At 2:30 in the morning, the Associated Press declared Donald J. Trump would become the 45th President of the United States, marking one of the most stunning political upsets in American history.
For the past half hour, shouts of “call it” berated oversized monitors broadcasting Fox News at Donald Trump’s election victory party at the Midtown Hilton, as word seeped into the room that the candidate had captured Pennsylvania—putting him at 264 electoral votes, six short of victory. When the network followed the AP’s lead, the crowd exploded in applause.
Trump stepped onstage with his family after a short address from Vice President-elect Mike Pence, to the swelling strains of the theme from the movie Air Force One. He announced Hillary Clinton had called him to concede, and praised her in ways unheard of during the brutal struggle of the campaign.
“We owe her a major debt of gratitude for her service to our country,” he said of the woman he had long labeled “Crooked Hillary.” The audience responded with applause and a few cries of “lock her up.”
The mogul, whose campaign was marked with scathing rhetoric aimed at the media, Muslims and undocumented immigrants, pleaded for national healing.
“The time has come for America to bind the wounds of division,” he said “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 for all Americans.”
It appears that Trump will have both a Republican House of Representatives and a Republican Senate at his disposal to implement his agenda.
The hotel ballroom was just blocks from where the brash developer’s improbable, iconoclastic and often ugly foray into presidential politics began at his eponymous tower 17 months ago. Along the trail that cut from Manhattan to New Hampshire to South Carolina to Florida to Cleveland and back, the Queens-born businessman upended virtually every convention of the modern presidential campaign.
Trump beat out Clinton to take the crucial swing states of Florida and Ohio—both states President Barack Obama carried twice, and where Clinton had attempted to run up her numbers with Latinos and African-Americans. He also carried North Carolina, a state Mitt Romney narrowly carried four years ago, by a small margin.
But he truly shocked observers by capturing Wisconsin, a perennial Democratic stronghold which had not favored a Republican presidential candidate since President Ronald Reagan in 1984. This unexpected victory, in defiance of all polls, destabilized what most believed was a Clinton “firewall” in upper Midwest. Winning the Keystone State brought that wall down.
Trump’s bid, which seemed at first like little more than a stunt or another misbegotten vanity project, began with attacks on one of the fastest-growing demographics in the country. It shockingly survived his disparaging comments about the war record of one of the nation’s most celebrated veterans, admired politicians and the 2008 Republican nominee.
It continued through out-of-control debates with his 16 fellow candidates, in which he openly insulted their height, appearance and energy level. It carried on even though he had no ground operation, little fundraising and considerable acrimony from the party’s contributor class.
It found him calling for outright discrimination in American immigration policies, by barring all adherents of the planet’s second-biggest religion from entering the country. He openly engaged with neo-Nazis on social media, he demurred in denouncing support from white supremacists. He repeatedly praised the autocratic president of Russia.
As the Republican field winnowed, he mocked the looks of his chief opponent’s wife and promoted a conspiracy theory that his father might have been complicit in the assassination of John F. Kennedy. Trump claimed the nomination at a convention that resembled a Roman circus.
A week and a half later, he insulted the parents of a soldier killed in Iraq—and kept insulting them. His new campaign manager resigned amid allegations he had received cash from the deposed Russian puppet ruler of Ukraine to lobby the U.S. government.
Trump desperately juggled staff. And he consistently refused to release his tax returns, breaking with four decades of presidential tradition.
He arrived to the first debate obviously unprepared. He spent the next week tweeting about a Venezuelan beauty queen’s sex tape.
Then another tape dropped, this one of Trump describing in 2005 how his fame enabled him to force himself on women, even “grab them by the pussy.” Allegations of sexual assault multiplied. When the Republican speaker of the House of Representatives—one of the most popular figures in his party, and the 2012 vice presidential candidate—backed away from the nominee, the Queens-born businessman lashed out at him as “weak and ineffective.”
In the third and final debate, he declared he’d keep the nation “in suspense” about whether he would accept the election results if they didn’t bend his way.
As it turned out, that’s not the the kind of suspense Americans will be in after all.
Updated to include comment from Trump.
Disclosure: Donald Trump is the father-in-law of Jared Kushner, the publisher of Observer Media.