On November 8, 2016, America’s chief storytellers—those within the bubbles of media and politics—lost the narrative they had controlled for decades. In a space of 24 hours, the concept of “conventional wisdom” seemed to vanish for good. How did this happen? What follows are over 40 brand new interviews and behind-the-scenes stories from deep inside The New York Times, The Washington Post, CNN, Fox News, and more—plus first-hand accounts from the campaigns, themselves. We’ve spent a year hearing the spin. Now it’s time for the truth.
Steve Bannon, Trump campaign CEO: When I first came on the campaign, I said, “You have a hundred-percent chance of winning.” We just got to stick to that plan. Even with Billy Bush, I never wavered for a second.
Jim Margolis, Clinton campaign senior adviser: I am normally a glass-half-empty guy when it comes to expectations on election days. This was the first big election where I was absolutely certain we were going to win.
Dave Weigel, The Washington Post: I called Jeff Flake the Sunday before the election. I said, “I have one round of questions if Hillary wins, and one if Trump wins.” And he just started laughing, saying, “Why would you bother asking the second one?”
Rebecca Traister, New York magazine: We got up around 7 a.m., and there was an electric current running through my body.
Ana Marie Cox, Crooked Media, formerly of MTV: I was staying at my in-laws’ place in New York. They’re Trump supporters. They weren’t in town, but my father-in-law made a joking bet with me. He said, “The next time we see each other, there will be a President Trump.” I remember laughing at him.
Neal Brennan, comedian/writer: I was at SNL. Chappelle was like, “Dude, I feel like Trump’s gonna win.” I was like, “Dude, I’ll bet you a hundred thousand dollars he won’t win.” He did not take the bet, thankfully.
Sen. Tim Kaine, Democratic vice presidential candidate: I thought we would win, but I was more wary than many for the simple reason that the U.S. had never elected a woman president and still has a poor track record of electing women to federal office.
Ana Navarro, CNN commentator and Republican strategist: I schlepped my absentee ballot around with me for a month. It was getting pretty beat up inside my bag. I would open it up and look at it every now and then and say, “I’m not ready. I can’t bring myself to vote for Hillary Clinton. Please, God, let something happen that I don’t have to do this.”
Brian Fallon, Clinton campaign national press secretary: There had been a battleground tracking poll our team had done over the weekend that had us up 4 [points]. We were up in more than enough states to win, taking us over 270. The public polls all showed a similar outlook.
Zara Rahim, Clinton campaign national spokeswoman: We were waiting for the coronation. I was planning my Instagram caption.
Van Jones, CNN political commentator: The Democrats had this attitude, which I think is very unhealthy and unproductive, that any acknowledgement that Trump had a chance was somehow helping Trump, and that we all had to be on this one accord that it was impossible for him to win. I thought that was stupid. I’ve never seen that strategy work.
Matt Oczkowski, formerly of Cambridge Analytica (Trump campaign data firm): When you see outlets like the Huffington Post giving Trump a 1 percent probability of victory, which is not even physically possible, it’s just like, “Wow, people are going to miss this massively.”
Roger Stone, longtime Trump ally: She was just dead in the water.
Joel Benenson, Clinton campaign chief strategist: I go into the 10 o’clock call and we’re getting reports from the analytics people and the field people. And they finish, and whoever’s leading the call asks if there’s anything else. I said, “Well, yeah, I got a call 20 minutes ago from my daughter in Durham, North Carolina. People are standing on line and aren’t moving, and are now being told they need to vote with paper ballots.” To me, that was the first sign that something was amiss in our boiler room process. That’s essential information. We needed those reports so the legal team would activate. I was stunned, and actually quite nervous. I thought, “Do we even have what we need on the ground to manage election day?”
“I MEAN, IT LOOKED LIKE A LANDSLIDE”
Nate Silver, FiveThirtyEight: When I was coming in on the train at 5 p.m., according to our model, there was one-in-three chance of a Clinton landslide, a one-in-three chance of a close Clinton win, and a one-in-three chance of a Trump win. I was mentally preparing myself for each of those outcomes.
David Remnick, editor of The New Yorker: I thought about, and actually wrote, an essay about “the first woman president,” and the historical background of it all. Elizabeth Cady Stanton, the suffragettes, the relationship with Frederick Douglass…a historical essay, clearly written in a mood of “at long last” and, yes, celebration. The idea was to press “post” on that piece, along with many other pieces by my colleagues at The New Yorker, the instant Clinton’s victory was declared on TV.
Bret Baier, Fox News chief political anchor: We got the exit polls at 5 p.m. in a big office on the executive floor. Rupert Murdoch and all the staff were there. It looked like we were going to call the race for Hillary Clinton at 10:30 or 11 p.m.
Steve Bannon: The exit polls were horrific. It was brutal. I think we were close in Iowa and Ohio and everything else was just brutal. Losing everywhere. Florida, Pennsylvania. I mean, it looked like a landslide.
Ashley Parker, The Washington Post, formerly of The New York Times: The RNC thought they were going to lose. The Trump campaign supporters thought they were going to lose. They were rushing to get their side out of the blame game. I spent part of my day lining up interviews for later that night or the next morning to get their version of events.
