The early part of election night on the second floor of the Hilton in Midtown Manhattan feels more like a heavily fortified frat formal than the coronation of the next American president. The hotel is flanked on all sides by a line of dump trucks filled with sand to insulate it from a bomb detonation. Sloppily drunk dudes in ill-fitting sport coats, ties and Make America Great Again caps and women in tight-fitting red cocktail dresses hover around the cash bars, buzzing with pent-up excitement.
In the ballroom, television cameras are arranged on the press risers; reporters stand around them, ready to broadcast what's supposed to be Trump's final humiliation to millions of viewers around the world. (One of the spaces is labeled "Trump TV," an indication the Republican nominee's already laying the groundwork for his next business venture.)
As the night wears on, empty beer bottles collect on the high-top tables next to stacks of "Women for Trump" and "Hispanics for Trump" signs. Those posters would have added a little ironic color to the story most reporters were expecting to write tonight: a story about the knockout blow two of the groups that suffered the brunt of Trump's abuse – women and Latinos – dealt his hateful campaign. But that wasn't the way it worked out.
Trump actually received two percent more of the Hispanic vote than Mitt Romney did in 2012. With women, he did only two percent worse than Romney. It was Hillary Clinton who underperformed with women by one percent and Latinos by six percent, compared to Obama in 2012. Those margins – coupled with Trump's two-to-one advantage with uneducated white men – helped him claim, one by one, the various battleground states in which Clinton sought to block his path to 270 electoral votes.
Each state that's called for Trump is greeted with hoots and hollers in the hallway outside the Hilton ballroom. After every call, restrained Fox News hosts caution that Trump still faces a tough climb, but in gleeful hushed voices, baby-faced operatives are huddled together pointing in bemused disbelief as The New York Times odometer frantically twitches from an 85 percent chance of a Clinton win, to a 95 percent chance of a Trump victory.
Energy at the Hilton – chosen because city law forbids Trump from holding events in the Trump Tower lobby; he's been fined $10,000 for doing so – only swells as it gets later.
Just before midnight, supporters begin pouring into the ballroom from rooms located on the above floors. Loud cheers break out when the TV screens show Clinton down in Michigan. At 12:04, as Fox pans the crowd at the Javits Center, where Clinton had planned to celebrate her win, and Bret Baier notes, to cheers in the ballroom, that some of the former secretary of state's supporters are crying as they realize Trump might actually become their president.
Supporters at the Trump party all have the same thing to say to these stunned Americans: Don't worry! He's not as bad as the media has made him out to be these last 17 months.
Almost invariably, the supporters describe a man who's the complete opposite of the one who campaigned for president.
You may have heard, for instance, that Trump is not as generous as he makes himself out to be. Despite his claims that he's given millions to charity, the Washington Post found earlier this year he personally donated less than $10,000 over 7 years – an amount that might have been a bookkeeping error, in any event.
"Let me tell you something," says Dawn Casale, a stay-at-home mom from Staten Island who volunteered for the Trump campaign for the last nine months. "He's such a charitable, honest man. ... Part of his problem, with his speaking, is because he's too honest, alright? I used to run a Christmas party for poor kids in Brooklyn in the Eighties, alright? Him and his father Fred, God rest his soul, they used to donate a lot of money with no recognition at all, to buy toys for these poor kids. Never wanted any publicity for it, never anything."
"Believe me," she says.
Or perhaps you were under the impression that because Trump characterized Mexican immigrants as rapists and drug traffickers, and said he wanted to ban Muslims from traveling to the U.S. that he's anti-immigration. Not so, says Jason Meister, who works in real estate but calls himself a "campaign surrogate."
"I think people misunderstood him. I think when you strip away the rhetoric, like, for example, on immigration: no rational person would disagree with legal immigration. Donald Trump was saying he's opposed to illegal immigration, not legal immigration," Meister says. "This country was founded on legal immigration. We were founded by immigrants. We need immigrants. We have an economy that need immigrants. But Donald Trump was saying, We need borders, and without borders you have no country. And I believe that without borders, you have no country, and I think a lot of Americans, as you're seeing tonight, believe what I believe."
Shalabh Kumar and his friends let out an ear-piercing whistle after Fox projects Trump's victory in Wisconsin. One friend introduces Kumar to me by noting he "single-handedly turned 50,000 Hindu votes in Florida for Trump."
Kumar is the co-chair of the Republican-Hindu Coalition with Newt Gingrich, who, Kumar says, arranged his first meeting with Trump. "He said, Ask all the questions you have in your mind, just have it out. I had some doubts because sometimes he talks a little loose," Kumar says of Trump. "We had a very frank conversation ... and then after that [I] never looked back, and supported 100 percent."
Kumar's questions were what you would expect. "A question in your mind comes up: whether he's a racist, whether he's anti-immigration. It becomes pretty clear when you're talking to him. There is no drop of blood or bone of racism in his body," he says. "You can just tell. You meet the person and you can tell."
Pastor Darrell Scott, who ministers to a majority African-American church in Ohio, likewise says Americans will just have to take his word for it that Trump is not the racist, misogynistic xenophobe that he's been characterized as. "He's not a racist. He's not a sexist. He's not a misogynist, he's not a xenophobe. I know that for a fact. He's a friend of mine. I know it," he says. "Because I know him I know he's not a xenophobe. Because I know him I know he's not a racist. Because I know him I know he's not a sexist and I know he's not a misogynist. It's easy for me to support him because I know him."
His spiritual counsel for those people who don’t know Trump, and who aren't convinced of those things? "He's going to be a good president and they'll come to like him," he says.