Wow. He actually did it.
Donald Trump has defied the rules of political gravity once again. We watched him do it during the primaries, when he ran an unconventional campaign and defeated more than a dozen opponents who offered more experience and polish. We heard a lot of laughter from Democrats back then, cackling at Republicans for blowing the chance to put a solid candidate up against a deeply flawed one in Hillary Clinton. Some of us warned them not to get too cocky, not to assume the rules of political gravity would suddenly reimpose themselves again in the general election.
And boy, did those rules not do that.
As I write this, Trump is not only headed to victory — called by the Associated Press at 2:31 a.m. — but probably to the largest electoral-vote margin by a Republican since 1988. He promised to redraw the electoral map, and a lot of us scoffed at him. Guess what? He did it, breaking through the vaunted “blue wall” Democrats counted on to bail them out in case he hit a lucky streak in the purple states. It’s one thing for a Republican to win in Ohio. A Republican hadn’t won in Michigan or Pennsylvania since George H.W. Bush in 1988, hadn’t won in Wisconsin since Ronald Reagan in 1984. It appears as I write this that Trump will win all three.
And he didn’t just win. He won with coattails. Sen. Ron Johnson of Wisconsin was left for dead by the pollsters and pundits. He won. Ditto for Sen. Pat Toomey of Pennsylvania. Republican senators thought to be in trouble, such as Roy Blunt of Missouri and Richard Burr of North Carolina, won fairly comfortably. Depending on what happens in New Hampshire with Sen. Kelly Ayotte’s re-election bid, the GOP will end up with either 52 or 53 senators, down from its current level of 54. This, after having to defend 24 of the 34 seats up for grabs this cycle. The Republicans were set to lose only five seats from their sizable House majority, and even added to their already large majority of governorships.
The old adage holds that failure is an orphan, but success has a thousand fathers. For Democrats, the opposite is true. Clinton turned out to be a terrible candidate, saddled with baggage from a quarter-century in public life and her own unforced errors and poor judgment. Barack Obama has now lost three of the past four elections: 2010, 2014 and 2016. His prowess as a candidate is unquestionable, but as a campaigner for others he has never managed anything like that success. Democratic strategists’ decisions to try to expand the map by dabbling in places like Georgia and Arizona — while ignoring Michigan and Wisconsin for weeks and even months at a time — proved to be disastrous hubris. There are others, who will surely be brought forward for examination in the days to come.
So now what?
There will be a lot of shouting and hand-wringing; that was going to happen no matter who won. It is up to Trump, because of the nature of the office to which he’s been elected, to offer an olive branch to those Americans who didn’t support him. He did so in the wee hours of Wednesday morning, giving a speech with more graciousness than we have been accustomed to hearing from him:
“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. For those who have chosen not to support me in the past — of which there were 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. As I’ve said from the beginning, ours was not a campaign, but rather an incredible and great movement, made up of millions of hard-working men and women who love their country and want a better, brighter future for themselves and their family.”
It is up to us, in the name of the unity we say we want, to take that olive branch. And then we go from there.
Have no illusions that the next months and years will be easy. But have no illusions, either, that we mustn’t all have a hand in trying to make them easier. As I said last night on the live-blog thread: I will be rooting for Trump to prove me wrong about him. I invite you to join me.