Politics

Trump Pulls Off Stunning Upset

Billionaire tapped voters' anxieties, frustrations

Republican president-elect Donald Trump acknowledges the crowd along with his son Barron Trump and his wife Melania Trump during his election night event at the New York Hilton Midtown in the early morning hours of Nov. 9, 2016 in New York City. (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

After a bruising and scandal-riddled campaign, Americans traded in “hope and change” for “drain the swamp,” choosing Donald Trump as their next president.

The real estate tycoon and former reality television star pulled off arguably the most stunning upset in U.S. political history, riding a wave of popular angst and anger by running a campaign built on vague-but-bold promises and a dearth of policy prescriptions.

At around 2 a.m., Hillary Clinton campaign manager John Podesta told  supporters at what was to have been a victory party to go home while the last votes were being counted. The Associated Press called the race around 2:30 a.m. after determining he had topped the 270 Electoral College votes needed to secure the presidency. 

Clinton called Trump to concede, officially ending her campaign without addressing the supporters still waiting under the glass ceiling of New York's Jacob K. Javits Convention Center. A wave of foreign leaders offered congratulations, including Russian President Vladimir Putin, who sent a telegram expressing, "his hope to work together for removing Russian-American relations from their crisis state," The Associated Press reported.

Shortly after, Trump took the stage at his campaign headquarters in New York City. A conciliatory Trump urged the American people, including his supporters, to thank Clinton for her years of public service. He also congratulated her and the Clinton family on a “very, very hard-fought campaign.”

The president-elect said it is time to “bind the wounds of divisions” and “get together.” He spoke directly to “all” Republicans, Democrats and independents, saying, “it is time for us to come together as one united people.” More broadly, he vowed to seek common ground with other countries after spending months saying America should focus more on domestic matters and less on the rest of the world.

“I pledge to every citizen of our land that I will be president to all citizens of our land,” Trump said, crediting his shocking win on “an incredible and great movement” that put him in the White House.

“The forgotten men and women of our country will be forgotten no longer,” he said, repeating campaign-trail promises to “fix our inner cities” and “rebuild the country’s aging infrastructure,” saying it will become “second-to-none.”

“I promise you that we will not let you down,” Trump declared. “We will do a great job. ... Our work and our movement is only just beginning.”

Trump had predicted victory as he hit several battleground states in a final campaign blitz. He also continued telling supporters that the U.S. political system is tilted toward the elites, and again portrayed himself as the only person who could clean it up.

“It’s a rigged, rigged system,” Trump said in Raleigh, North Carolina. He also kept Washington, D.C., and the media in his cross hairs, vowing to “drain the swamp” once sworn in. At several stops on Monday, crowds chanted that phrase. And in Scranton, Pa., his supporters chanted, “Media sucks!”

[Roll Call’s 2016 Election Guide]

Trump’s victory stunned supporters of Clinton, political pundits and pollsters. Just several weeks before Election Day, numerous polls had her up comfortably, with a growing lead in many swing states.

But the trajectory of the race changed on Friday, Oct. 28, when FBI Director James B. Comey informed Congress that his agency had found more emails potentially related to a private server Clinton used while secretary of State. Though no criminal charges arose, Comey’s decision to go public shifted the momentum toward the Republican nominee and revived questions about her trustworthiness.

Clinton and her campaign — despite help from popular surrogates such as President Barack Obama, Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr., first lady Michelle Obama and even Beyonce and Bruce Springsteen — never fully recovered. The return of the email scandal to the headlines and cable news helped drive up Republican turnout while depressing it among Democrats, including young people and African-Americans.

Trump pounced, and didn’t let up.

“And now it’s up to the American people to deliver the justice that we deserve at the ballot box tomorrow,” Trump said on Monday, weeks after suggesting that he would, if elected, ensure Clinton landed in prison over her mishandling of classified information. (Comey said in July she was careless, but that no reasonable prosecutor would bring criminal charges.)

[Comey: No Charges Over New Clinton Emails]

Throughout the GOP primary and general election, Trump painted a portrait of a downtrodden America that hit on hot-button economic issues.

The unemployment rate under Obama declined steadily from 10 percent in October 2009 to 4.9 percent last month. But median household income is about where it was in the late 1980s, just under $54,000 a year. One of the president-elect’s main themes on the trail was a plea to voters to trust him to bring lost manufacturing jobs back to America, ones he claimed were “taken” by China, Mexico and other countries offering cheap labor to U.S. companies.

“Sad, isn’t it? Isn’t it pathetic? North Carolina’s industrial workers have been crushed by Bill Clinton’s signing of NAFTA, supported by ‘crooked Hillary,’” Trump told an audience in the Tar Heel State on Oct. 14. “You’ve lost nearly half of your manufacturing jobs since NAFTA, did you know that? You’ve lost almost half of your manufacturing jobs.”

He was able to convince enough voters in key states that only one man could help: Donald Trump.

“If I win, Day One, we are going to announce our plans to renegotiate NAFTA,” he said to loud applause. “If we don’t get the deal we want, we leave NAFTA and start over to get a much better, a much more fair deal because right now, we’re a one-way highway into Mexico.”

Such Promises, not policy ideas, won the day. And that has even Trump’s supporters scratching their heads about his legislative agenda, unable to fully articulate just what to expect.

But some promise he will be more effective working with Congress than Clinton would have been.

“We need to remember that in this election cycle, November is about who has the best policies to revive our economy and rebuild our military,” Trump adviser and Senate Environment and Public Works Chairman James Inhofe of Oklahoma wrote in a recent Facebook post. “Whether this ultimately benefits Hillary Clinton, it doesn’t mean any less that her policies and philosophy will only hurt America should she get the opportunity to lead it.”

Deputy House GOP Whip Tom Cole of Oklahoma and Washington insiders believe the career businessman would sign into law conservative policy bills, including many based on Speaker Paul D. Ryan’s policy agenda. Add to that list a repeal of Obama’s health care law, and maybe a massive infrastructure upgrade.

“I’m confident we would get what we could through the Senate,” Cole told Roll Call. “And I do think Trump would sign what we were able to get to him, and declare victory.”

Shock swept across the country early Wednesday morning as Trump was declared the next commander in chief. But even as late as Monday afternoon, some Clinton supporters continued their collective refusal to even think about a Trump presidency.

[Trump’s Coronation Completes GOP’s Transformation]

Brad Bannon, a Democratic strategist, last week said his Electoral College math did not add up to Trump in the Oval Office.

“He needs 60 electoral votes from states Obama won,” Bannon said. “I just don’t see that. Hillary has a better shot at winning those battleground states, and holding onto the battleground states it looks like she is leading in.”

California Democratic Rep. Doris Matsui, who co-chairs the Congressional Caucus for Women’s Issues, was more succinct on Monday.

“I haven’t considered that at all,” Matsui told Roll Call just hours before the first polls opened. “Given the campaign and the issues he’s talked about, I don’t think he has a grasp on what is needed to govern this country.”

Tens of millions of Americans disagreed, selecting Trump to do just that, amid signs the United States is as politically and ideology divided as ever. Trump’s ability to bring the country together remained uncertain as his supporters celebrated.Contact Bennett at johnbennett@cqrollcall.com. Follow him on Twitter @BennettJohnT.

Get breaking news alerts and more from Roll Call on your iPhone or your Android.