It’s hard to pinpoint a particular moment when the winds begin to change, but in hindsight I’d say it was when the faces on the screen at the Javits Center started to show alarm, a bit of human-like surprise
The streets around Donald J. Trump’s election-night headquarters at Manhattan’s Midtown Hilton are crackling with excitement. Inside, thousands of supporters have gathered to cheer on their hero. Just miles away, at the Javits Center, Hillary Clinton’s supporters huddle in expectation. Tonight, these might be the most consequential few miles in all the world.
I’m not the only one who looks a bit bewildered at Trump HQ: the campaign-staff members are young and still raw. The top Trump staffers, on the other hand, are skilled and practiced. As a gaggle of cameramen follow them, they deliver their lines with bluster and confidence, predicting their candidate’s win.
Behind them, however, massive screens rain down numbers and graphs like confetti: a record turnout, unprecedented Hispanic involvement. Another worry: There is excitement in the Hillary camp, the major networks say. The Trump faithful remain undaunted, doubling down; there are millions who haven’t yet voted, they insist, and plenty of time still left. It’s barely seven o’clock.
It’s being billed as a victory party and the Wi-Fi code is DJT4thewin. But I’ll be honest: during the slow first few hours, I take advantage of the quiet to write a magazine feature about Trump’s impending loss.
It’s hard to pinpoint a particular moment when the winds begin to change, but in hindsight I’d say it was when the faces on the screen at the Javits Center started to show alarm, a bit of human-like surprise. Florida, the talking heads keep saying, is still neck and neck. If he holds on, he has a path.
“Build a wall,” calls out someone on the floor, but he’s quickly shushed. The mood here isn’t stadium rally but upscale dinner, well-heeled friends and associates of the candidate on hand. There are many, many young people, along with a few of the “deplorables,” the bikers and unemployed steel-workers who were the target of Clinton’s rhetoric during the bitter campaign. There is a sense that something historic and very significant is happening.
I listen to a small group in conversation.
Lou Rinaldi of Westchester shows me his phone, a picture of him and Donald Trump playing golf two weeks ago. “He’s an old friend of mine, and we often golf. This time, he looked at me and said, ‘You know I’m going to win. The polls know nothing. I see the people. I love this country and I want to help them.’ ” Rinaldi, a gray-haired Italian, pauses. “If you know Donald Trump, you know to take him seriously. He’s got it.”
I catch up with David Friedman, the Woodmere lawyer who’s been advising Trump on Israel issues for the last few months. Friedman hasn’t been Trump’s lawyer in years.
“It was a business relationship,” he tells me, “but it became a friendship, and we chatted often — more often than not about Israel and Jewish issues. He’s super bright and likes to gather opinions. What can I tell you, I feel like I found a new life… I’m thrilled to have been able to play a role in crafting the [Republican] platform, and I’d be honored to continue to serve with him.”
Jason Greenblatt, chief counsel of the Trump Organization and another confidant, especially on Israel issues, shares the excitement. “If he gets in, then there’s so much good he could do. I think she would be bad for Israel, and he would be a positive force.”
As the night goes on, cheers rise — at first cautious, then more exuberant. Each state’s results bring a fresh round of applause. His chief staffers are giving interviews, not discussing victory but reiterating the same point: whatever happens, he was proven right. The people liked his message. There is a forgotten America for whom he speaks. The pollsters know nothing.
A young man grabs his friend and says, “Oh my, we’re moving to DC!”
I delete my first piece and start to write a new one.
Like a discarded balloon that suddenly gets air and rises, the mood lifts. The balloon is rising with a steam of inevitability pushing it, state after state falling into place.
Even as the people on the floor — donors, Republican loyalists and guests — look as if they are in a daze, I’m amazed at how many in Trump’s inner circle seem to have expected this. It’s in the media pen that there’s genuine shock.
“To be honest,” says an anchorman to my right, “I came into this evening in suspense: would Trump be conciliatory in defeat or combative? But this? I never…”
Bruce Levell, an African-American friend of the president-elect, the director of the Diversity Coalition for Trump — an umbrella group of minorities — tells me about having been at Trump Tower earlier today. “I was in his office, he was cool. He knew this was coming. And he also knows that now, he’s got to mend fences with part of the nation. It’s been an acrimonious few months. His way is always to deal with it and move on. Get ready for his speech.”
The numbers seem locked for a tense period, midnight coming and going with 254 electoral votes for Trump. People in the ballroom are growing restless, eager to hear about one more state, the win that will seal the deal for this unlikely candidate.
Michigan and Pennsylvania appear to be neck and neck, and the atmosphere is surreal: at this point, everyone in the room believes he will win, and the anxiety and desperation for hard numbers is tangible.
Trump himself, apparently, is eager to arrive at the Hilton already. But until the race is called, he cannot. He needn’t worry about the crowd: it’s huge, getting larger by the moment.
A senior Republican staffer tells me about a promising start. Speaker Paul Ryan called the president-elect to congratulate him and the two had a “great” conversation. They committed to use this surge of support and power, one that few thought possible, in the right way.
Outside the hotel, there is a sea of red caps, young people wanting to be part of history, to touch the moment.
And then the election is called, one network after another declaring Trump the winner, and the candidate arrives. Tears fill the ballroom. Trump is gracious in victory, personally thanking his biggest supporters, reaching out to those who opposed him.
A top aide tells me this is good news for Israel. Watch Trump move the embassy to Jerusalem, he says. Of one thing we can be sure: the Israeli government is happy tonight.
November 8th, 2016. A stunning upset, according to the New York Times headline. Hillary Clinton’s victory party, slated for the Peninsula Hotel just down the block from Trump Tower, has been cancelled. Whatever this new era brings — something big has certainly happened.
My Uber driver smiles sadly. “I didn’t vote for Trump. I don’t like him. But maybe it will be good, right?”
(Originally featured in Mishpacha, Issue 634)
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