New York — Donald John Trump will be the 45th president of the United States, having bested Hillary Clinton in what can be considered the biggest upset in American political history.
The man who has defied the expectations of political observers at every turn delivered his biggest surprise yet Tuesday night, beating Clinton by barreling through the so-called blue wall of states that had not been carried by a Republican in decades. Trump won Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, and Michigan and also flipped Ohio, which President Obama had carried in each of the past two elections. This clean sweep through the Rust Belt — netting 64 electoral votes, the exact number by which Mitt Romney fell short of the presidency four years ago — clinched the White House for Trump. He also won back the states of Iowa and Florida, and is deadlocked with Clinton in New Hampshire. He will finish with a grand total of at least 305 electoral votes, and with 90 percent of all precincts reporting nationwide, he led Clinton in the popular vote as of 4:30 a.m. ET.
It was a historic end to a campaign between two historic candidates: the first woman to be the presidential nominee of a major party and the first major-party nominee with no political or military experience. They were the two most unpopular candidates in American history, battling it out in an ugly and divisive campaign.
“Now it’s time for America to bind the wounds of division,” Trump said, taking the stage shortly before 3 a.m. Wednesday morning. “We have to get together. To all Republicans and Democrats and independents across this nation, I say it is time for us to come together as one united people. I pledge to every citizen of our land that I will be president of all Americans.”
Gone — at least for the moment — was the jeering, jibing Trump of campaign rallies. In his place in the wee hours of Wednesday morning was a magnanimous Trump, congratulating Clinton on a hard-fought campaign and urging Americans of all political stripes to come together. “For those who have chosen not to support me in the past — of which there were a few people — I’m reaching out to you for your guidance and your help so that we can work together and unify our great country,” he said.
Trump’s unlikely journey to this moment began more than a year ago, when he descended an escalator a lonely figure, not yet fully accepted by the Republican party, his campaign still perceived as a joke. It ended this morning when he descended a flight of stairs, followed by a retinue of nearly 40 people supporting him. His family, his advisers and staff and party leaders who backed his campaign, including New Jersey governor Chris Christie and Republican National Committee chairman Reince Preibus, fanned out behind him as he stood on a balcony, basking in his glory. His campaign manager, Kellyanne Conway, gave a joyful jump and waved her hands in the air in triumph as she walked across the balcony.
Trump’s earth-shattering victory will have far-reaching implications for both major political parties, and it signals an immediate reconfiguration of the Republican coalition. The former reality-TV star drove record turnout throughout the GOP primary season by mobilizing millions of white, working-class voters who were invigorated by his populist message, opposition to free trade, and hawkish stance on illegal immigration. Despite deep-rooted skepticism that he could replicate this success in the general election — with a much bigger, more diverse electorate — Trump did exactly that.
Even as whites’ overall share of the electorate dropped for the seventh consecutive election — from 72 percent in 2012 to 70 percent in 2016 — Trump prevailed by pushing Clinton to anemic levels of support among them. Exit polls showed that she won just 37 percent of all whites, including 31 percent of white men. Trump was dominant among his core demographic, non-college-educated whites, winning 67 percent of those voters to Clinton’s 28 percent.
On the flip side, Clinton failed to energize the coalition that swept Obama to historic victories. In 2012, he carried 93 percent of African Americans, 71 percent of Hispanics, and 73 percent of Asians nationwide, according to exit polls. Clinton underperformed him on every front, winning 88 percent of African Americans, 65 percent of Hispanics, and 65 percent of Asians.
While the Hispanic share of the vote ticked up nationwide, there was evidence of a significant decline in participation among black voters, especially in the industrial Midwestern states where Trump’s victory was sealed. In Wayne County, Mich., which is anchored by the 80-percent black city of Detroit, Obama won roughly 595,000 votes in 2012. With 99 percent of the county’s precincts reporting, Clinton had won just 475,000 votes — an enormous drop-off in the state’s most critical Democratic stronghold. In Milwaukee, roughly 370,000 votes were cast in this year’s presidential election compared with 492,000 in 2012 — a devastating decrease of 25 percent that cost Clinton Wisconsin.
The result was not just a triumph for Trump, but for Republicans running alongside him in House and Senate races across the country. The GOP protected its majorities in both chambers, ensuring that Republicans will have unified control of government for the first time since 2005.
The GOP protected its majorities in both chambers, ensuring that Republicans will have unified control of government for the first time since 2005.