Jerry Falwell Jr., president of Liberty University, Trump’s religious adviser: I called Sean Hannity and said, “I really think he’s going to win tonight.” Sean said, “Well, I’m glad you do, because the exit polls don’t look good.” I found out later that Trump was very pessimistic, too.
Steve Bannon: Jared [Kushner] and I were out on this balcony in Trump Tower. We looked at it on Jared’s iPhone. And the numbers were so bad that we regrouped inside. We look at each other and we go, “This can’t be right. It just can’t.” And Jared goes, “I got an idea, let’s call Drudge.” And Drudge says, “The corporate media—they’ve always been wrong the entire time—these numbers are wrong.”
Brian Fallon: I was hearing from my high school principal, people I hadn’t spoken to since college. Everybody is conveying thanks for taking on Trump. It was going to be a cathartic experience of him getting his comeuppance after months of representing something that was so egregious in the eyes of so many people.
Rebecca Traister: They were serving, like, $12 pulled pork sandwiches [at the Javits Center]. It was nuts, people were bouncing off the walls. Everyone genuinely believed she was going to win. I don’t know if it made me feel more confident or not.
Evan McMullin, Independent candidate: Our election night event was in Salt Lake City. I was drinking Diet Coke and eating hummus and olives.
Ana Marie Cox: At the MTV watch party, we had dancers and graffiti artists. There were people giving temporary tattoos. I remember my colleague Jamil Smith and I both bringing up at a meeting, “Hey guys, what if something goes wrong? What if this doesn’t go how we think it’s going to go?” And the answer from some MTV exec was, “We’ll pivot.”
Steve Bannon: Drudge snapped us out of it, saying, “You guys are a couple of jamokes. Wait until the second exit polls come out, or later.” We called the candidate and told him what the numbers were and what Drudge had said. And then we said, “Hey, ya know, we left it all on the field. Did everything we can do. Let’s just see how it turns out.”
Sen. Tim Kaine: Based on the returns from one bellwether Virginia county I know well, I realized that we would win Virginia by a significantly larger margin than President Obama four years earlier. This was a huge feeling given all the work that Anne and I have done for 30-plus years to help make Virginia more progressive. It struck me for the first time, “I will probably be vice president.” That feeling lasted about 90 minutes.
Ashley Parker: I walked over to the Hilton for election night. At some point they rolled in a cake that was like…a life-sized, very impressive rendering of Trump’s head.
Melissa Alt, cake artist: I got an order for a Hillary Clinton cake. So, I was like, “Okay, I’m going to make Donald Trump as well.” Just because that would generate a lot of interest. My manager, who has a friend who works for Donald Trump Jr., said, “Let’s contact them and see if they’re interested in having cake.” And obviously they said yes.
The Kid Mero, Desus & Mero: I’m surprised a stripper didn’t jump out of the cake.
Melissa Alt: I start getting phone calls of people saying, “This is TMZ, or Boston Globe, or People magazine. Do you know that your cake is trending all over the whole internet?”
Ashley Parker: I don’t know if I was ever allowed to eat it. It seemed fairly decorative.
Melissa Alt: Obviously, I wanted everyone to see it first and then eat it. That cake could probably feed about a hundred.
Gary Johnson, Libertarian candidate: I was taken aback by the fact that, at least at the start of the evening, all the networks were showing three names on the screen for the first time, meaning mine and Clinton and Trump. But no, I don’t remember the cake.
“I THINK I’M GONNA THROW UP”
8 p.m. – 1 a.m.
Maggie Haberman, The New York Times: When I went downstairs at 8:15, Hillary was up in Florida. When I came back upstairs, it had flipped. I got a sense the second I set foot in the newsroom that something was going on.
Van Jones: You got smoke coming out of every gear trying to figure out what the heck is happening out there. And you’ve got John King who had said, over and over, that there is no pathway for a Trump victory. Suddenly, that whole thing starts to come apart.
Roger Stone: I was committed to be an on-air anchor for InfoWars. I think I was on the air for seven hours straight.
Steve Bannon: We had taken over the fifth floor of Trump Tower, which had been Corey [Lewandowski]’s original headquarters. It was a concrete floor with no carpeting. They didn’t heat it. It had computers everywhere, guys are tracking everything, we had a chain of command. We called the fifth floor “the crack den.” It looked like a crack den. We put all the maps up and we started getting raw feeds from both our local guys and also the secretary of state of Florida. They were putting up their total vote counts. And [national field director] Bill Stepien was sitting there with all of our modeling. They were really focused on Florida—particularly the Broward and Miami-Dade counties. Also North Carolina was coming in. And obviously Ohio and those states were starting to come in. But the big one we were focused on was Florida. Because if we didn’t win Florida, it was not going to happen.
Omarosa Manigault, Trump campaign: If we believed what was on the television, we would have thought we lost. But looking at the numbers that were in front of us in the key battleground states, we were up…or we were neck and neck, with expectations of higher turnout and more enthusiasm. We were going off of our own internal data. What was being shown on CNN and MSNBC and some of these other networks was showing a stark contrast to what was in front of us.
Reza Aslan, author and religious scholar: I thought, “Oh my God, how terrible are we that it’s even this close?”
Brian Fallon: As I was walking off the risers [at Javits], Jen Epstein, a Bloomberg reporter, grabbed my arm and said, “Are you guys nervous about Florida?” I gave her some sort of verbal shrug. Right after that I called into the boiler room and asked for a gut check.
