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After Bumpy Start, Trump Stirred Up Wave Of Enthusiasm In His Supporters


In less than two hours, the first polls will close, and we'll begin seeing the results of the 2016 presidential election. 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 populist 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. Thank you. Thank you. Thank you. Thank you very much.

MCCAMMON: The wave of enthusiasm for the brash real estate developer from Queens who had never held office mystified many pundits and political observers who largely wrote him off at first. That sentiment was reinforced by his 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: That 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 hat.

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 have believed that when we started this journey on June 16 of last year, we - and I say we because we are a team - 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. It's just (unintelligible). And when you're a star, they let you do it. You can do anything.

BILLY BUSH: Whatever you want.

TRUMP: Grab them by the [expletive]. 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 that.


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.


TRUMP: Thank you, everybody. Thank you.

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

MCCAMMON: Yes. I can. Hello, Audie.

CORNISH: All right. So what's the vibe you're getting from Donald Trump or from his team today?

MCCAMMON: Well, we know that he voted this morning here in New York. And he said he was very excited. And going into today, he's been expressing excitement and positive vibes about the result of the election. But I have to say, he also seems nervous. On Fox today, he said something - he said on the campaign trail which is if he loses, it would be a big waste of time, money and energy and also asked if he would concede the election if he loses. He said again that he would wait and see.

And another thing is, you know, on Twitter and elsewhere, he's been highlighting some vote - well, he's been talking about the possibility going into this election of voting problems. And today he's been highlighting a few irregularities here and there. I should say, though, nothing we're seeing so far appears to be out of the ordinary.

CORNISH: Now as you described earlier, Trump supporters are very loyal. He calls it an unprecedented movement. How would you sum up what you've seen the last year and a half?

MCCAMMON: It's kind of a lot of factors coming together. We heard a lot about economic anxiety, motivated by changes in the, you know, the demographic and economic situations in this country. A lot of Trump supporters tell me they feel threatened by immigrants both in terms of a sense that they're taking their jobs. They're concerned about the threat of terrorism, and they see immigrants - many of them tell me as posing a threat in terms of terrorism. At the same time, Audie, Trump supporters I talked to told me, you know, they do by and large tend to be white, and they told me they don't think that they're racist. They don't think that Trump is racist. They just think he's highlighting some real concerns. But, you know, that kind of rhetoric that energizes these voters is the very same kind of rhetoric that is off-putting and alienating to many of the minority voters that the Republican Party has been trying so hard to reach.

CORNISH: Sarah, thanks so much.

MCCAMMON: Thank you.

CORNISH: That's NPR's Sarah McCammon. She'll be reporting from Trump's election night headquarters throughout the night, and we'll hear about Hillary Clinton's road to this Election Day elsewhere in the program. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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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