Improbably, Republicans not only kept the Senate but are positioned for a six-seat margin in the first two years of the Trump administration. As of 4 a.m. ET, the balance was 51–47. The GOP will pick up another seat after Louisiana’s runoff election between two Republicans next month. The lone outstanding result from Tuesday is New Hampshire, where incumbent Republican Kelly Ayotte holds a lead of roughly 1,200 votes, with 95 percent of precincts reporting. If she prevails after a recount that appears certain, Republicans will control the chamber 53–47.
This outcome couldn’t have been dreamed up by even the GOP’s most optimistic operatives. The best-case scenario on Tuesday morning, according to top party officials who had studied the final batches of state-by-state data, was that Trump would run competitively enough to allow vulnerable incumbents the chance to hold their seats and keep both houses of Congress under GOP control. Trump did that and much more. Far from being a drag on down-ballot Republicans — as was widely expected by strategists, donors, and many candidates themselves — Trump’s coattails were almost certainly responsible for saving some of the GOP’s most endangered senators, who would have lost without a close presidential contest in their states.
One such Republican is Ron Johnson, the Wisconsin senator who was left for dead by the national party this summer as polls showed him hopelessly trailing former Democratic senator Russ Feingold. There was no reason to think Trump would help: Polls showed him to be deeply unpopular in Wisconsin. Mitt Romney had lost the state by seven points in 2012, and Trump figured to suffer a similar margin of defeat. Even with Johnson running a good campaign and closing fast in the polls down the stretch, his allies in Wisconsin had zero expectation that he could survive Trump’s drag at the top of the ticket.
They were shocked Tuesday night when the returns came in. Trump jumped out to a lead over Clinton in Wisconsin — which hadn’t gone Republican since 1984 — and never relinquished it, carrying the state by three points. As it became clear that both Trump and Johnson were outperforming the polls and stood a serious chance of winning Wisconsin, House speaker Paul Ryan took the stage at his own victory party in the state’s first congressional district and sounded like a man who’d just been jolted with good news. “You know by some accounts, I was just sitting here watching the polls, this could be a really good night for America,” Ryan said, traces of surprise and excitement apparent in his voice.
It was certainly a good night for Ryan. Not only was he vindicated after pumping money into Johnson’s Senate race and barnstorming the state with him in the four days prior to Tuesday, but his House majority was barely dented by what some Republicans feared could become a Democratic wave inspired by Trump. As of this writing, Republicans had won 235 seats compared with the Democrats’ 191. Even if the GOP loses all of the remaining nine that are uncalled — which it won’t — it would still suffer a net loss of only twelve seats from its current majority of 247. That alone would have been considered an acceptable loss on Tuesday morning; in all likelihood, the losses will be in the single digits, giving Ryan more than enough cushion to be reelected as speaker when the House convenes for the 115th Congress in early January.
Newly elected members will join returning incumbents in Washington next week for an orientation and votes on leadership positions in the next Congress. The occasion will be unexpectedly joyous, as most Republicans had come to terms with the conventional wisdom that Clinton’s victory was imminent. But Trump might not enjoy much of a honeymoon period. The same conservative purists in the House who have caused trouble for Ryan — and before him, for Speaker John Boehner — have longed for the opportunity to buck a president of their own party, and will now have that chance. Such internecine conflict would be nothing new for the incoming president: He has spent the past 17 months waging war not just against Clinton but quite often against the members of his own party. He has taken a special shine to pitting his insurgent campaign against the Republican establishment and its power-brokers in Washington.
That internal conflict has been simmering all along. When Republicans gathered in Cleveland for the Republican National Convention, there was little party unity. Of the five living Republican presidential nominees, only one was in attendance. Senators in competitive reelection battles were nowhere to be found. Trump’s top adviser at the time touched off a war with Ohio governor John Kasich, one of Trump’s primary rivals, who never set foot at the convention held in his home state. Texas senator Ted Cruz, who was ultimately Trump’s strongest competition in the primary, pointedly refused to endorse Trump in his speech to the convention.
What comes next is most assuredly a recalibration of the Republican party and a reexamination of the party’s goals and ideologies.
It was a precursor to the campaign that followed, with Clinton campaigning across the country alongside a cavalcade of Democratic stars and embattled Democratic candidates while Trump was often a one-man-band, relying on his personal brand and inveighing against the leaders of his party. When he and his supporters urged voters to “drain the swamp” of Washington, D.C., at his rallies, they were not just speaking about Democrats.