Van Jones: My phone was literally warm from the text messages coming in.
Zara Rahim: I had been going back and forth between the venue and backstage. My face was really tense. All of these reporters can read your energy and your face. You never want a reporter to tweet like, “Clinton campaign members are nervous.”
Jim Margolis: I finally called Steve Schale, who ran Florida for us in the Obama campaign. I said, “Steve, what’s going on here? Is this just a lack of information?” He said, “I think you’ve got a problem.”
Bret Baier: At 8:30 I turned to Chris Wallace, who was sitting next to us on the set, and said, “This does not look like it’s lining up.” We came back from commercial break and Chris said, “Donald Trump could be the next president of the United States.”
Jerry Falwell Jr.: My 17-year-old daughter, Caroline, had been following the election. It’s the first time she’s ever followed politics. And she was so nervous about the result that her stomach got upset. She told her brother, “I think I’m gonna throw up.” So he took off his Trump hat and she threw up in it, right next to Laura Ingraham.
Felix Biederman, Chapo Trap House: At that point the blue wall hadn’t come in yet, and that’s when the air in the room started to tighten. It was like, “Oh, fuck.” She can still do it, but everything that needs to happen for Trump is happening. What if what’s always happened with Hillary—they did all the work, they know everything, they’re super qualified—what if they didn’t do it? What if they fucked it up?
Ana Marie Cox: I did a couple of on-camera news hits where I was told, “What you need to do here is tell people not to panic.” Meanwhile, I was panicking.
David Remnick: Not only did I not have anything else ready, I don’t think our site had anything, or much of anything, ready in case Trump won. The mood in the offices, I would say, was frenetic.
Dave Weigel: I’m in the parking lot of the Scalise party. There are Republicans drinking, some celebrating, some not paying attention. My editor was calling to see when I would hand in my story. One, I’m on a minor story that’s falling apart, and two, I’m probably in the wrong place. Three, I need to reorder the story, and four, how much did I tell people confidently about the election that I was wrong about?
Ashley Parker: We started running up to one another like, “He’s gonna win, he’s gonna win. We know it now, it’s gonna happen.”
Desus Nice, Desus & Mero: It’s one thing to find out Donald Trump is president, but another to be on TV with people watching you watch Donald Trump become president.
Michael Barbaro, The New York Times: Carolyn Ryan, who was the politics editor, pulled me aside and said, “I need you to be involved in a ‘Trump Wins’ story.”
Matt Flegenheimer, The New York Times: Michael and I build this thing out together into a fully sweeping and historical news story. Maybe 1,500 words. We lock ourselves in this little glass office in the Times building and try to tune out the unstoppable din of the newsroom.
Steve Bannon: Jared came down and the candidate was upstairs. Then when word got out that Florida was competitive, that it was gonna be real, he came down to the 14th floor, the headquarters, where we had what we called the war room, which had multiple TVs running. And so what we did is we moved the data analysis thing that we had up to the 14th floor. And I went over with Stepien and the others and just stood next to the candidate and walked him through what was going on. And he finally took a seat. And we sat there and watched everything come in.
Jacob Soboroff, MSNBC correspondent: I went from this feeling of, “Oh my god, wow. I can’t believe it,” to, in a matter of seconds, “Oh, whoa, I can totally believe it.”
Steve Bannon: Stepien looked at it and said, “Our spread is too big, they can’t recover from this.” Miami-Dade and Broward were coming back really slow. They were clearly holding votes back, right? And then Stepien looked at me and said, “We have such a big lead now. They can’t steal it from us.”
“I FELT SO ALONE, I KNEW IT WAS DONE”
Ashley Parker: I received a frantic call from Mike Barbaro, so I was racing around the ballroom getting quotes and feeding them back to the story.
Joshua Green, Bloomberg Businessweek correspondent and Devil’s Bargain author: At 9:05 p.m. I sent Bannon an email and said, “Holy shit, you guys are gonna win, aren’t you?” He sent a one word reply: “Yes.”
Dave Weigel: I had told my parents, who are Clinton supporters—my dad actually knew Clinton growing up as he’s from the same town in Illinois she is. I texted him early in the night saying, “These Florida counties seem to be going the way they usually go.” But once I realized there was no way for Clinton to win, I called them saying, “I’m sorry, this is what I do for a living and I was wrong.” My dad said, “Well, I’m still holding out hope.” And I said, “Don’t bother. Process this, and figure out what you’re going to do next, because it’s not going to happen.”
Trae Crowder, comedian and author: I felt very mad at liberals, you know, like my team. I was very upset with all of us for a lot of reasons.
Rebecca Traister: I felt so alone, I knew it was done. I was by myself on the floor. I started to cry.
David Remnick: That night I went to a friend’s election-night party. As Clinton’s numbers started to sour, I took my laptop out, got a chair, found a corner of that noisy room, and started thinking and writing. That was what turned out to be “An American Tragedy.”
Steve Bannon: As soon as we got Florida, I knew we were gonna win. Because Florida was such a massive lift for us, right? We were so outstaffed. But then we won Florida. Just made me know that the rest of the night was going to go well.
