Hillary Clinton campaign alumni relived a brutal election night as part of an oral history of Nov. 8, 2016, compiled by Esquire, showing they initially felt strong confidence that was soon replaced by the shock of losing to Donald Trump.
“We were waiting for the coronation. I was planning my Instagram caption,” Clinton campaign spokeswoman Zara Rahim said.
“I am normally a glass-half-empty guy when it comes to expectations on election days. This was the first big election where I was absolutely certain we were going to win,” Clinton senior adviser Jim Margolis said.
Clinton national press secretary Brian Fallon said he had confidence after seeing polls putting his camp up in enough states to win 270 electoral votes.
“There had been a battleground tracking poll our team had done over the weekend that had us up 4 [points],” he said. “We were up in more than enough states to win, taking us over 270. The public polls all showed a similar outlook.”
He added that he was hearing from people throughout his life who were anticipating a Clinton victory and thanking him for taking on Trump.
“Everybody is conveying thanks for taking on Trump,” Fallon said. “It was going to be a cathartic experience of him getting his comeuppance after months of representing something that was so egregious in the eyes of so many people.”
Sen. Tim Kaine (D., Va.), Clinton’s running mate, said that for a brief period, he thought she would win and he would become vice president when he saw promising returns in Virginia.
“This was a huge feeling given all the work that Anne and I have done for 30-plus years to help make Virginia more progressive. It struck me for the first time, ‘I will probably be vice president.’ That feeling lasted about 90 minutes,” he said.
Clinton did win Virginia, her only southern state victory, by one more point than Barack Obama did against Mitt Romney in 2012.
As the night progressed, however, and returns showed Trump moving toward victory, the campaign tone darkened.
“A member of senior leadership came, and I’ll never forget him looking at us and saying, essentially, ‘If she doesn’t win Michigan and Wisconsin, Donald Trump will be president-elect.’ That was the first time I heard those words,” Rahim said.
By the wee hours of Nov. 9, Trump’s victory looked assured, even though the Associated Press would not call the election for him until around 2:30 a.m. Trump wound up winning in Pennsylvania, Michigan, Iowa, Ohio, Wisconsin, and Florida, all states Obama won in 2008 and 2012.
Fallon revealed that the Javits Center in New York City, where Clinton hoped to give a victory speech that night, needed everyone out of the building by 3 a.m., leading campaign chairman John Podesta to give brief remarks shortly after 2 a.m. to tell everyone to go home.
News broke almost immediately after Podesta’s comments that Clinton had called Trump to concede the race.
“I was on with [campaign manager] Robby [Mook], who was in the room with her when she did the concession call to Trump. It was surreal. It was beyond my imagination that we would be in this position with this person being elected president,” Margolis said.
Soon after, Trump addressed the nation for the first time as president-elect, saying it was time for the country to unite.
“I stayed in Brooklyn throughout the campaign, but that night I got a hotel in Midtown, close to the Peninsula,” Fallon said. “I actually walked past his hotel. I saw all the red hats that were still milling about outside of his victory party. It was pretty surreal.”