “the promise of American life” and “corporate destruction.”
Last week, TNR did not “die.” Hughes’ purchase of the magazine sealed its fate as a thoughtful journal of classical liberal thought. If you took off your ideological blinders, you could see that he would destroy The New Republic.
Behind the seemingly accomplished, smart, and creative prodigy Chris Hughes is a deeply insecure man with few accomplishments and a heavy burden to prove his self-worth and net worth. Hughes’s wealth and status are largely due to his luck as a Facebook “co-founder.”
Hughes was not a programmer like his Harvard roommates Mark Zuckerberg and Dustin Moskovitz. He could handle public relations as the only tech geek with decent social skills. David Kirkpatrick, the author of a book about the website, told the Times, “He is fortunate he found himself in the same room.”
He’s more socially adjusted than the rest. According to Hughes, his main Facebook job was “customer service.” For a glorified call-center operator, Hughes’ 2007 exit netted $700 million.
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Hughes tried to prove he was as good as Steve Jobs and Warren Buffett, knowing how little he had done to earn such ill-gotten gains. As Fast Company claimed in 2009, he joined the Obama 2008 campaign’s social media team. After the election, Hughes helped launch Jumo, a “cause-oriented social network,” which failed after a year.
Hughes, listless and eager to prove himself, was ready to buy The New Republic in 2012. Hughes named himself editor-in-chief of the magazine without a single byline in a reputable journalistic outlet, let alone The Harvard Crimson (though he was news editor of the Andover Phillipian). After promising editorial independence, he fired editor Richard Just, who had approached him about buying TNR.
For the first time since 1914, the magazine stopped publishing unsigned editorials. After promising the acclaimed journalist Steve Brill that a 24,000-word piece he had written about the American healthcare system would appear on the cover of the re-launched magazine, Hughes delayed its publication in favor of a predictably obsequious sit-down interview with his former boss, the president. Time published Brill’s National Magazine Award-winning piece.
By last month’s 100th anniversary celebration, Hughes’ desire for fame had become absurd. Fareed Zakaria, who has been accused of plagiarising dozens of articles, including his first for TNR as an intern in 1987, was invited to speak at the event. Zakaria was also named one of the magazine’s 2011 “overrated thinkers” (“a barometer in a good suit, a creature of establishment consensus, an exemplary spokesman for the always-evolving middle”).
Hughes prioritized entertaining this media star over upholding the institution’s reputation. Hughes’s alleged fiddling with the seating plan for the centenary dinner, which relegated the magazine’s staff to the back, reminded me of Jimmy Carter’s pathetic scheduling of the White House tennis court.
Even more accidental is Eldridge’s fame. He left law school in 2010 to become a gay-rights organization’s communications director, and his husband donated a quarter-million dollars to the group. Hughes told New York magazine, “He’s 26,” nine months later. Eldridge declared his congressional candidacy, saying, “He’s going to do all kinds of things in politics, but I don’t think there’s any rush.”
Even by American politics’ money-soaked standards, the Eldridge campaign was stunning. To win over small-business owners and their employees, Eldridge created Hudson River Ventures, a vote-buying scheme disguised as an economic development project. He then gave local companies $50,000 to $500,000 in “investments.”
After Eldridge told the Times that their 18th District mansion was where “we put down roots, where we want to have a family,” the couple bought a property in Shokan, New York’s 19th District.
Eldridge hired SKDKnickerbocker, a powerful Democratic political consulting firm that also handled his investment fund’s PR. “Candidates who employ people in their districts have some advantages.”
Paul Herrnson, executive director of the University of Connecticut’s Roper Center for Public Opinion Research, told Politico, “What’s so unusual about this situation is that he’s being so transparent about it.” Eldridge made campaign finance reform a signature issue without irony.
Eldridge lost to the Republican incumbent 65 percent to 35 percent. Given Hughes’ massive spending, it was one of the most humiliating defeats in the last election cycle.
Today, my husband and I are celebrating our first Father’s Day with our son safely by our side, while thousands of children remain separated from their parents.
Those families deserve to be treated the same way we want our own families to be treated. Period.
This must stop.
— Sean Eldridge (@SeanEldridge) June 17, 2018
But Eldridge’s political ambition is unlikely to be satisfied. Several years ago, before he announced his candidacy, a source close to Eldridge told me that he had SKDKnickerbocker draw up a plan for him to become the first openly gay president of the United States (Eldridge was born in Canada and until recently held both Canadian and Israeli citizenship, which would make it difficult to overcome the Constitution’s natural-born citizenship clause).
Expect the couple to find another mansion in a safe Democratic district where an aging representative is expected to retire. The initial media attention may have been less toadying if this couple had been heterosexual and conservative.
We would have heard endless stories about how a “rapacious” “right-wing” millionaire, who had done nothing to earn his fortune, set out to destroy one of liberalism’s great institutions while helping his power-mad spouse “buy” a seat in Congress. However, the Hughes-Eldridge pairing prevented such a depiction. The media loved the idea of a young, liberal gay couple.
The Advocate incorrectly called Hughes and Eldridge “role models for a future generation of gay people.” They are entitled brats who, like most fabulously wealthy arrivistes who get rich through luck rather than hard work, are used to getting everything they want and throwing tantrums when they don’t.
My partner Sean Eldridge and I got engaged a couple weeks ago! We’re excited 🙂 (apparently this is newsworthy http://bit.ly/gfCw5g )
— Chris Hughes (@chrishughes) January 15, 2011
They’re elitist and entitled, which liberals are supposed to hate. Most in the media and gay community ignored this imposture when the couple donated to good causes and hired their journalist and political consultant friends.
Hughes and Eldridge profited from a corrupt and compliant media and political establishment. The herd is only willing to admit the obvious now that the fairy tale has collapsed—a magazine destroyed, a devastating political loss suffered.
Updated Tuesday, December 9, 2014: Statement from Anita Dunn, SKDKnickerbocker: “The suggestion that SKDKnickerbocker drew up a presidential plan for Sean Eldridge is untrue and ludicrous on its face, as we have told other reporters who asked us about this urban myth.
Sean wants to serve in Congress, and we were proud to work with him on his campaign.”