Maggie Haberman: I started texting some of the Trump people and one of them wrote back, “Say it with me: ‘President Trump. President Trump.’”
“CAN WE STAY IN THE U.S.?”
Zara Rahim: A member of senior leadership came, and I’ll never forget him looking at us and saying, essentially, “If she doesn’t win Michigan and Wisconsin, Donald Trump will be president-elect.” That was the first time I heard those words.
Jim Margolis: The tenor had changed completely. People were very nervous in the room, we’re all talking to each other. I’m going back and forth with [Clinton campaign manager] Robby Mook, who is over at the hotel. We’re on the phone with some of the states that are still out there, trying to understand what is taking place in Wisconsin and Michigan, because those numbers are softer than they ought to be. That’s beginning to weigh very heavily.
Rebecca Traister: I was thinking everything from, “I’m gonna have to rewrite my piece” to, “Can we stay in the U.S.?” I texted my husband, “Tell Rosie to go to bed. I don’t want her to watch.”
Roger Stone: The staff at InfoWars is largely people in their late 20s, early 30s, all of whom are interested in politics, but none of whom would consider themselves an expert. So they would look to me and say, “Well, are we going to win or not?” And I said, “Yes, we’re going to win.”
Matt Flegenheimer: Michael Grynbaum—who covers media—we had been following the Upshot percentages on the race. We were trying to get our heads around it. If it’s 75 percent, two coin flips, Donald Trump’s president. You had dynamic, shifting odds on the meter. Maybe it’s one coin flip. Maybe it’s half a coin flip. At some point, when I was in that little room with Michael Barbaro, Grynbaum comes in, takes a quarter, slams it down on the middle of the desk. Doesn’t say a word. Just walks out. I still have that quarter in my wallet.
David Remnick: Obviously, we were not going to press “post” until a result had been announced. So I made some revisions, came across a quotation from George Orwell, played around with various sentences, but all in a kind of strange state of focus that happens only once in a while.
Steve Bannon: We stayed there until I want to say about 11 o’clock, 11:30, after Florida got called. It looked like others were coming our way, that we were obviously gonna win. That’s when we went upstairs to the residence, to the penthouse. In hindsight, we still had two and a half hours to go, because they didn’t call it ‘til like 2:30 in the morning.
Symone Sanders, Strategist for Priorities USA: Omarosa called [into MTV] saying, “It’s a good night over here at Trump Tower.” She’s like, “I knew Donald Trump would be the president. I told everyone months ago. And the day is here!” I was just dumbfounded.
Neal Brennan: Slowly but surely it dawns on us. And I had said things like, “You know, I’ve heard that technically Republicans can never win another presidential election.” I’m just saying dumb shit, all things I’d read on Politico or fuckin’ The Atlantic or whatever. And then slowly but surely it happens. It’s like we…it…fucking Hillary lost.
Van Jones: I picked up my pen and I wrote down two words: “parents” and “whitelash.”
Jeffrey Lord, former CNN political commentator: People get so obsessed with the race thing.
Ana Marie Cox: I happen to be in recovery. I had a moment of, like, “Why the fuck not?” I went on Twitter and said, “To those of us ‘in the room’ together, he’s not worth it. Don’t drink over this.” And the response I got was amazing. I said, “I’m going to a meeting tomorrow. Everyone get through this 24 hours, get to a meeting, we’re not alone.”
Evan McMullin: I looked at my staffers. In my mind’s eye, they were all seated up against this wall. They were disappointed, they were afraid, all of that. I told them that I didn’t want to see any long faces. I told them to buck up. And it had no effect.
Van Jones: I literally said, “This was many things. This was a rebellion against elites, it was a complete reinvention of politics and polls. And it was also about race.” But the “whitelash” comment became this big, big thing. What’s interesting about it is, I’m black, my wife is not. She and I were talking about what was happening in Europe. And I said, “The backlash is coming here.” She said, “Yeah, it’ll be a whitelash here.” That was in the back of my mind. People think I made that term up on the spot. It’s very rare you can put two syllables together and make the entire case.
Jeffrey Lord: I thought he was wrong. While Van and I disagree, he’s a curious and sensible soul. I thought at some point he would come to a different conclusion.
“WHAT’S OBAMA THINKING?”
1 a.m. – 3 a.m.
Melissa Alt: People were texting me the whole night, just congratulations on the cake. That was funny because the night turned out so different than I expected. Who knew cake could generate so much hype?
Bret Baier: The futures markets had taken a nosedive, so we were covering that aspect of things. Fortunately, we had Maria Bartiromo on the set, who looked at the numbers and said, “Well, I would think this is a buying opportunity, because if you look at policy, tax cuts, regulation roll back, and everything else, that’s probably going to mean the market turning around when businesses weigh in.” That turned out to be pretty prescient.
Ana Marie Cox: A Muslim colleague of mine called his mother. She was worried he was going to be the victim of violence at any moment. A colleague who is gay and married was on the phone with her wife saying, “They’re not going to take this damn ring away from me.”
Van Jones: I had Muslim friends who came from countries like Somalia asking, “Should we leave the country tonight?” Because in their countries of origin, if a president that hostile takes power, they might start rounding up people in the morning.
