At noon Friday, they and every other American will call him Mr. President.
“God has a sense of humor,” said John Weaver, who ran Ohio Gov. John Kasich’s campaign during the GOP primaries.
How this happened is still being argued over ― by Republicans like Weaver and Kasich, who watched him hijack their party despite little knowledge or interest in their orthodoxies, and then by Democrats, who watched a candidate they saw as patently unelectable manage to win key states anyway and take an election they were confident was theirs.
Mo Elleithee, director of the Institute of Politics and Public Service at Georgetown University and previously a longtime Democratic Party staffer, said voters angry at the system were key to Trump’s success. “They wanted someone who just wanted to roll a grenade into the room,” he said. “They didn’t know what the room was going to look like after it was done. They just wanted it blown up.”
Weaver is far less charitable ― toward his own party ― arguing that years of pandering to voters upset about President Barack Obama for less than honorable reasons created the climate for someone like Trump to win. “We preyed on people’s fears,” he said. “And all of that caught up with us. And we have no one to blame but ourselves.”
Matt Mackowiak, a Texas GOP consultant, warned against drawing lasting conclusions from the victory of a reality TV star against first a fractured GOP field, and then a Democratic nominee hamstrung by an FBI investigation.
“Donald Trump is a 100-year-old flood, politically,” he said. “Elections are about a choice. You had two unlikeable candidates. One embodied change, the other embodied the status quo.”
“If you had a half football stadium worth of voters in three states change their votes, Hillary Clinton would be president, narrowly,” he added.
“They wanted someone who just wanted to roll a grenade into the room. They didn’t know what the room was going to look like after it was done. They just wanted it blown up.”
However it happened, the country will now have a president and commander in chief who, 11 years ago at age 59, boasted about walking into beauty pageant dressing rooms and ogling the undressed contestants because, as the pageant owner, he could. That same year, he bragged that his celebrity allowed him to grab women by the genitals. And Wednesday, just two days before taking office, Trump paid out $25 million to settle a fraud lawsuit filed by thousands of people who bought real estate seminars at his “Trump University.”
After electing a line of former governors, senators, a vice president who’d also been an ambassador and chief of the CIA, and even the top military commander of the forces that defeated Nazi Germany, Americans this time elected a man whose biggest claim to fame was portraying a smart and savvy businessman on television ― despite an actual business record littered with bankruptcies and failures, and a campaign persona that displayed a profound ignorance on everything from monetary policy to the NATO alliance.
On top of all this, Trump received the help of a nuclear-armed foreign power during his campaign, according to U.S. intelligence ― help that at one point he openly solicited, and has since then consistently denied or downplayed.
“They didn’t like him, but they hated the system more,” Elleithee said. “Anyone who thinks this is a big vote of confidence in Donald Trump is misreading the results, I think.”
“We preyed on people’s fears. And all of that caught up with us. And we have no one to blame but ourselves.”
Consequently, Trump starts out his presidency with the lowest approval ratings in modern times ― about half that of outgoing President Obama’s popularity at the same time eight years ago. Obama and other election winners saw their approval ratings rise in the weeks leading to Inauguration Day, thanks to speeches reaching out to those who had not supported them and the willingness of voters to afford the benefit of the doubt.
Trump, instead, took a victory lap, hitting only states where he won, and spending a good deal of each evening recounting the drama of election night, how each television network called states for him until finally he was declared president-elect. Meanwhile he continued to stir the pot on Twitter, battling celebrities who insulted him, news reports that criticized him and, over Martin Luther King Jr.’s birthday weekend, civil rights icon John Lewis, for saying he would not attend Trump’s inauguration.
And because Trump’s victory was the result of a sliver of voters in a few key states willing to take a chance on him despite disliking him personally, he likely has even less time than previous new presidents to make good on his promises ― or face voter defections that would make re-election difficult.
“He doesn’t have a honeymoon at all. He doesn’t have any relationships, and he doesn’t respect the ones he’s developing,” Weaver said. “It could break down pretty quickly.”
But given the unlikelihood of Trump’s rise in the first place, Weaver is not ready to make firm predictions. “We’re in a brave, new world. Uncharted territory,” he said.