Donald Trump, who went from unthinkable to unlikely to competitive in the period since he announced a run for president in mid-2015, has now gone all the way: Winner.
His victory writes a new and stunning chapter in American politics. No one in modern times has ever emerged from the fringes of the political system to win all the marbles in the presidential election. Nor has anyone with such a thin résumé in public life — he has never held public office before, nor served in the military — has ever won the White House.
The losers, still stunned, must acknowledge that Mr. Trump managed to read the mood of much of the country better than they did, tapping into the frustrations of people who had come to believe that the government was no longer working on their behalf or even understood their problems.
Hillary Clinton was so tantalizingly close. It seemed to be her time, but, as in 2008, it was not. She was the adult in the race, the experienced policy wonk, the former secretary of State, the challenged, flawed, but ultimately right person to be America’s commander in chief.
But more than half of voting Americans did not see it that way. She endured unending scrutiny and investigation. She stood up to the over-the-top insults branding her “crooked” and a “liar.” But she remained true to herself – not flashy, wonkish and affable. She made the best case for her candidacy during the debates. She did so well, that it took a dirty trick from the FBI to slow her roll.
This election winds up no less historic, given Mr. Trump’s incursion from left field, but a no-go as far as installing the first woman in the White House.
He could see, where others could not, that the disdain of so many working-class Americans for globalism, increased immigration — and, above all, for Washington's gridlock and the failure of the government to deal with the effects of a changing economy that left so many behind — could work for an outsider like him. And he was right.
That he could do this where others in his party could not speaks well for his political instincts. But that he could do it at the expense so many of the values America supposedly holds dear – tolerance, civility, constitutional rights – speaks so poorly of his political character.
He won office by ignoring the advice of party elders and anyone whose own ideas and beliefs did not match his own.
As he strolled to victory, he exposed some painful realities Tuesday night:
Reality No. 1
President Obama and first lady Michelle Obama’s energetic campaigning did not have the crucial impact needed to clearly and convincingly push Ms. Clinton over the finish line.
Reality No 2
Did Hispanics and women really turn against Mr. Trump? If they voted in higher numbers than ever, for whom did they vote?
Reality No. 3
It’s clear that national pollsters are out of step with the electorate. Period. For a second presidential election, pollster missed the mark in predicting a candidate’s chances and the pulse of the nation; obviously exit polls have become archaic.
Reality No. 4
Apropos of Reality No. 3, a lot more of our relatives, friends and neighbors were voting for Mr. Trump than they let on.
Reality No. 5
To some degree, independent candidates, mainly Gary Johnson, played the role of spoiler for the losing candidate, just as Ralph Nader did in 2000?
The question now is what he does with the power that has been handed to him by American voters.
His style of campaigning — insulting and belittling rivals in his own party during the primaries, and threatening to jail his competitor in the general election — was needlessly, recklessly venomous. He demonized his fellow Americans – African Americans and Muslim Americans, Hispanic Americans and women. If he chooses to govern in the same fashion as he campaigned, guided only by his own impulses and beliefs, he will risk creating more division, not only in his own party, but in the country as well.
Elections are by their nature divisive, and this election has been more divisive than most. Mr. Trump's campaign exploited those divisions expertly on his way to an electoral triumph. But running a country is vastly different from running a campaign. Governing is about bringing people together, and Mr. Trump has yet to show that he can do that.
Success in governing comes to those who manage to unite rather than divide. This is a task that has eluded even those who have entered the White House with greater levels of public goodwill than Mr. Trump can claim at the end of most bitter campaign in recent American history.
In most of the key states that gave him victory, Mr. Trump barely managed to win with narrow majorities or pluralities. That points the way to his challenge. He is unlikely succeed in governing if he does not make an effort to show that he is prepared to listen to others, to compromise, and to be president of all the people.
Now, we all have a stake in his success in doing so.