Donald Trump, the billionaire businessman turned reality TV star who repeatedly defied political norms and conventional wisdom on his way to a hostile takeover of the Republican Party before mounting a combative and acidic general election campaign, was elected the 45th President of the United States on Tuesday, defeating Hillary Clinton to cap a historic rise to highest office in the land.
Trump's election was the surprising culmination of a campaign that was unpredictable and unprecedented from its start. Polls across a wide range of battleground states showed Clinton holding a narrow but consistent lead in the days before the election. But a race that political watchers in both parties had expected to go the Democrat's way quickly became a nail-biter, with razor-thin margins in key states turning into a Trump tide that flooded the electoral map. The GOP nominee won Ohio, Florida, and North Carolina, cutting off several paths for Clinton to win an Electoral College victory. Trump was then declared the victor in Pennsylvania, and the Associated Press called the race for him at 2:30 a.m. E.T. Financial markets were already tumbling at the prospect of a Trump victory hours earlier, with Dow futures down more than 700 points at one point.
Clinton called Trump to concede, a Trump aide confirmed, shortly after her campaign chairman signaled she would not address the results until later.
Trump, addressing ebullient supporters in New York City, immediately struck a conciliatory tone.
"Hillary has worked very long and very hard over a long period of time, and we owe her a major debt of gratitude for her service to our country," Trump said. "I pledge to every citizen of our land that I will be president for all Americans and this is so important to me."
At every turn, Trump’s unlikely candidacy represented a departure from political precedent, as a billionaire real estate mogul who had never held elected office became a major party nominee who vowed to take on the political establishment. The first woman to receive a major party’s presidential nomination, Clinton, 69, would have become the country’s first female president.
For both Clinton and Trump, the divisive race came to an end on Tuesday night at rallies less than two miles apart in New York City, the same place where both candidates launched their campaigns within days of one another in June 2015.
In the final weeks of a campaign that saw both candidates facing historically high unfavorable ratings, Trump reinforced the anti-establishment narrative on which he ran his entire campaign, promising a presidency that would be an antidote to a political system he views as corrupt. He cast Clinton as a Washington insider, digging up past scandals and reframing her decades in the political arena as a liability in a year when voters voiced increasing frustration with the political status quo. On the eve of the election, Trump warned of what the future would hold under a Clinton administration.
For her part, Clinton tried to frame herself as an inclusive candidate who Americans could vote for, casting Trump as a divisive influence. She brought political and musical star-power to her most recent rallies in an effort to turn out key demographics in battleground states, including Ohio, North Carolina, Florida, and Pennsylvania.
The difference in their closing arguments reflected the long-standing differences in their campaigns.
Trump, 70, rode an anti-establishment wave to defeat 16 opponents in the Republican primary. He built his campaign on a promise to “Make America Great Again,” painting a bleak picture of the U.S. economy and the country's standing in the world, dismissing even the leaders of his own party who challenged or criticized him. He regularly courted controversy, eschewing political correctness with off-the-cuff candor at rallies and on Twitter. And he became a source of division and turmoil within the Republican Party, as GOP leaders navigated the challenge of supporting their party’s nominee while condemning some of his most controversial rhetoric and behavior.
Trump's unconventional candidacy was characterized by dark warnings about the future of the country and isolationist promises to be strong on national security, during a presidential race that turned into a referendum on America's fundamental identity and principles. But early Wednesday morning, he pledged to work with the world at large.
"I want to tell the world community that while we will always put america’s interests first, we will deal fairly with everyone — all people and all other nations," he said. "We will seek common ground, not hostility. Partnership, not conflict"
Clinton, who pushed boundaries as First Lady of Arkansas and then of the U.S., launched her own political career in 2000, becoming a twice-elected Senator of New York and then Secretary of State under President Obama, whose legacy she had promised to build on as president. She pitched herself as a candidate for “all Americans,” pushing a message of hope and inclusivity in the campaign’s final days.
Trump’s campaign had taken several hits in the final months of the election. A leaked 2005 recording featured him making lewd comments about groping women, prompting condemnation from many Republicans. Multiple women came forward to accuse Trump of kissing or touching them inappropriately without consent in incidents spanning decades. And he admitted to using a business loss to avoid paying millions in federal income taxes.
But the presidential race had tightened in the past week, as Trump closed in on Clinton’s narrow polling lead. Clinton continued to face scrutiny over her use of a private email server as Secretary of State, burdened anew after an announcement in late October by FBI Director James Comey that agents would examine newly discovered emails to determine if they were relevant to an investigation he had previously announced as closed without charges. Two days before the election, Comey said the bureau’s decision not to pursue criminal charges remained unchanged, but Trump had already touted the incident as proof Clinton was unfit for the presidency.
With the election on Tuesday, voters delivered a verdict on the country’s direction, affirming Trump’s message about the need for a Washington shake-up and sending a self-described political outsider into the Oval Office.
In his victory speech, Trump reflected on the bruising campaign.
"This was tough. This was tough," he said. "This politics stuff is nasty and it's tough."