Shortly after 3 p.m. on November 8, Donald Trump walked into the war room on the 14th floor of Trump Tower and received rousing cheers from his staff. While virtually the entire media Establishment was predicting Hillary Clinton was on track to win the election, Trump’s team remained “nervous but optimistic,” in the words of one adviser, that their man would pull off a historic victory. According to the adviser, Florida governor Rick Scott had assured Team Trump that the campaign would “squeak it out” in the Sunshine State. “This election is about winning one state,” Rudy Giuliani told me. “If you win Florida, the rest will fall into place.”
And it did. A few minutes before 11 p.m., the Associated Press called Florida for Trump and the trajectory of the race fundamentally tilted in Trump’s direction. “Humility to Euphoria,” Trump campaign manager Kellyanne Conway texted me shortly after the state fell to Trump. “Our plan was to protect our core four: Iowa, Florida, North Carolina, and Ohio,” she later said. “When we protected the core four and saw the numbers in Wisconsin, we thought we could win.”
Despite Trumpworld’s confidence in the numbers, the candidate himself was anxious. Trump watched the returns from his Trump Tower penthouse. “He was humble to the very end,” Conway recalled. “He kept saying, ‘We didn’t get it done yet.’ Even when the New York Times had us projected at a 50 percent chance of winning, and then 70 percent, and then 90 percent, he said, ‘It’s not done yet.’”
Around 2 a.m., Trump’s advisers heard that Clinton campaign chairman John Podesta was headed to the Javits Center to address devastated Clinton supporters. “We thought that was odd,” Conway said. “So we said let’s go to a holding room” — at the Hilton — “and we can hunker down and watch the returns from there.”
Trump’s advisers arrived at the Hilton and waited for Fox News to call the election. Around 2:30 a.m., Conway’s cell phone rang. It was Huma Abedin calling on behalf of her boss, Hillary Clinton. She was ready to concede. “Hi, Kellyanne, it’s Huma. Is Mr. Trump available?” Abedin said, according to Conway. Conway passed the phone. Conway recalled Trump’s end of the conversation: “He said, ‘You’re a smart, tough lady and you ran a great campaign. Thank you for calling. I respect you.’” Conway said they spoke for about a minute.
Fox News called the election for Trump a few minutes later. Howls of “Fuck, man! … We the president, bro!” erupted from a throng of broad-shouldered 20-somethings standing near me.
Trump’s speech was notable for its un-Trump-ian magnanimity (also for his conspicuously not thanking Jared Kushner during his praising of the staff). Conway told me the speech reflected Trump’s desire to reach out. “We’re going to rely on President Obama and Secretary Clinton as we transition and form a government,” she said.
Despite Trump’s effort at outreach, an air of vengeance was palpable last night. There were, of course, the chants of “Lock her up!” from the crowd. Megyn Kelly got booed several times when she appeared on screens around the room. One senior Trump aide emailed me: “I told you: revolt.”
Giuliani seemed to take particular delight in Clinton’s loss. “Maybe the Clinton chapter is over now,” he told me. “They brought enough scandal and disgrace to America and enough disgrace to the presidency … what else would they like to do?” When I asked Giuliani if he would prosecute Hillary as attorney general in a Trump administration, he said, “No comment on what I’m going to do in the future, and I’d never comment on a case.” Alabama senator Jeff Sessions, one of Trump’s earliest backers, said the only opposition to Trump is among elites: “Where’s there’s hostility is in the mainstream media, big business, and among George Soros and his globalist crowd — those people are getting hammered.”
For her part, Conway seemed to take pleasure in the collective failure of the American polling profession, of which she is a member. “At least one pollster in America was right,” she said.