Donald Trump

How did Donald Trump win the presidency?

To many, a President Trump was simply unthinkable. But nearly half of US voters wanted him in the White House

Donald Trump was never meant to be president. Few took him seriously when he first announced his campaign and even as he thinned out a vast Republican field, the party establishment dismissed his chances.

It wasn't hard to see why: controversies were erupting every few days as Trump, until then known as a bouffanted New York property developer and the host of the US version of The Apprentice, advanced polarising views on everything from immigration to pre-menstrual tension, autism to climate change.

None of it seemed to do his ratings any harm.

What does he stand for?

A Trump presidency represents a substantial break, not only from the Obama administration but from those of previous Republican presidents too. No typical conservative, he has promised to preserve Medicare, the government health programme for retired Americans, and to play a far more interventionist role in the economy. Trade deals, assiduously pursued by both Republicans and Democrats, will be torn up, he says. Protection for Nato allies will be up for negotiation.

The few specific policies advanced by Trump relate mostly to immigration. In 2015, he proposed a "total and complete shutdown of Muslims entering the United States". He has since refined the plan to bring it into line with the US constitution: the ban will target citizens of "terrorist countries".

Trump also pledges to start expelling 11 million "illegal aliens" from the US in his "first hour in office" and to build an "impenetrable, physical, tall, powerful, beautiful" wall along the southern US border. "Mexico will pay for it," he insists.

Critics say his proposals are impractical at best and downright racist at worst.

"He envisions an America in which a variety of legal rights don't apply to millions of minorities," said The New Republic, "a regime constructed for the enrichment and safeguarding of white people."

Had Trump run for office before?

No. Until now, the story every four years had been of Trump flirting with the idea of running for the White House but never going through with it. In 1999, he left the Republican Party - describing its members as "just too crazy right" - and considered standing for the fringe Reform Party; he also toyed with the idea of campaigning in 2004, 2008 and 2012 and has expressed regret about not running against Barack Obama. "I would've won," he says. "He would've been easy." But he's not doing badly for a political novice. "He knows his crowd, he knows his audience," says Howard Dean, a former Democratic candidate for the presidency in 2004. "It's a phenomenon to watch."

Why did he do so well?

The pundits spent more than a year trying to figure out whether Trump's success was down to his fame and his billions or whether he was tapping deeper currents in US politics. "The people hate the elites, which is not new," said Peggy Noonan in the Wall Street Journal. "The elites have no faith in the people, which, actually, is new. Everything is stasis. Then Donald Trump comes, like a rock thrown through a showroom window."

His campaign speeches combined despair - "The American dream is dead" - with a bullish description of his own abilities as a dealmaker and outsider who will not take orders from anyone. "I don't need anybody's money. I'm not using the lobbyists, I'm not using donors. I don't care," he said during the primaries. "I'm really rich." Later in the campaign, he bowed to pressure from Republican officials and started fundraising, but the bragging didn't stop – and nor did his criticism of the party apparatchiks working to elect him.

How did he become famous?

He exploded onto the landscape of recession-hit 1970s New York as a new kind of celebrity businessman. The fourth of five children born to Fred Trump – a property developer who made millions building modest apartments in Brooklyn and Queens in New York – Donald took over the family business at the age of 28 and was soon dubbed the "Michael Jackson of real estate".

"A brash Adonis from the outer boroughs" is how a 1983 profile in the New York Times described him; "a blond, blue-eyed, six-footer who wears maroon suits and matching loafers".

Trump turned away from his father's low-key developments and specialised in tower blocks, casinos, ice rinks and hotels; the bigger and brasher, the better. By 1988, according to Forbes magazine, he was worth $1bn.

Has he always been successful?

Packed off to military school at the age of 13, Trump began buying and selling property as a student at the University of Pennsylvania in the 1960s and his ability to spot deals was quickly noticed by his rivals. "He has the uncanny ability to smell blood in the water," one said. To disguise his intention to buy land for casinos in New Jersey, Trump sent 14 people to buy 15 different plots. "If the seller was Italian," he later explained, "we sent an Italian." A big part of his success has been talking about it. "I play to people's fantasies," he wrote in his 1987 book The Art of the Deal. One of his latest biographers, Michael D'Antonio, says Trump's emergence "coincided, almost exactly, with the moment when median wages stopped growing" in the US, making him an almost mythic success figure whose business failures were largely overlooked.

Failures? What failures?

Since 1991, his companies, mostly in his casino business, have filed for bankruptcy on four separate occasions, with losses running into billions of dollars. and although he's still extremely wealthy, the impact on his personal finances remains a mystery. During his stormy divorce with his first wife, Ivana, in 1992, she maintained he was worth a mere $400m-$600m, not the $1.5bn he claimed. In 2005, court papers filed by Deutsche Bank had him down as worth $788m, rather than the $2.5bn reported in the press. Launching his presidential campaign, Trump claimed to be worth $8.7bn (Forbes says $4.4bn). He has also tried to spin his occasional troubles to his advantage. "Stop saying I went bankrupt," he tweeted in June. "I never went bankrupt but like many great business people I have used the laws to corporate advantage – smart!"

Was he destined to win? 

The Republican lagged behind Hillary Clinton, his Democratic rival, in the polls for almost all of the campaign. After a successful convention, Clinton established a clear lead over her rival, who stumbled from gaffe to gaffe - suggesting Russia should hack into the State Department, for example, or floating the idea that gun enthusiasts might assassinate Clinton if she tried to repeal the right to bear arms. His most damaging miss-step was waging a lengthy war of words against the parents of a Muslim-American soldier who had died in Iraq.

Then audiotape emerged of Trump talking about his treatment of women, saying he would kiss them without asking and "grab them by the pussy" – and again, the businessman appeared to compound the problem, going on the offensive even when several women accused him of sexual assault.

But the race tightened in the last two weeks, which some analysts ascribed to the FBI's decision to reopen an inquiry into Clinton's use of a private email server while she was secretary of state. Others pointed out that the polls were already turning before the FBI announcement.

Even so, Clinton went into election day with a clear lead and the result was unexpected. "Trump Triumphs," screamed the New York Times front-page headline. "Shocking Upset as Outsider Harnesses Voters' Dissatisfaction."

How will he govern?

Throughout the primaries, and then the general election campaign, and then the transition, some of Trump's supporters and many of his opponents have suggested that he we would be more "presidential" in office. "But the best indicator of future behaviour," says NPR's political editor Domenico Montanaro, "is past behaviour."

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