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Through Ups And Downs, Trump Was Fueled By Loyal Core Of Support


In less than half an hour, we'll begin seeing the results of the 2016 presidential election. Tonight Hillary Clinton could become the first woman elected to the nation's highest office. Or Donald Trump could pull off an upset that reshapes our political system. Trump was laughed off by many when he entered the race in June of last year. But he's tapped into a major populous force in American politics. NPR's Sarah McCammon has this look at Donald Trump's road to Election Day.

SARAH MCCAMMON, BYLINE: Trump set the tone for his campaign from the very first moments. At Trump Tower in New York, after riding down the famous golden escalator with his wife Melania, Trump told supporters the U.S. had become a dumping ground for other countries' problems and singled out Mexico.


DONALD TRUMP: They're bringing drugs. They're bringing crime. They're rapists. And some, I assume, are good people.

MCCAMMON: Trump promised to build the wall along the southern border, bring back manufacturing jobs, renegotiate or pull out of what he described as unfair trade deals and defeat ISIS, a message that quickly resonated with many frustrated voters. From the start, Trump's rallies were filled with large, excited crowds.


TRUMP: We have to make America great again.


TRUMP: Thank you. Thank you. Thank you. Thank you very much.

MCCAMMON: The wave of enthusiasm for the brash real-estate developer from Queens who'd never held office mystified many pundits and political observers who largely wrote him off at first. That sentiment was reinforced by a series of controversial remarks that Trump made in the early months of the campaign. There were attacks on Senator John McCain, Fox News host Megyn Kelly. And then, in December, Trump made this announcement.


TRUMP: Donald J. Trump is calling for a total and complete shutdown of Muslims entering the United States until our country's representatives can figure out what the hell is going on.


MCCAMMON: The proposal, which Trump has since altered several times, brought widespread criticism from across the political spectrum. But it was clear that his tough talk was what many primary voters were looking for. Trump bragged in January that nothing he could say or do would dissuade his loyal supporters.


TRUMP: I have the most loyal people - did you ever see that? - where I could stand in the middle of Fifth Avenue and shoot somebody. And I wouldn't lose any voters, OK? It's, like, incredible.


MCCAMMON: The GOP establishment failed to coalesce around an alternative candidate and saw Trump barreling towards the nomination. In early March, the party's 2012 nominee, Mitt Romney, made a last ditch effort to persuade Republicans to stop Trump.


MITT ROMNEY: He's playing the members of the American public for suckers. He gets a free ride to the White House. And all we get is a lousy hand.

MCCAMMON: But GOP voters had other thoughts.


TRUMP: I want to begin by thanking the people of South Carolina.

We love Nevada. We love Nevada.

Thank you, New York. We love New York.

And you go Rhode Island then you go Maryland then you go Connecticut and you go to Pennsylvania and you go - I mean the whole thing - Delaware.

MCCAMMON: At the Republican National Convention in Cleveland, Trump tried to present himself as a team player and uniter of the party.


TRUMP: Who would've believed that when we started this journey on June 16 last year, we - and I say we - because we are a team...


TRUMP: ...Would have received almost 14 million votes...

MCCAMMON: As party leaders waited for Trump to make a presidential pivot, he feuded with a Mexican-American judge and the parents of a Muslim soldier who died in Iraq. But Trump went on, continuing to attack Hillary Clinton and calling her corrupt. And then the Friday before the second presidential debate - an October surprise that many predicted would doom Trump.


TRUMP: You know, I'm automatically attracted to beautiful. I just start kissing them. It's like a magnet.

BILLY BUSH: (Laughter).

TRUMP: I just kiss. I don't even wait. And when you're a star, they let you do it. You can do anything.

BUSH: Whatever you want.

TRUMP: Grab them by the (expletive).

BUSH: (Laughter).

TRUMP: You can do anything.

MCCAMMON: Within days of that 2005 "Access Hollywood" recording being released, Trump was facing a cascade of allegations from women who said he had done those things. He threatened to sue them. Trump kept the focus on Hillary Clinton's email scandal and questions about her family's foundation, arguing that she represented the failed and corrupt Washington establishment. That validated the frustrations and fears of millions of voters. And early this morning in Grand Rapids, Mich., in his final rally before the election, Trump repeated his ultimate promise to them.


TRUMP: We will make America great again. Thank you, everybody. Thank you. God bless you, everybody. Go to bed. Go to bed right now. Get up and vote.

CORNISH: And NPR's Sarah McCammon joins us now from the Hilton Midtown in New York City, where Donald Trump will spend election night. Sarah, can you hear me?

MCCAMMON: I sure can. Hi there.

CORNISH: Hey. So first tell us what you're hearing from the candidate or, more importantly, from his team. What are they saying today?

MCCAMMON: Well, you know, they're tweeting out any kind of polling or exit polling that looks good for them, as you would expect and, you know, staying pretty positive at this point. And Trump on Twitter is saying, you know, it's not over yet. There's still time to vote. Get out and vote. So that seems to be the message. They're optimistic. But I think they realize that the polls have been tight and that Trump has been seen as the underdog.

CORNISH: And given what you've seen this last year, what have you made of this movement of what Trump's done to the party?

MCCAMMON: You know, he has really tapped into a lot of concerns that a lot of Republican voters - especially white voters - have about the way the country is changing. Some of those are economic. Some of those are demographic. Some are cultural. He has tapped into those in a big way and excited a lot of mostly white voters but, at the same time, turned off a lot of other voters. So we will see what the American voters as a whole say tonight.

CORNISH: And that's NPR's Sarah McCammon reporting from Trump's election night headquarters throughout the night. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Sarah McCammon worked for Iowa Public Radio as Morning Edition Host from January 2010 until December 2013.
Sarah McCammon
Sarah McCammon is a National Correspondent covering the Mid-Atlantic and Southeast for NPR. Her work focuses on political, social and cultural divides in America, including abortion and reproductive rights, and the intersections of politics and religion. She's also a frequent guest host for NPR news magazines, podcasts and special coverage.
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