NEW YORK ― There was no moment where things turned, no moment when their luck changed, no moment when it appeared that they just might actually pull this one out. The revelers at Donald Trump’s election party at the New York Hilton Midtown never doubted that their guy would come away with a W. To hear them tell it, it was the media that was wrong to be skeptical about Trump’s chances.
It turns out they were right.
“I think he’s going to pull this out,” John Antoniello of Staten Island predicted, saying around 7:30 p.m. that he thought Michigan and Pennsylvania would swing to Trump.
“There’s a silent majority in this country that finally got mad,” echoed John from Greenwich, Connecticut, who asked that his surname not be printed. “[Trump]’s going to win and America’s going to be great again.”
From the get-go, the party did not feel like a fete for a man who, according to virtually every projection, was expected to lose. Guests freely handed over $10 for domestic beers at the event’s cash bars, snapped selfies next to a lifelike Trump cake, cheered with undiminished vigor as Fox News reported early returns in red states like West Virginia, Indiana and Kentucky and booed reports from blue ones like Vermont and Illinois.
The feeling of inevitability only grew as the evening progressed, and the crowd’s excitement and restlessness snowballed as Tuesday turned into Wednesday. Conservative darlings like Project Vertias’ James O’Keefe, Trump spokeswoman Katrina Pierson and conservative journalists and performance artist Chuck Johnson remained glued to Fox News while alt-right star Milo Yiannopoulos posed for photographs with adoring Young Republicans in their sharpest suits and skirts.
Chants of “CALL IT! CALL IT!” erupted as Fox News, which was piped in on dozens of screens and speakers, refused to name Trump the winner even into the early hours of Wednesday. “We know she doesn’t like Trump. We know,” one attendee groused after host Megyn Kelly mentioned the numerous accusations of sexual misconduct against Trump.
“They underestimated him,” Frank Finocchio from Brooklyn said of the media. “You can’t always go by the polls, the polls are not always 100 percent right.”
“I think people are tired of the government ― all the games they play,” said Walter Gallego of New York City, who said he was drawn to Trump’s rhetoric about immigration. “I think people are tired of her lies, her cheating and all the scandals going on.”
Lots was made Tuesday about Trump being elevated to the presidency by white voters who felt alienated from America’s transforming political, economic and cultural power bases. The attendees at Trump’s rally, however, did not seem terribly alienated. The crowd, groomed and dressed to the nines, seemed to be more acquainted with Trump’s Mar-A-Lago than the “economic anxiety,” that has became the centerpiece of umpteen different thinkpieces this cycle.
Indeed, the often violent energy that became so commonplace on the campaign trail was largely, though not entirely, absent. There weren’t any “Trump that bitch” T-shirts or regular threats against journalists, but chants of “lock her up!” punctuated the evening.
For all the tension and hostility directed at the press this election, the attendees were surprisingly kind to The Huffington Post. With the exception of a few scowls, they were forthcoming and happy to discuss their enthusiasm for their candidate.
After Steve Hantler of West Bloomfield, Michigan, finished talking about the media’s “cockiness and arrogance,” for example, he was quick to clarify his tone: “By the way, I hope I didn’t come across as offensive or anything.”
The New York Hilton Midtown’s Grand Ballroom lacks the gold trim that Trump is so partial to, but its marble support columns and numerous chandeliers lent the room a somewhat Trumpian flair. The stage was no less ornate, bathed in purple and pink light and covered with American flags; it was what would happen if your local VFW hall merged with a Hustler Club.
Also of note are were two glass display cases flanking Trump’s lectern, each containing a single red baseball hat reading “MAKE AMERICA GREAT AGAIN.” Similarly, a variety of Trump paraphernalia was included in museum-like display just outside of the main ballroom. What had earlier appeared to be omens of Trump’s decline into political history became little monuments to his unprecedented campaign.
The big question of the evening, of course, was how all this happened. If there was a general consensus in the room, it was that Trump supporters were hesitant to publicly voice their support.
“I believe that a lot of people who won’t say they’re voting for Trump because in some places it’s unpopular,” observed Aliza Romanov from Long Island. “They’re going to come out and vote in the end.”
With tears running down her face, Josephine Blackwell of Alabama explained that pollsters never marked down her real preference. “They weren’t paying attention,” she said. “I did not trust them at all.”
But that didn’t matter anymore.
“I’m so excited I can’t stand it!” Blackwell said.
Huffington Post reporter Eliot Nelson’s book, The Beltway Bible: A Totally Serious A-Z Guide to Our No-Good, Corrupt, Incompetent, Terrible, Depressing and Sometimes Hilarious Government, is out now.