Donald Trump’s win shocks even true believers
As election evening began in Midtown Manhattan, people who wanted Donald Trump to win — loyal Republicans who risked the scorn of conservative critics to work hard on Trump’s behalf — were not only not sure he would win, they were actively trying to imagine the best-case scenario for his defeat.
About 4:30 in the afternoon, I ran into a well-connected Republican operative on Sixth Avenue. She thought Florida didn’t look good — Trump would have to make up too many votes to counter a heavy Hispanic turnout. But North Carolina looked good, as did Ohio and Iowa. All that was OK, but without Florida — no Trump victory.
We talked about whether Trump would surpass 206 electoral votes, which was Mitt Romney’s losing total in 2012. The answer was yes — just winning Ohio would do that trick. And beating Romney might quiet some of those NeverTrumpers who predicted Trump would lead the GOP to an utter blowout loss of historic proportions.
But then the Republican expressed doubt about her doubts.
“I’m more nervous than I was in 2012,” she said. Back then, at 4:30 in Boston, she knew full well that Romney would lose. This time, although the road looked tough for Trump, there was enough of an air of unpredictability about the results that, even though she thought Trump would falter, she wasn’t nearly as sure as four years ago.
At the Hilton Midtown, where Trump would hold his electionnight event, a Republican strategist who had worked on the Dole campaign, two Bush campaigns, the McCain campaign, and the Romney campaign had little confidence Trump would win, but felt sure he would exceed Romney. Even a close loss would have value, he explained, because it would likely force the Beltway Republicans who refused to help Trump to look into the mirror and ask whether they could have done more to elect a GOP president.
That’s the kind of thinking that was going on in the early evening of the most extraordinary election night in U.S. history. Trump supporters wanted Trump to win — that’s why they were there — but there were doubts galore.
Even Jeff Sessions, the Alabama senator whose early endorsement was a huge boost for Trump, seemed unsure about a Trump victory. Sessions said that in the last few days he visited Trump county headquarters in Arizona and Virginia. He was struck by the intensity of the support there. “The feelings of the American public are legitimate, and the politicians need to hear it,” Sessions told me. “This isn’t going away. This isn’t a onetime thing.”
The implication was that, even if Trump lost, Trump’s focus on working Americans would go on.
By about 10:00 p.m., the news began to brighten: Florida was looking better. So was North Carolina. And Ohio.
Everyone’s nerves settled as the minutes ticked by. The big TVs all around were playing Fox News, which had Trump at 254 electoral votes — just 11 away from victory.
By the time Trump walked onstage to deliver a graceful victory speech — it was nearly 3:00 a.m. — the Associated Press and other media organizations had called the race, proclaiming him the president-elect.
Yes, there were some people there who said they knew all along he would win. But Trump’s supporters had spent months looking at the same polls as everybody else. When it turned out those polls were wrong, and their man was racing to victory, Tuesday night and early Wednesday morning made for a very, very happy shock.