'How could we be so wrong?': Clinton's stunning election loss floors supporters
Democratic nominee silent as John Podesta says campaign will have 'more to say tomorrow'
The polls were wrong. Nearly all of them. The victory party, it never materialized. But the repudiation was there — just not the repudiation that Hillary Clinton had been calling for.
Weeks of build-up toward an anticipated win for the Democratic presidential nominee evaporated in the wee hours of Wednesday morning. It was replaced with shock as Clinton faced an astonishing disappointment: She had lost the 2016 presidential election, despite being the most qualified candidate ever to run for the office, to Republican nominee Donald Trump, a man who has never held public office of any kind.
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Clinton was a no-show at her election-night headquarters in New York City, but made her concession speech at midday Wednesday.
As her fate became clearer shortly before 2 a.m. ET, with major networks projecting Trump would claim the toss-up state of Pennsylvania, her campaign chairman, John Podesta, walked out to address supporters gather at the Javits Center.
"We're not going to have anything more to say tonight," Podesta told the crowd, speaking under the convention hall's 6,000-pane glass ceiling, a bit of architectural whimsy that was meant to play as a metaphor for the first woman reaching the highest political office in the land.
But there was no symbolic breaking through the glass ceiling on Tuesday.
"Listen to me," Podesta said. "Everybody should head home. You should get some sleep. We'll have more to say tomorrow."
Teaching the establishment a lesson
Shortly before 3 a.m. ET, Clinton, who had made a case for national unity and a promise that America could be "stronger together," phoned president-elect Trump to offer her congratulations following perhaps the most divisive, acrimonious and surprising campaign in modern U.S. history.
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The pundits were right in at least one respect. This was a change election, and the American electorate made it clear they want Trump to be that agent of change. Even if it means a darker vision of America that, if Trump's campaign proclamations are to be believed, would see a ban on Syrian refugees and the deportation of around 11 million undocumented immigrants.
To me, it seems like a lashing out, like they wanted to teach the establishment a lesson.- Mac Stipanovich , Republican strategist
"This says something about the disaffected, about the angry element of the electorate," said Republican strategist Mac Stipanovich, who said he was shocked to see Trump triumph in a number of vital battlegrounds — North Carolina, Ohio, and Stipanovich's own state of Florida.
"To me, it seems like a lashing out, like they wanted to teach the establishment a lesson. It says something significant about how many people are angry at the status quo."
And there was arguably no more status quo of a candidate than Clinton, who has been portrayed as an ultimate Washington insider, having been a former first lady, New York senator and secretary of state in President Barack Obama's first term.
To her supporters, that resumé was an attribute. To her detractors, it was proof that in 30 years of public life, she had little to show for it.
The enthusiasm gap
Pollsters and election forecasters favoured Clinton, with most giving her leads of between two and 11 percentage points on election day.
But her campaign had fretted for months about an enthusiasm gap while Trump's backers crowed about a "silent majority" that didn't identify itself in polls but would show up en masse on election day to "drain the swamp" that is Washington, D.C.
Outside the White House around 1 a.m. ET Wednesday, a raucous crowd climbed trees and led chants of "U-S-A! U-S-A!" as some called for the fence along Pennsylvania Avenue, blocking access to the White House, to be razed. Calls of "Donald Trump! Donald Trump!" broke out as tearful Clinton supporters embraced nearby.
The combination of losing the House, the Senate and the presidential race, especially when we have to still fill a Supreme Court seat, it's shocking.- Leelabeth Cronkhite , 20
"I think it's heartbreaking on a lot of different levels, " said Madeleine Hamerski, 20, a student at George Washington University in D.C. "I get emotional just thinking about it."
Her friend and fellow university student Leelabeth Cronkhite, 20, agreed that it was a devastating blow not just for her candidate but also for the Democratic Party.
"The combination of losing the House, the Senate and the presidential race, especially when we have to still fill a Supreme Court seat, it's shocking," she said.
The scene in front of the White House right now <a href="https://t.co/hyQQUIvkRU">pic.twitter.com/hyQQUIvkRU</a>—@matt_kwong
Even Trump supporters seemed incredulous at the stunning upset.
"I told them, there's no way. I'm shocked. I'm shocked," said Jack Kocsis, 23, who came to Pennsylvania Avenue wearing a hat emblazoned with Trump's signature slogan: Make America Great Again.
"I mean, I said Trump's not going to win, no way — and I voted for him."
"F--k Trump! Bitch!" a woman called at him, raising her middle finger as she walked by.
In the end, blue-collar America rejected Clinton decisively in key battleground states, which sent a signal that they did not want a continuation of Obama's progressive policies.
"It's stunning, I can't think of another word for it. It's an incredible outcome," said Geoffrey Skelley, a political analyst and associate editor for the site Sabato's Crystal Ball.
I'm floored. Basically, everyone in my business looks really terrible right now.- Geoffrey Skelley , political analyst
"I'm floored. Basically, everyone in my business looks really terrible right now. I think the Democrats did everything they could in terms of operations and logistics."
That included a laser focus on states with early voting, such as Florida and Ohio. But Clinton failed to capture Upper Midwest areas such as Wisconsin as well as Michigan, which was projected to go to Trump. Clinton didn't campaign in Wisconsin, likely thinking of it as a safe bet, and miscalculating how it might end up helping to swing the election.
Good campaigning not enough
"Enough people in the country wanted change, and Clinton was the opposite of change," Skelley said. "It's one thing to have a great campaign, but if you're not inspiring people to turn out for you, particularly in an important part of the Democratic coalition like African-Americans, you can do all the logistics you want, but it's not going to turn out for you in the end."
Clinton's support was also undermined by questions about her stamina and health in the last months of the campaign, questions fuelled by an alt-right movement trafficking in conspiracy theories. The speculation was made worse by Clinton's own penchant for secrecy and the eventual revelation that she had a brief and mild spell of "walking pneumonia" in September.
Other controversies seemed to materialize at inopportune times.
A steady drip of WikiLeaks documents, believed to have been posted by Russian hackers, appeared to reveal excerpts from Clinton's paid speeches to Wall Street and other financial interest groups.
Her loss came two days after the FBI announced that a second, newly discovered batch of emails would not warrant criminal charges against her after reviewing the electronic transmissions.
The people doing the polls really screwed it up.- David Sadih , 21, Clinton supporter
FBI head James Comey outraged Democrats when he announced a new probe into Clinton's emails just a week before Election Day after the bureau had already cleared Clinton of criminal wrongdoing in July over her mishandling of classified information on a private email server.
By early Wednesday that outrage had materialized into disappointment and disbelief along Pennsylvania Avenue in Washington, where some Clinton supporters had gathered.
Leaving an election-night party with friends, Jan Gonzalez, 21, shrieked in frustration. Her friend David Sadih, 21, said they were all in "a state of disbelief."
"The people doing the polls really screwed it up. It's like, how could we be so wrong?" he said.