David Remnick: Jelani [Cobb] and I spoke around midnight. We were both, let’s put it this way, in the New Yorker mode of radical understatement, disappointed. Jelani’s disappointment extended to his wondering whether he should actually leave the country. He wasn’t kidding around. I could tell that from his voice.
Gary Johnson: Well, I was really disappointed at the results. But what I came to very quickly was, as I’ve said many, many, many, times, if I wasn’t elected president, I was going to ski a hundred-plus days and I was also going to ride the Continental Divide bike race.
Jill Stein, Green Party candidate: Did I have remorse about running? Absolutely not. I have remorse about the misery people are experiencing under Democrats and Republicans both.
Neal Brennan: That’s sketch-writing night at SNL. So all the writers are crestfallen, and it was up to us to write comedy for that Saturday. Me and [Colin] Jost wrote the sketch where Dave [Chappelle] is watching the election, and Chris Rock shows up and everyone’s bawling. It was based on the experience of being in Jost’s office and me saying incredibly stupid shit as reality crumbled.
Ashley Nicole Black, writer/correspondent, Full Frontal with Samantha Bee: We all went into a room and sat in silence for at least five minutes. The conversation wasn’t like, “What is it going to be in the country?” It was like, okay, “We’re at work. We have a show tomorrow. What are we going to do?” And Sam goes, “I think this is my fault.” It’s Sam’s first time voting in an American election, and she told us how the first time she was on Law & Order, Law & Order got canceled the next day. And she got interviewed by Playboy, and the next day they announced they were no longer doing nudity. And now she voted for the first time and broke America. We all laughed, it broke the tension in the room. Then we started writing Act 1 with that idea in mind.
Rep. Adam Schiff, congressman, 28th District of California: I was at a victory party for my campaign at the Burbank Bar and Grill. And it was the most somber and depressing victory party I’d ever had.
Brian Fallon: Eventually there were conversations around the awkwardness. There started to be this pressure to concede even before AP called the race.
Nate Silver: I felt like if the roles had been reversed, and if Clinton had been winning all of these states, that they wouldn’t have been so slow to call it. In some ways, the slowness to call it reflected the stubbornness the media had the whole time about realizing that, actually, it was a pretty competitive election.
Jerry Falwell Jr.: The crowd at the Trump party was really aggravated because Megyn Kelly didn’t want to call it. She was so hopeful that Trump would lose. She let hours go by. Finally, the crowd started chanting, “Call it! Call it! Call it!”
Bret Baier: There was a growing group of people who had gathered outside Fox News who obviously were Trump supporters. They were going crazy.
Zara Rahim: There was a massive garage behind the Javits center. John Podesta stood up on a box and told us, “We will have more information for you soon,” which is the most frustrating thing to hear in that moment. Everybody was in this big circle of sadness and nobody knew what to do. Leadership didn’t know what to do. We were all at a loss.
Jon Favreau, Crooked Media, former Obama speechwriter: We were in a constant text chain with our buddies in the White House, asking, “What’s going on? What’s the boss thinking? What’s Obama thinking?” And finally they told us, “Oh, he just talked to her and he thinks she should concede and she agrees. She’s just waiting for the right moment.”
Jerry Falwell Jr.: I called the president-elect. He said, “Well, why don’t you come over to Trump Tower, you and your family, and watch the returns with us?” And I said, “I don’t want to do that, because by the time I get over there, you’re going to be coming over here to do your victory speech.” And he said, “All right, whatever.”
Matt Paul, chief of staff to VP candidate Tim Kaine: Senator Kaine, when the news became very grim…the senator actually went to bed. Nothing was going to happen that night. He had to put together a different type of speech.
Brian Fallon: I was on the phone with the decision desk people at AP, trying to glean a sense of their confidence about the numbers in states like Wisconsin and Michigan. I knew that when those got called, it was ball game, so I was trying to impart to them what we were hearing about what precincts might still be outstanding. We were also trying to gauge if they were about to call it, if and when she should speak.
Michael Barbaro: We really labored over a few paragraphs and a few words, just capturing the enormity of a Trump victory. That it wasn’t expected. The messages the campaign had run on, what they would suddenly mean for the country. And it was a real challenge to convey all of the things he had said and done in the campaign, and all the controversies that he had sparked and put those into the context of a traditional, sweeping, “This person has just been elected president of the United States,” New York Times story.
Matt Flegenheimer: I think after 1 o’clock we had our final version and we were ready to press the button on “Trump Just Won.” It did make the last edition of the print paper.
Michael Barbaro: There was so much going on that night and so many last-minute changes and such a hectic schedule that the story was published with the wrong bylines. The historic front page, “Trump Triumphs,” ran in the paper with the wrong bylines.
Jelani Cobb, The New Yorker: I saw the New York Times headline and I was very discomforted by it. For one, I knew that I had a child on the way.
Maggie Haberman: I was supposed to go on a CNN panel at 2 a.m., they were doing a very early version of New Day. I got stuck because of a deadline anyway, so it worked out I couldn’t make it, which I felt bad about. In reality, I wasn’t prepared to talk about it. I couldn’t really understand what had happened. And I think images of gobsmacked reporters probably wouldn’t have helped.
Michael Barbaro: We’re all sitting around and we’re all doing what journalists do after a big story, which is talk about it endlessly. I don’t think any of us wanted to go home. I don’t think any of us wanted to go off into the private space of figuring out what this all means. This gravitational pull kept us there much later than we needed to be.
