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What Just Happened?

President Donald J. Trump is here. And almost everyone got this election wrong.

Getty Images
Getty Images

The feeling I can’t shake tonight is just being wrong. Thunderstruck, yes. Angry and saddened and demoralized, sure. But on some basic level, everything I thought I knew about Donald Trump and the 2016 election and the American voter was proved wrong tonight. I suspect I’m not alone.

I was wrong that Donald Trump, a candidate who flaunted bigotry and misogyny and religious persecution, couldn’t be thought of as a plausible president.

I was wrong that Hillary Clinton — a candidate who was better funded and better prepared and actually ran a buttoned-up, bona fide campaign — couldn’t lose to Donald Trump.

I was wrong to trust a wealth of data journalists, some of whom put Clinton’s odds of winning at 98 percent Tuesday morning. Never have we “known” so much about a campaign and so little at the same time.

I was wrong to believe that a candidate who courted Moscow — and was courted by Moscow — wouldn’t be considered the bigger patriot.

I was wrong to think a candidate who surrounded himself with Chris Christie, Rudy Giuliani, and Pepe the Frog wouldn’t be entrusted with populating the executive branch.

I was wrong to think that a rich, TV-ad-driven campaign couldn’t be out-maneuvered by a Twitter account and a bunch of rallies.

I was wrong to think Trump couldn’t cut into the heart of the Democratic Midwest. The Democrats have won Michigan and Pennsylvania every election since 1992. They have won Wisconsin every election since 1988. It was as if Trump rang a dinner bell that brought every voter in every red county to the polls. He transformed Obama Democrats back into Reagan Democrats.

I was wrong that the star of the Billy Bush tape couldn’t win more than 53 percent of the vote with white women.

I was wrong that a wildly unpopular candidate couldn’t win 48 percent of the popular vote (at this writing) from anybody. Here’s one amazing example from tonight: According to an exit poll, 63 percent of Wisconsinites viewed Donald Trump unfavorably. Donald Trump won Wisconsin.

I was wrong to think the Obama era would end with a narrow Electoral College loss to someone like Marco Rubio, not with a gutting loss to the star of The Apprentice.

I wasn’t wrong about this: I knew a lot of people didn’t like the Obama era as much as I did. They didn’t like rushing headlong into the future. I was wrong, however, to imagine that Obama’s electoral coalition would be enduring.

Finally, I was wrong to underestimate the power of a mesmeric candidate to capture the public’s imagination without a lick of policy experience or even dignity. George W. Bush had a mildly mesmeric quality — you kept hearing he was a guy people wanted to have a beer with. Obama — as we see from Steve Kornacki’s magic scoreboard — convinced future Trump voters to support him. Trump was that guy in this election. He had a What-me-worry? smile, a knack for Twitter, an insult comic’s gift on the stage.

It worked.

The previously unthinkable idea of Trump winning the presidency usually started and stopped with the notion of a lunatic being the most powerful man in the world. After tonight, the nightmare is far greater. Trump will not only be president but have control of all three branches of government. He will appoint a justice to the Supreme Court who will tip the court’s balance rightward. (We hardly knew ye, Merrick Garland.)

Paul Ryan, the House speaker, has said he supports Trump. As the writer Jonathan Chait is fond of pointing out, this is almost certainly because he actually does. They agree on a lot. They will likely move to end Obamacare. They will throw away the Dodd-Frank financial reforms. They will cut taxes for the wealthy.

Where Trump differs from a lot of the Republicans is on immigration. The GOP power class — from Rupert Murdoch to John McCain — supports, or has supported, legalizing the 11 million undocumented immigrants in the United States. Trump supports building a giant wall on the country’s southern border. He supported mass deportation. (As with many policies, he later retreated from militancy into vague militancy.) Of the two sides, Trump has the mandate and the army of voters.

When previewing the Trump presidency, we can be more direct. During the campaign, Trump expressed a plainly racist point of view. What will it mean to have a racist man in the White House? I don’t even know how to answer that question, but I can imagine it will create a great climate of fear.

On TV tonight, someone said that, for American Muslims, Trump’s election is not a major political shake-up but a direct threat. I still think of Khizr Khan, standing onstage at the Democratic National Convention, waving a copy of the Constitution defiantly at Trump. It was one of the most moving things I’ve ever seen. I wonder how confident Khizr Khan feels tonight.

The other day, my pal Tommy Craggs wrote in Slate that no matter what anybody said, “this election was about the issues.” It wasn’t about the issues D.C. mandarins favor. It was about the big-ticket items: race, class, gender. Rare for an American election, everything was on the table.

If that’s true, and I suspect it is, Trump did not win a basic, political victory tonight. He did not just succeed in selling a tax cut for the wealthy as a tax cut for the middle class. Trump’s victory was elemental. It was near total. This is what it feels like to lose, and lose big time.