With so much potential friction behind the scenes, Republicans say that Mike Pence, as vice president, could play an important role in smoothing relations between Trump and a Republican House and Senate that have often seemed to be operating on two separate tracks. It is a similar role to the one he has played during the campaign, serving as conduit and translator between Trump and reluctant Republican supporters.
From the moment he rode down the escalator in Trump Tower to become the unlikely front-runner in a 17-way Republican presidential primary, Trump has been an unlikely candidate who has often struggled to fit in with the party of which he is now the leader. He does not subscribe to many traditional Republican orthodoxies and often seems to eschew ideology altogether. His fiercest opponents have been those Republicans who deem him insufficiently conservative to even run within the party.
His entry into the race was met with ridicule and largely dismissed by a political class that failed to comprehend his candidacy and its appeal at every turn. His lead in primary polls was taken as a mere function of high name recognition from his time as the host of a popular reality-television show. As he racked up primary wins — first in New Hampshire, then in South Carolina, then in Nevada — the chattering class argued about how to stop his roll toward victory. And one by one, Trump ended the campaigns of his primary opponents, cutting off their paths to victory before finally securing the nomination in the Indiana primary in May.
Trump’s win tonight comes in spite of his penchant for vulgarity and unfiltered outbursts that repeatedly threatened to scuttle his candidacy. He deemed Arizona senator and former Republican presidential nominee John McCain not a war hero because he had been captured in the Vietnam War. He mocked the movements of a disabled reporter. He described Mexican immigrants as “rapists” and “criminals.” He repeatedly declared that African Americans were living “in hell.” He promised to ban Muslims from entering the country. He counter-attacked a Gold Star family that had lambasted him at the Democratic National Convention. But for the first year of his candidacy, Trump seemed to be made of Teflon: Whatever he said, his supporters excused.
It was not until early October that his own words threatened his campaign, when the Washington Post published a previously unseen Access Hollywood video in which he boasted of kissing women and doing “anything,” because “when you’re a star, they let you do it.” Republicans who had stuck by Trump through months of cringe-inducing remarks couldn’t countenance this. Several GOP senators and House members abandoned him, with some even calling for him to drop out of the race and cede the nomination to Pence. Ryan scheduled a conference call with House Republicans the Monday morning after the tape’s release and informed his members that he would no longer be promoting the top of the ticket and that his sole priority would be protecting their House majority. The call was meant to provide certain members with cover to distance themselves from Trump, but the announcement angered many of Ryan’s colleagues, who felt they shouldn’t abandon the nominee over an eleven-year-old recording when Clinton was surrounded by scandals of her own.
Salvation came from an unlikely source: FBI Director James Comey. Over the summer, Republicans had roundly criticized Comey when he said he would not recommend charges against Clinton for her use of a private e-mail server while she served as secretary of state. But eleven days before the election, Comey sent a letter informing Congress that they had uncovered new evidence relevant to the investigation into Clinton’s use of a private server. His statement put Clinton’s potential mishandling of classified information — something she has wanly apologized for but repeatedly struggled to explain — back in the news. Meanwhile, the release of a flood of hacked correspondence from Clinton’s top advisers by WikiLeaks took its toll. Trump’s alleged sexual misdeeds suddenly faded from the front pages, replaced by stories about Clinton’s e-mails.
At the time, it was interpreted as nothing more than a Band-Aid — something that might stop Trump’s precipitous slide in the polls enough to save Republican House and Senate candidates from being washed out of office in a wave, even if it wouldn’t turn around the seemingly negative trajectory of Trump’s campaign. But on Tuesday night, Trump proved the polls wrong. And the failure of polling to accurately take the temperature of the electorate this election cycle is one of the major storylines of this campaign.
#related#What comes next is most assuredly a recalibration of the Republican party and a reexamination of the party’s goals and ideologies. For one thing, the traditional pro-business wing of the party will need to find some way to reconcile with the blue-collar, white voters drawn into the fold by Trump’s election. But early Wednesday morning, Republicans were still struggling to process the unexpected results, with obscenities and predictions of tumult.
As Trump concluded his remarks, the Rolling Stones’ “You Can’t Always Get What You Want” wafted from the speakers in the arena. The song has been a staple of Trump’s campaign, played at nearly all of his rallies. But as millions of voters try to make sense of the events of this night, it has perhaps never had more significance.
— Alexis Levinson is National Review’s senior political reporter. Tim Alberta is National Review’s chief political correspondent.