Reza Aslan: My wife stayed up and I went to sleep, then she woke me up around 1 or 2 in the morning bawling and told me that it was over. My poor, sweet wife. She wanted to hug and kiss me but I went into a panic attack and couldn’t breathe.
David Remnick: We agreed that night, and we agree today, that the Trump presidency is an emergency. And in an emergency, you’ve got a purpose, a job to do, and ours is to put pressure on power. That’s always the highest calling of journalism, but never more so than when power is a constant threat to the country and in radical opposition to its values and its highest sense of itself.
Brian Fallon: We had this issue where the Javits Center needed us out by 3 a.m. The decision was made that someone had to come out and address the crowd.
Zara Rahim: There were die-hard Hillary supporters that were like, “We’re not going.” Folks who were sobbing and literally couldn’t move because they were so distraught. I remember pieces of memorabilia on the floor, little Hillary pins and “I believe that she will win” placards.
Rebecca Traister: People were throwing up. People were on the floor crying.
Steve Bannon: We had an agreement with these guys. Robby Mook had sent this email saying, you know, “When AP calls it, we’ll call and congratulate you right away.” Because they were expecting Trump to keep saying, “It’s rigged, it’s rigged.” So Robby Mook sent a thing over which I’m sure he regrets. [Laughs]. He sent an email to us, he said, 15 minutes after AP calls it, they would expect to hear from us. If they hadn’t heard from us, she would get up to give a victory speech. I think AP called it right when we left.
Roger Stone: We figured they had her in a straitjacket by then. Or that she was throwing things and cursing.
“LET’S GO ONSTAGE AND GET THIS DONE”
Bret Baier: It was around 2:30 in the morning, and I said, “Donald Trump will be the 45th president of the United States.” This whiz-bang graphic with all of these firework animations flashed across the screen with the words Donald J. Trump, 45th President of the United States. Just seeing that, everybody on the set was silent for a little bit, as the whole thing was being digested.
Stephen L. Miller, conservative blogger: The Onion headline kept flashing through my head really heavy. During the primaries they had the Trump story, “You really want to see how far this goes, don’t you America?”
Jorge Ramos, Univision news anchor: When he won, I said it as if I was reporting a football score or a soccer match. “Donald Trump is going to be the next president of the United States.” No emotion. Just the facts. That’s what the audience demanded. That is a sign of respect. As a journalist you have to report reality as it is, not as you wish it would be. That’s exactly what I was doing.
Jeffrey Lord: It was an amazing moment. Anderson [Cooper] came over to me and, in his classy fashion, shook my hand and said, “Congratulations, you were right.”
Steve Bannon: When it was called, he was actually upstairs in the kitchen. He has a small kitchen with a television. When he heard it was being called by AP, I shook his hand and said, “Congratulations, Mr. President.” So we kinda laughed. There were no big hugs or anything. Nothing crazy. He’s not a guy who gets overly excited. He’s very controlled. People around him are very controlled. We were obviously very happy and ecstatic. But it’s not a bunch of jumping around, high-fiving, anything like that.
Matt Oczkowski: It almost felt like a videogame, like you were playing something and won. You’re like, “Wow, this is the presidency of the United States.”
Roger Stone: The champagne tasted great. This was the culmination of a dream that I’d had since 1988.
Jim Margolis: I was on with Robby [Mook], who was in the room with her when she did the concession call to Trump. It was surreal. It was beyond my imagination that we would be in this position with this person being elected president.
Steve Bannon: It only took us 10 minutes to get there, it was right down the street. When we got there, we were in this weird holding stage, kind of off to the side. Very crammed. She called the president on his phone. Or it might have been Huma Abedin called Kellyanne [Conway] and then she hands her phone off to the president, and then Secretary Clinton was on there, you know, “Hey, Donald, congratulations, hard-fought win.” Two or three minutes. Then we looked at each other and said, “Let’s go onstage and get this done.”
Roger Stone: He looked surprised at the fact that he’d won. Which is surprising only because he pretty consistently thought he would win. Not unhappy, but rather, shocked.
Neal Brennan: I thought it was so fucking weird that he was like, “Is Jim here? Come on up here.” Like he was emceeing a sports banquet. But it was good that he set the tone right there. So long, context. So long, history.
Joshua Green: I thought he had actually made at least a cursory effort to try to unite the country by reaching out to Hillary Clinton voters. That sentiment probably evaporated before the sun rose the next day. At least on election night he said something approximating what you would expect a normal presidential victor to say in a moment like that, to try and bring the country together.
Symone Sanders: I still couldn’t believe it was happening. When he talked about us coming together and healing for the country, I wanted to throw up in my mouth.
3 a.m. – 7 a.m.
Maggie Haberman: I was getting bewildered texts from my child who couldn’t sleep, asking me what happened. I think this election was really difficult for kids to process.
Matt Paul: It was fucking terrible. We had these hastily organized calls every 10 minutes to determine what was going to happen the next morning. There was no advanced plan. Where were we going to do this massive global television event? How were we going to get people in the room? Who was going to say what in what order? That happened between 4 in the morning and when she spoke.
