The unthinkable has happened. Reality television has merged with reality. Donald Trump is America’s president-elect.
In scenes that many believed all but impossible, Mr Trump appeared before supporters in the early hours of Wednesday morning, after having pulled off an extraordinary victory. He quickly vowed to “bind the wounds” after a toxic campaign.
“Thank you everybody. Sorry to have kept you waiting, it’s a complicated business,” said Mr Trump, who looked as surprised as anyone.
At around 3am in New York, Mr Trump's tally of electoral votes stood at 279, compared to 218 for Ms Clinton. He had secured more than 57m votes, beating his rival by a little under a million in the popular vote.
He said that a few moments earlier, the had received a call of concession from his rival, Hillary Clinton. “She congratulated us - it is us - on our victory, and I congratulated her and her family for a very hard fought campaign.”
It has been 18 months since the 70-year-old and his wife, Melania, slid down the escalator at Trump Tower in New York to announce that the brash tycoon was making a run for the White House.
“Ladies and gentlemen,” declared the man, best known to most of the world as the host of The Apprentice. “I am officially running for President of the United States.”
During the 30 minutes he spoke, insulting Mexicans and calling many of them rapists and murderers, Mr Trump gave a clear hint of what his campaign would bring.
“Our country is in serious trouble. We don’t have victories anymore.”
On Tuesday night, as the predictions of pundits and pollsters were thrown into the garbage, it became clear just how many Americans agreed with the tycoon’s assessment of the state of the country.
First came the battleground state of Ohio, then came North Carolina, quickly followed by the crucial prize of Florida. Over the space of two hours, the New York Times victory prediction went, in the space of a couple of hours, from 85 per cent in favour of Ms Clinton, to 95 per cent for Mr Trump.
As Ms Clinton’s supporters gathered at the Javits Center in New York, the candidate tweeted to her supporters: “Whatever happens tonight, thank you for everything.”
Ms Clinton, 69 a fixture in American politics for decades, was hoping to become the first woman to serve as commander in chief. Her race against Mr Trump, a celebrity businessman with no political experience, was among the nastiest in recent memory, exposing and deepening the nation’s economic and racial divides.
Yet exit polls underscored the deep divisions that have defined the 2016 contest. Women nationwide supported Ms Clinton by a double-digit margin, while men were significantly more likely to back Mr Trump. More than half of white voters backed the Republican, while nearly 9 in 10 blacks and two-thirds of Hispanics voted for the Democrat.
Yet beyond that, polls showed that while both candidates had high negatives - they were perhaps the most unpopular candidates in recent history - Ms Clinton was deeply distrusted by many members of the population. Much of this was connected with secrecy she had exhibited during her years in public office.
Yet a lot of the concern related to the controversy over her use of a private email server and an investigation by the FBI into whether she was guilty of criminal behaviour. The FBI this summer said that while she and her aides may have been careless, there was insufficient evidence to charge her with a criminal offence.
However, with just ten day before the election, FBI Director James Comey announced that it had reopened the investigation, after the discovery of new emails. It later transpired that the emails belonged to disgraced Congressman Anthony Weiner, the estranged husband of Ms Clinton’s senior aide, Huma Abedin.
Mr Comey said just two days before the investigation that it had not changed its opinion about her criminality. However, the damage was done.
Exit polls showed that more than four in ten voters said Ms Clinton’s email controversies bothered them “a lot".
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