“Ours was not a campaign, but rather an incredible and great movement,” Trump said. It was, he added, “a movement comprised of Americans from all races, religions, backgrounds, and beliefs, who want and expect our government to serve the people, and serve the people it will.”
He assembled a coterie of castoffs and has-beens (the fearmongering former New York mayor; the criminally implicated governor of New Jersey). Most in his own party’s professional class recoiled from his crudely divisive appeals, his appalling behavior. Staffers refused to work for him; elected leaders held him at arm’s length. To his many opponents, he was a dilettante and a fraud, but also a monster and a demagogue, someone to be feared and mocked. His own party, tasked with helping him win, believed to the end that he would lose.
He showed them all.
He broke the pollsters’ models. He redrew the electoral map. He smashed the smug certainties of the arrogant prognosticators. Just as he had in the primary, he changed the axis of politics as we knew it, from a contest of left versus right to one about open versus closed, in versus out, up versus down. And the forgotten and discarded people heard someone speaking to them for the first time they could remember, and they thronged his raucous rallies by the thousands. On Tuesday, they proved they mattered.
Jerry Falwell Jr., the Liberty University president whose embrace of Trump was widely criticized by other evangelical Christian leaders, dubbed it “Trexit,” an analogy with Britain’s similarly shocking vote in a June referendum to leave the European Union. “What we’ve seen this year is a peaceful revolution by the American people, the common man, to take the country back from the elitists and the establishment—and it’s badly needed,” Falwell said.
Trump also embraced the parallel, telling his rallies in the final weeks of the campaign that the election would be “Brexit-plus-plus-plus” or “Brexit times 50.” At the time, this was seen as a flailing candidate grasping at straws as his chances narrowed. It turned out to be true.
Trump’s victory decimated and demoralized the Democrats, who had put their faith in the destiny of demographics and the false god of campaign tactics, neither of which proved reliable. Republicans won the presidency for the first time in 12 years and retained the House and Senate. But Trump also has reordered the GOP around a new set of priorities—restricting immigration, limiting free trade, and a transactional rather than idealistic approach to the world. “The message to the Republican Party is it got too country-club-driven, too affectionate with lobbyists, too cut off from ordinary men and women,” Representative Peter King, a Republican from Long Island, said.
Early in the night, as the crowd inside the ballroom impatiently chanted “U-S-A,” the conservative commentator George Will, who left the Republican Party rather than side with Trump, appeared on Fox News, which was blaring from big screens in the hall. “This is not the center-right country that Republicans supposed,” he said, perplexedly.