Rebecca Traister: In the cab home, the cabbie had on the news, that’s when I heard his acceptance speech, and I said, “Can you turn it off?” I couldn’t hear his voice. I was like, “I can’t listen to his voice for the next four years.”
Desus Nice: I went home, and it was like when your team loses and you watch it on SportsCenter over and over and over. I turned on MSNBC, and Chris Hayes and Rachel Maddow were asking, “How’d you get this wrong? How did Nate Silver get this wrong? What did Hillary do?” I kept turning to Fox News and seeing them gloat and the balloons falling. I think I stayed up until three in the morning just drinking and watching.
The Kid Mero: I went home and smoked myself to sleep. I was like, “This sucks.”
Ashley Nicole Black: I took a shower, and then as soon as water hit me, I started bawling. I didn’t really have any feelings until that moment.
Ashley Parker: Times Square felt like a zombie-apocalypse movie. There was no one there. I didn’t know what to do with myself. I walked from the ballroom to the newsroom. They were like, “Go home, get some sleep, you’ll need it.” I walked back to my hotel. I couldn’t sleep. I watched cable news and then fell asleep.
Van Jones: I was walking out the building. Your thumb just kind of automatically switches over to Twitter. I saw that my name was trending worldwide. And I was like, “Whoa, that’s weird.”
Brian Fallon: I stayed in Brooklyn throughout the campaign, but that night I got a hotel in Midtown, close to the Peninsula. I actually walked past his hotel. I saw all the red hats that were still milling about outside of his victory party. It was pretty surreal.
Ashley Nicole Black: I looked at myself—I’m going to cry even saying this right now—I looked at myself in the mirror, and in that moment, I looked like my grandmother. The first thought I had was that I was glad that she wasn’t alive to see that. Then I felt so guilty because of course nothing would ever make me glad my grandmother is not alive. I love her so much, and I wish she was here. But she died when Obama was president, with that hope that the world had moved forward, and black people had moved forward. And she didn’t see the huge backlash that came after. In that moment, I was very grateful, and then guilty, and then I went to bed.
Jorge Ramos: I’ve been to wars, I’ve covered the most difficult situations in Latin America. But I needed to digest and to understand what had happened. I came home very late. I turned on the news. I had comfort food—cookies and chocolate milk—the same thing I used to have as a kid in Mexico City. After that, I realized that I had been preparing all my life for this moment. Once I digested what had happened with Trump and had a plan, which was to resist and report and not be neutral, then I was able to go to bed.
Rebecca Traister: I got back to Park Slope, I went to check on the girls. When I went to say goodnight, I looked at Rosie, and I had this conscious thought that this is the day that will divide our experience of what is possible. This is the day where a limitation is reinforced for her.
Michael Barbaro: I went home and woke up my husband, I think it was 4 or 5 in the morning, and asked him what the next steps should be journalistically. Should I move to Washington? Should I change jobs? It was pretty disorienting.
Maggie Haberman: One Trump supporter sent me a message saying, “You’re fucked.” [Laughs] If you use that, please recall me laughing about it. It was really something.
Van Jones: I got to my apartment and put my head down. I woke up like three, four hours later. And in my mind I thought, it was a dream. Just for a split second. I was still fully clothed. I had makeup all over my pillow. And I was like, “Shit.”
“IT WAS ONE OF THE BEST SPEECHES SHE’S EVER GIVEN”
7 a.m. – 12:00 p.m.
Jon Favreau: It felt like when you wake up after someone close to you passes away. Not nearly as bad, obviously, but that same feeling where you think, for like five seconds, you’re okay, maybe it’s a normal morning, and then it hits you what happened.
Roger Stone: I mean, we were walkin’ on clouds. We were still in the halo of the whole thing. I was very pleased.
Jerry Falwell Jr.: The feeling afterward was relief. I had worked so hard to help him. I’d risked so much and went so far out on a limb. Everybody thought I was crazy. It was a renewed hope for the future of the country, and a little bit of fear that I was going to be chosen to serve in the administration, because I didn’t want to.
Steve Bannon: I had my whole family that had come up to the victory party and I hadn’t seen anybody, so I went home and grabbed a shower, just like the night before, got another hour of sleep, and I was with Jared. And I think we were with Trump at like 8 in the morning. So it was just like the exact same thing as the day before. The day before I felt we were gonna win the presidency, and the next day we had won the presidency. It was odd, there was never any big insurgent feeling or anything like that. It played out how I thought it would play out. I didn’t have much doubt the first day of the campaign, didn’t really have much doubt on Billy Bush weekend. He was connecting. He had a powerful message.
Reza Aslan: I remember thinking, as clear as day, this is who we are. This is what we deserve.
Shani O. Hilton, U.S. news editor, BuzzFeed News: You get on the train from Brooklyn. It’s silent. And not in the normal way of people not talking to each other. It felt like an observable silence. I saw at least three people sitting by themselves, just weeping silently.
Melissa Alt: The next day my manager took the cake back to Trump Tower because they didn’t cut it at election night. Donald Trump Jr. told my friend that it was delicious.
Matt Paul: I remember rolling up in the motorcade and seeing some of our staff and organizers couldn’t get in. A reporter or cameraperson who was familiar to me said, “Can I sneak in with you?” I looked at that person, sort of stunned, and said, “Fuck no.” Then I realized I shouldn’t have said that. It was just a visceral, gut reaction to seeing some of our staff that couldn’t get in who had killed themselves for two years.
