NEW YORK — Donald J. Trump will be the 45th president of the United States, the Associated Press projected Wednesday. He will be the first person to hold the office despite having no prior political or military experience.
The AP officially called the race for Trump at 2:31 a.m. ET.
The Republican nominee’s victory over Hillary Clinton marks a stunning upset that neither the polls nor the pundits saw coming. But Trump, defiant to the end, insisted he would win despite burning bridges with key voting groups and even many Republicans. In winning, Trump upended almost every norm of American politics and apparently changed the shape of the Republican Party.
He spent the final three weeks of his once-unlikely White House bid railing against a “rigged” election, alleging without evidence that voter fraud would be widespread. Trump even hinted at the idea of not conceding the race if he lost, jokingly promising to accept the results of the election “if I win.”
But the brash billionaire also predicted that he would shock the establishment and said his campaign would be “Brexit Plus Plus,” a reference to Britain’s exit from the European Union, which also was not forecast in the polls. And in the end, to borrow one of Trump’s favorite expressions, he did indeed exceed expectations “big league.”
“They all told it wrong from day number one,” Michael Cohen, a longtime Trump adviser and Trump Organization attorney, told Yahoo News.
“America is going to see the change that it deeply needs and they’re going to have a leader a real leader,” Cohen added.
Trump spent the night huddled with family and friends, watching the returns inside the Hilton Hotel in Midtown Manhattan, where one Trump campaign source initially said some allies expected him to lose and were simply hoping he would outperform Mitt Romney’s showing in the 2012 presidential race. But as the night wore on, the Trump team became more optimistic and began to think the celebrity businessman had a chance, based on razor-thin margins in battleground states. After Ohio was called for Trump, the same source predicted that even the Democrats might also be changing their assessments of Trump’s chances.
Trump’s campaign manager, Kellyanne Conway, described a jubilant atmosphere in his war room in a text to Yahoo News before Trump was projected the winner.
“Absolutely buoyant. We can smell the win,” Conway said.
The crowd that waited to see Trump speak in a ballroom at the Hilton cheered each time a state was called for him. (Unsurprisingly, the television monitors at the event were showing Fox News, the cable news network favored by conservatives on which Trump had appeared often.)
“I had hoped for this,” a second Trump campaign source said. “I knew there was a chance for this, but I gave it a 30 percent chance. I thought we would come up just short.”
Polls had widely shown Trump to be an underdog against Clinton, the Democratic nominee who faced a series of questions over her use of a private email server and how her family foundation interacted with the State Department during her tenure as secretary of state. But those polls were apparently wrong.
Shortly before 2 a.m., Clinton campaign chairman John Podesta appeared on stage at the Javits Center in Manhattan, telling Clinton’s supporters that the candidate would not be appearing.
“We’re not going to have anything more to say tonight,” Podesta told the crowd. “We’ll have more to say tomorrow.”
Podesta added: “We are so proud of you, and we are so proud of her.”
Clinton had enjoyed a double-digit lead over Trump in national polls following the presidential debates, but she saw that cushion evaporate after FBI Director James Comey set off a political firestorm 10 days before Election Day. Comey said newly discovered emails related to the investigation were being reviewed, and Trump started predicting that she would be indicted. On Sunday, Comey said a review of those emails did not change his position that Clinton should not face criminal prosecution.
The results indicated that Trump outperformed expectations among working-class whites, forming a coalition of states that few thought possible when the campaign began. Meanwhile, Clinton underperformed among college-educated and young white women.
In the end, Clinton failed to overcome the showman, who gobbled up thousands of hours of free airtime on cable news by making a series of controversial and improbable promises, like a pledge to build a wall along the southern border of the U.S. and a promise to “shut down” Muslim immigration. Trump also stayed in the spotlight by fighting a series of feuds and raging against the media. And despite Clinton’s strong performance in the presidential debates, in which she goaded Trump into gaffes and kept the focus squarely on his shortcomings, she could not translate those performances into votes.
Trump’s election is already sending shock waves through the political system because it signals a repudiation of establishment politicians that, to many voters, the Clintons represent. The property magnate and former “Celebrity Apprentice” host, one of the most unconventional major-party candidates in U.S. history, had vowed to “drain the swamp” of Washington, D.C. He derided many of the leaders he’ll likely now need to work with, such as House Speaker Paul Ryan and many other congressional Republicans.
It also remains to be seen if president-elect Trump will be able to heal the country’s sharp political divisions, some of which were sparked by his campaign.
But the Queens, N.Y.-born Trump, 70, will have to face all of those challenges and more when he is inaugurated in January.