He defied the pundits. He defied the media. He defied foreign governments, former presidents and his very own party. Last night, the American public stunned the world with its very own version of Brexit – it elected Donald Trump, a businessman with no previous experience of holding political office, as 45th President of the United States.
In a night full to the brim of drama and cliff-hangers, the closest election in since 2000 ended in a decisive win for the reality TV mogul, in which he managed to hold every single state won by Mitt Romney in 2012 and win in states which haven’t voted for a Republican presidential candidate since the 1980s. Key to his success was holding the southern states of Florida and North Carolina, and over-performing in the ‘Rust Belt’ states of Iowa, Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin where thousands of blue-collar working-class voters turned their backs on the Democrats and cast their ballots for Trump, drawn in by his anti-free trade and populist message.
The night started nervously but with no real surprises until Florida, North Carolina and Virginia – three crucial swing-states that closed polls early – started to report their votes. Trump led for hours in all three, often by slim but impressive margins in states which Clinton was expected to narrowly carry and decisively cut off any possibility of her rival entering the Oval Office in January. Although Virginia was eventually called for Clinton and she bested Trump by 5 points, this was not replicated nationwide and was the start of a nervous night for Democrats and one of sheer jubilation for Republicans across the country.
At around 3 AM GMT Ohio was called for Donald Trump, a significant win as the state has picked every election winner since 1964, and a particularly sweet victory as no Republican has won the White House without carrying the Buckeye State. Trump ran close in states which Barack Obama handily won twice, eventually eking out wins in Pennsylvania and Wisconsin around 6.30 AM following his 4 AM victory in North Carolina, to effectively rule out any path for Clinton to the White House. Rural voters turned out in droves for the New York Republican as a large percentage of minorities stayed home. Results showed Trump decisively getting the backing of white voters – including crucial support from college-educated whites in the south – but losing heavily among African-Americans, Asians and Latino voters who were turned off by his, at-times, divisive rhetoric.
As of 12 PM GMT, Trump had flipped Florida, Iowa, Maine’s 2nd congressional district, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin from the Democrats, with the race still too close to call in Michigan, Minnesota, Nebraska’s 2nd congressional district and New Hampshire. Trump holds narrow but sufficient leads in all four but Minnesota and is projected to narrowly win these three states with almost the entire vote counted. By the time Brits were waking up the race was all but over, with Hillary Clinton conceding to her Republican opponent at around 7 AM when it became crystal-clear that her firewall in Pennsylvania had been catastrophically breached and there remained no path for her to victory.
With almost 120 million votes counted, it’s Clinton who holds a narrow 200,000 vote or 0.2% lead over President-elect Trump, with this margin likely to grow and mirror the result of the infamous 2000 vote, when Al Gore won more votes but George W. Bush won the states which mattered most and became President. Trump currently sits on 289 electoral votes – 19 more than the 270 necessary to win – and with his likely wins in Michigan, New Hampshire and Nebraska’s 2nd congressional district which all have him ahead, it’s almost certain he will finish on 306 electoral votes, over 70 more than Clinton, the best showing for a Republican since George H. W. Bush won in 1988.
No polls on Monday and few pundits predicted a Donald Trump win, and going into Election Day the United States looked set to elect its first female president and leader of the free world. The Democrats’ vote collapsed in suburban areas of big cities which, along with a depressed turnout in the inner cities, allowed Trump to run up huge margins in rural areas which typically lean Republican and who turned out in droves to back him. Trump won states such as West Virginia, Kansas, Oklahoma and Arkansas – Bill Clinton’s home state and where Hillary was First Lady for eight years – by large double-digit margins in a complete middle America rout for the Republicans.
The presidential race was not the only bad news for Democrats on a night of near-epic misery for the party not seen for decades. Widely expected to win the Senate too, the Democrats had a terrible night as the Republicans held on to seats in Indiana, Missouri, North Carolina and Pennsylvania to win all three legislative branches – the House of Representatives, the Senate and the Presidency – for the first time since George W. Bush left office in January 2009. Stock markets are bracing for their worst day since 9/11 as financial centres across the world enter a highly volatile stage, with almost all traders not anticipating a Trump victory and unsure on what happens next.
No one knows what a Trump presidency will bring. America’s foreign policy will undoubtedly chart a new route; relations with Mexico, NATO, Russia and the Middle East will enter a new chapter. Domestically, the Affordable Care Act, which gave 20 million Americans healthcare for the first time, is almost certain to be dismantled, undoing one of President Obama’s most important pieces of legislation. The Supreme Court will almost certainly get more conservative, and the continued legalization of same-sex marriage and abortion is in jeopardy and controversial decisions such as Citizens United v. FEC almost certain to stand in a disaster for liberals nationwide.
Hillary Clinton was undoubtedly an untrusted and unpopular candidate for many Americans. But she banked on her proven track record, even more unpopular opponent and the support of the establishment to propel her to victory. But this support from the establishment turned out to be a poisoned chalice in an election where the American public clearly rejected and punished anything to do with a Washington they perceive as broken and corrupt. She simply chose the wrong election to run as a ‘normal’ candidate, and as a result Donald Trump will be the White House’s newest occupant on 20 January 2017. Who would’ve seen that happening this time yesterday?