Nate Silver: If you read FiveThirtyEight throughout the election and listened to our arguments with other journalists and reporters, then you would’ve been much better prepared and much less surprised by the outcome.
The Kid Mero: We very quickly became familiar with the term “economic anxiety.”
Reza Aslan: You take your kids to school, you go to the store, you go to the post office, you’re looking around, and you’re thinking, “These people hate me.”
Jelani Cobb: I went to the airport the next morning for a 7 a.m. flight. There’s an African-American gentleman, maybe in his 60s, working at the check-in counter. He starts talking about how disastrous and dangerous this moment’s going to be. And he’s seen history in the South and thinking that we might be headed back toward the things he thought were in the past.
Dave Weigel: I was connecting through the Atlanta airport. I looked around and thought, well, for eight years, I didn’t really think about who voted for who. But as a white dude with a mustache, fairly bloated by the campaign, most of the people who look like me voted for this guy who, as far as they know, is a bigot. I remember feeling that this divider had come down, this new intensity of feeling about everybody I saw.
Van Jones: The next day, my commentary had become this sort-of viral sensation. Fox News is mad at me for saying “whitelash.” Liberals are treating me as some kind of hero. And literally, for the next two weeks, I didn’t have to pay for anything in any establishment in D.C. or New York. Not one meal. Not one cab. Uber people would turn the thing off and just drive me around for free.
Joshua Green: Bannon called me. He said, “You recognize what happened?” I’m like, “What the fuck are you talking about?” He goes, “You guys,” meaning you on the left, “you fell into the same trap as conservatives in the ‘90s…you were so whipped up in your own self-righteousness about how Americans could never vote for Trump that you were blinded to what was happening.” He was right.
Matt Paul: There were five or six of us standing in a hold room. One of Hillary’s brothers was there with his wife. A couple of the president’s people. Myself. A couple of campaign photographers. President Clinton walked in. It was very tough. Secretary Clinton walked in and was strong and composed. I stood there in shock at how put together and strong she was.
Rebecca Traister: As someone who covered her in 2008 and watched her struggle with speechgiving, it was one of the best speeches she’s ever given.
Jim Margolis: Everybody was basically in tears. Huma was in front of me. Jake [Sullivan] was on one side. It was one of those incredible scenes. Nobody had had any sleep.
Steve Bannon: Never watched it. Couldn’t care less. Her, Podesta, all of it. I thought they were overrated. I thought they were—they’re a media creation. People say how genius they were, how brilliant they were. Look, I’d never been on a campaign in my life. But I can understand math. Just looking at where it was gonna come down to. Morning Joe tells me they’re so brilliant every day. Why are they not getting some pretty fundamental stuff here? But no, I had no interest in seeing her concession speech. I have no interest in a damn thing with their campaign because I don’t think they knew what they were doing. I only have interest in what we did. Which was just, focus, focus, focus.
Rep. Adam Schiff: My staff both in California and in D.C. were absolutely devastated. People would come up to me, constituents and others, with tears in their eyes. And the astounding thing is, here we are now. People continue to come up to me with tears in their eyes about what he’s doing. I’ve never seen people have a visceral reaction over an election and be so deeply alarmed at what’s happening to the country.
Charles P. Pierce, Esquire writer at large: On the Sunday before the election, I drove out from Philadelphia to Gettysburg. Once I got out of the sprawling Philadelphia exurbs, I started to see improvised signs. There were several of those small portable marquees that you see outside clam shacks and chili parlors. I saw a huge piece of plywood nailed to a tree outside a motorcycle repair shop. I saw an entire barn painted red, white, and blue. “Trump,” it said, on the side of the barn. “Make America Great Again.” And I could see that barn, out in the field, in my mind’s eye, as Hillary Rodham Clinton gave her belated concession speech. And when she talked about making the American Dream available to everyone, I thought, damn, somebody had to want it bad to paint a whole barn just to argue about that.
Roger Stone: Trump is a winner. He’s a very confident, upbeat guy. That’s just his style. He thought all along that he would win. There’s no doubt that the Billy Bush thing shook him a little bit, but it ended up not being determinative.
Jerry Falwell Jr.: We had traveled on the plane with him during the campaign. He went and got the Wendy’s cheeseburgers and the fries, put them out on the table for us. I just think he’s a people’s president. I think that’s something we’ve not had in a real long time.
Gary Johnson: Well for me, just speaking personally, I do not aspire to be president of the United States anymore. Why would anybody want to be president of the United States now that Donald Trump’s been president of the United States?
Edited by John Hendrickson, with assistance from Michael Sebastian, Ryan Bort, Kate Storey, Whitney Joiner, and Robert P. Baird.
Interviews by John Hendrickson, Ryan Bort, Nick Pachelli, Luke O’Neil, Jack Holmes, Colin St. John, Dave Holmes, Megan Friedman, Emma Dibdin, Matt Miller, Justin Kirkland, Rose Minutaglio, Eileen Reslen, Sarah Rense, and Nate Erickson.
Art by Kevin Peralta, Kelly Sherin, and Michael Stillwell.