After an unprecedented and norm-shattering campaign, New York real estate mogul Donald Trump has stunned the world, defying nearly all pre-election predictions in winning the presidency.
His victory was called by the AP at about 2:30 a.m., after key wins in the Rust Belt cleared his path to the 270-electoral-vote threshold needed to secure his victory over former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.
Trump scored vote wins in states like Pennsylvania, Florida and North Carolina, defying most election forecasts that named Clinton the odds-on-favorite in the race.
Clinton’s failure to turn out support in her key states is a shocking twist in an already unpredictable race. She would have been the first female president. Backing her candidacy was a well-organized operation and A-list surrogates, including the current President, the first lady, and Clinton’s husband, former President Bill Clinton. Her defeat jolts the domestic political world, and sends a shock wave around the globe.
Over the course of the race, Trump had put public trust in a number of institutions in jeopardy. When his defeat looked eminent, he claimed a system “rigged” against him. He also promised to “lock” Clinton up.
“You’d be jail,” Trump said to Clinton at a presidential debate when she brought up a hypothetical Trump presidency.
Trump’s victory comes despite alienating nearly every demographic subgroup except white men. His supporter base was largely fueled by white nativist anger and resentment towards the so-called “political establishment.” Throughout the campaign, Trump employed rhetoric that impugned Latinos, Muslims, and other minority groups. He kicked off his campaign by calling Mexican immigrants “criminals” and “racists,” and later in the race unveiled a ban on Muslim immigration in the U.S.
He also was at the center of sexual assault allegations from numerous women who stepped forward after the revelation of a 2005 hot mic tape where Trump bragged about groping women. He responded by implying the accusers were not pretty enough to warrant his come-on.
“Yeah, I’m gonna go after her,” Trump said at a rally. Believe me, she would not be my first choice. That I can tell you. You don’t know. That would not be my first choice.”
Polls showed women, especially college educated women, long a Republican stronghold, abandoning Trump in droves. He went on an unrelenting series of personal attacks against journalists, his opponents’ spouses, a federal judge and a Gold Star family, often using racist or sexist rhetoric. The alienation of those groups however, was not enough to stop his ascent to the White House.
Republicans at all levels were often uncomfortable with his candidacy, which was at odds with many of the goals they had put forward in their autopsy of the 2012 presidential election. Yet most top GOP leaders eventually fell in line behind his nomination, albeit awkwardly. Tuesday’s results suggest that, despite their misgivings with a nominee whose conservatism remained genuinely in doubt throughout the campaign, Republicans voters made their peace with Trump and in numbers that most pre-election polling utterly missed.
The Trump plan for victory, in its crudest terms, had been to mobilize disaffected white men in greater numbers than he alienated women and minorities. Pollsters and political scientists will be picking through the remains of this election for a generation to confirm whether that is in fact what happened, as well as to decipher how so many pre-election surveys were so far off the mark.
Clinton led Trump in the polls throughout the general election season. While the final days featured a tightening in the race, the race seemed to have stabilized and Clinton had settled in with a lead of more than 5 points nationally by Election Day, according to TPM’s PollTracker Average. Her state-by-state lead had been even more pronounced, with virtually no pre-election predictions showing Trump in the lead in electoral votes. In fact most of the pre-election prognosticating had focused on the narrower question of whether Clinton would exceed 300 electoral votes, and by how much.
The volatility of the race was exacerbated by a letter sent to lawmakers 11 days before the election by FBI Director James Comey, regarding the potential for new evidence in the Clinton private email server case, which had dogged her throughout the race. Comey on Sunday updated lawmakers that nothing had been found that changed the FBI’s conclusion not to recommend charges in the case. But the initial revelation jolted the GOP base, and Trump was ultimately able to win enough support — or at least, depress enthusiasm for Clinton — to put him over the edge.
The Clinton’s campaign failure to stop Trump is a major shock, given the numerous advantages she had. She went into the election with a mostly unified Democratic Party — her primary opponent Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) was an active surrogate presence for her on the general election trail. She had, by most measures, an extensive ground game that eclipsed Trump’s meager operation in size and scope. But, on Tuesday, Trump’s supporters were able to deliver him Wisconsin, North Carolina and Florida, among other crucial victories.
With a campaign that was short on policy detail and long on exaggerations, falsehoods and self-contradictions, it is still very unclear what a Trump presidency will look like. His platform’s touchstone was a wall on the Mexican-U.S. border, which would bring a host of logistical issue, not to mention political ones. He wavered on his vows to launch a mass deportation of undocumented immigrants, as well as on the specifics of his proposed ban on Muslim immigration. His approach to trade — a protectionist posture that included scrapping major international trade deals and re-negotiating with individual countries from scratch — is at odds with Republican and centrist Democratic doctrine. As was his approach to foreign policy, which vacillated between an isolationist, so-called “America First” position, to brute promises to “ bomb the hell out of ISIS,” “take the oil” and bring back the use of controversial torture methods.
Trump’s bombastic style and disregard for international norms earned the rebuke not just of Democrats, but many Republicans, particularly in the foreign policy sphere. Max Boot, a GOP foreign policy adviser, called Trump “the least qualified, most dangerous presidential candidate in U.S. history.” The neoconservative Robert Kagan warned that Trump’s “ultimately self-destructive tendencies would play out on the biggest stage in the world, with consequences at home and abroad that one can barely begin to imagine.”
“It would make him the closest thing the United States has ever had to a dictator, but a dictator with a dangerously unstable temperament that neither he nor anyone else can control,” Kagan wrote in a Washington Post op-ed.
The groups Trump has targeted from the trail also expressed a dire fear of his election.
Speaking to TPM over the summer, Shadi Hamid, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution, said that Trump’s campaign present “unprecedented moment for the American Muslim community.”
“There was fear after 9/11 but this is really at a different level,” Hamid said. The rise of Trump has made us realize that our place in American society is more tenuous than we may have expected.”
Victory comes even though the Trump campaign was marked by an unparalleled degree of internal chaos. The team of top advisers that surrounded him was shaken up multiple times throughout the race. His first campaign manager Corey Lewandowski was accused of manhandling a female journalist. His second, Paul Manafort came under scrutiny for his Russian connections. The final phase of campaign leadership, which included as CEO Breitbart Chairman Steve Bannon, seemed to be doubling-down on Trump’s fear-mongering style, while campaign manager Kellyanne Conway sought to put a friendly face on the campaign in interactions with the press. New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie (R), the leader of the Trump’s transition, is still embroiled in the Bridgegate scandal, that led to criminal convictions against two of his top gubernatorial aides.
As for the Republican lawmakers who will be working legislatively with the Trump administration, many promised that a GOP Congress could act as a check on Trump, if need be. Their inability to reel in Trump’s most bombastic habits casts doubt on how effective those efforts will be. Trump has expressed an ambivalence to many of Republicans’ key issues, which include the repeal of Obamacare, the rolling back of abortion rights and the shrinking of entitlement programs. Yet Republicans in Congress can be expected to take on such initiatives, with the hopes of getting Trump’s signature.