Donald John Trump rode his phenom candidacy into the White House on Tuesday, triumphantly amassing an extraordinary national coalition of voters who embraced his populist message of upending the political establishment to be elected the 45th president of the United States.
Florida set the stage for his stunning upset, offering results early in the night that showed the Republican outperforming Democrat Hillary Clinton in the nation’s largest battleground state, where a loss would have ended all of his hopes for the presidency.
Then came cascading wins in Ohio, North Carolina, Pennsylvania — and the clincher, Wisconsin.
After hours of waiting though the result seemed inevitable, Trump made his way to his election party at the New York Hilton Midtown, where at 2:50 a.m. he gave a conciliatory victory speech as president-elect a few minutes after Clinton had telephoned to concede.
“It’s time for America to bind the wounds of division, to get together,” said Trump, who was flanked by his family and Vice President-elect Mike Pence. “To all Republicans and Democrats and independents across this nation, I say it is time for us to come together as one united people. It’s time.
“I pledge to every citizen of our land that I will be president for all Americans — and this is so important to me,” Trump continued. “For those who have chosen not to support me in the past — of which there are a few people — I’m reaching out to you for your guidance and your help so that we can work together and unify our great country.”
Trump, a 70-year-old New York celebrity real-estate developer with no political or military experience, congratulated Clinton “on a very, very hard-fought campaign.” Throughout the night, the crowd had broken into repeated chants of “Lock her up!”
“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,” he said. “I mean that very sincerely.”
Keeping to the off-script style that made him so endearing to so many voters, Trump offered an aside or two — “This political stuff is nasty, and it’s tough” — and even asked national GOP Chairman Reince Priebus to briefly take the stage.
“Every single American will have the opportunity to realize his or her fullest potential. The forgotten men and women of our country will be forgotten no longer,” Trump pledged. “We must reclaim our country’s destiny and dream big and bold and daring.... I promise that we will not let you down.”
He walked off stage less than 20 minutes later, to the same song he played to end his campaign rallies: the Rolling Stones’ “You Can’t Always Get What You Want.” His walk-on song? The theme from the movie “Air Force One.”
Clinton conceded moments after her campaign chairman, John Podesta, had said under the glimmering glass ceiling of the Jacob K. Javits Convention Center in New York that she wouldn’t speak on Election Night because “they’re still counting votes.” Wisconsin was called for Trump shortly after.
Clinton, a 69-year-old former first lady, New York senator and secretary of state who hoped to become the first female president less than a century after American women won the right to vote, had seemed poised to make history heading into Tuesday. But as it had for the past 17 months of an astonishing campaign, everything that had to go Trump’s way, did.
Jubilant cheers swept through Trump’s party each time another state was declared Republican red on the Fox News Channel. Hundreds of Trump supporters, who called themselves the “silent majority,” wore the candidate’s signature “Make America Great Again” baseball caps as they jumped up and down, exchanged high-fives and hugged.
“The closet Trump supporters came through. We’ve seen that effect in Florida, North Carolina, Ohio,” said 19-year-old Mark Pawelec, a finance student at Rutgers University. “It really is a movement.”
Pawelec’s friend, Alec Hershberger, called Trump “refreshingly anti-establishment.”
“Hillary is the status quo,” Hershberger said.
Trump entered the race almost as an afterthought, the day after former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, at the time considered the man to beat. Sixteen other Republican political veterans, including Florida Sen. Marco Rubio, vied for the GOP nomination.
They — and much of the news media — ignored Trump at their peril as he notched victory after victory in the primary, reshaping the Republican Party and redrawing a national political map that, under President Barack Obama, had favored the candidate who could best assemble a broad, diverse coalition.
Clinton, like Trump a deeply flawed and disliked nominee, brought most of Obama’s voters together. But she struggled among young people and never ignited the same sort of excitement as Obama or as her primary opponent, Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders.
White voters, the majority of the electorate, usually split in national elections. This time, they appeared to vote as a more unified bloc, even after Trump tumbled in polls last month following the revelation of a video in which he boasted of grabbing women without their consent. About a dozen women then publicly accused Trump of sexual misconduct.
In purple Florida, a state Obama carried twice, Clinton took the votes cast early by mail and in person. But Trump bested her in Election Day votes, and the state was called shortly before 11 p.m.
He edged Clinton by 1.4 percentage points in the state, thanks to record support in staunchly red media markets, such as Jacksonville and Fort Myers, and in rural areas. His biggest strength, though, came from bellwether Tampa: Despite losing the city itself, Trump posted robust numbers in the Tampa suburbs and exurbs.
In essence, Trump won big in places where, four years ago, Mitt Romney won small. And it added up.
In the Tampa area, Trump led Clinton and her running mate, Virginia Sen. Tim Kaine, by about 223,000 votes, more than three times the margin of Romney’s victory over Obama. Trump closed the gap on Clinton in solidly blue Palm Beach and Tallahassee. He flipped the Orlando area from blue to red.
Trump trailed Clinton the most — by some 572,000 votes, an even bigger margin than Obama had over Romney — in the Miami media market, the state’s largest, which comprises Miami-Dade, Broward and Monroe counties.
The third-party tickets of Libertarian Gary Johnson and Green Party candidate Jill Stein had collected nearly 269,000 votes in Florida. Clinton lost Florida to Trump by about 128,000 votes.
After being plagued by long lines in 2012, Election Day 2016 in South Florida generally ran smoothly. Most voters cast their ballots through the mail or during early voting. Lines on Tuesday were short, and outside of some complaints about mail ballots never being received, relatively few hiccups were reported.
Miami-Dade, the only county Trump lost in the March 15 Florida presidential primary, came close to reporting 1 million cast ballots, after breaking its 2012 record of 888,033. Broward also surpassed its 2012 record of 827,385.
Trump, like Clinton, visited Florida — his second home, as he likes to say — more than any other state after the summer’s nominating conventions, campaigning in Republican Sarasota as late as Monday. He owns a lavish estate, Mar-a-Lago, in Palm Beach, and golf resorts in Jupiter and Doral.
In Florida, where Clinton far outspent Trump in political advertising, Trump relied not on a traditional field operation built by his own staff, but rather on the Republican National Committee, which laid groundwork in the state for three years.
Clinton boasted a robust network of 81 state offices, working in coordination with the national and state Democratic parties. But the GOP insisted — and ultimately showed — it didn’t need brick-and-mortar offices to reach its voters.
Early Tuesday afternoon, Republicans noted they trailed Democrats going into Election Day in Florida by 78,000 fewer ballots cast than they did in 2012.
Clinton, who last campaigned in Florida on Saturday, called into radio shows in the state Tuesday, as did her daughter, Chelsea Clinton; Kaine, President Obama, First Lady Michelle Obama and Vice President Joe Biden.
But in Florida, one of the states most traumatized by the 2008 economic recession, voters said they saw Trump as a refreshing truth-teller.
“He is honest,” said Florin Bucutea, a 57-year-old Republican and financial adviser who emigrated from Romania 37 years ago. He cast his ballot for Trump on Tuesday morning at the Coral Ridge Mall in Fort Lauderdale: “He will change this country.”
South Florida drove a Hispanic surge, likely propelled by Trump’s brash anti-immigrant talk, that seemed like it would nudge the state in Clinton’s direction. No-party-affiliated Hispanics who made up much of the uptick tended to lean Democratic, according to public-opinion polls.
“Trump is against immigrants,” said 18-year-old Erick Rodriguez, who voted for Clinton at Robert King High Towers in Little Havana. His parents, Honduran immigrants with temporary protected status, are “scared to see who wins,” he added: “If Trump wins, they’ll probably get deported.”
“This guy is like a ticking time bomb — he has no filter,” said his brother, 23-year-old Kevin Nunez. “It’s all about power for him.”
Most polls, however, showed Florida remained a tossup heading into Election Day. The record early turnout made it difficult for political analysts to accurately predict what each candidate’s margins needed to be to clinch the state. About 74 percent of Florida’s 12.9 million registered voters cast ballots.
Tuesday’s results served as a reminder that Florida has more white voters than minority voters. And whites made up the core of Trump’s base.
Many said they just couldn’t trust Clinton, a figure they’ve known from her decades in the public eye. Her candidacy was marred by a scandal over emails she kept on a private server as secretary of state, which prompted an FBI investigation that twice closed without any criminal charges.
And in Miami, home to the nation’s most conservative Hispanics, many of them were willing to give Trump a chance.
“He’s a little bit of a crazy talker, but he’s against disorder, not against Latinos,” said María Suárez, a 71-year-old originally from the Dominican Republic who cast her ballot at E.W.F. Stirrup Elementary School in Little Havana. “No one is perfect. We’ve got to give him an opportunity to see if there’s change.”
Miami Herald staff writers Jordan Levin, Amy Sherman and David Smiley contributed to this report from Miami, as did el Nuevo Herald staff writer Nora Gámez Torres. Robertson reported from New York.