TV news producers and anchors were bracing for a busy and unpredictable Election Night — but not quite this unpredictable.
The surprising strength of Donald Trump as the election returns came rolling in starting around 7 p.m. ET has made the race to rack up 270 electoral college far more volatile than had been suggested by any mainstream poll or political analysis. Weeks of prognosticators putting Clinton’s chances of taking the White House at far better than 50% set expectations high that the race would be called fairly early in the night after polls closed.
“If there is anything we can say conclusively about tonight it is ‘uncertainty,’ ” “CBS Evening News” anchor Scott Pelley said with gravitas as Trump’s strength in unexpected states like Michigan and Pennsylvania became clear.
The disbelief was clear in the voices of many anchors as they began to articulate that Trump’s thoroughly unconventional campaign could defy all odds and virtually every protocol in American politics.
If Trump prevails, it will amount to “an ideological and electoral revolution that we haven’t seen since Reagan,” said Fox News commentator Charles Krauthammer. CBS News’ Peggy Noonan echoed that sentiment. “It is epic. It is surprising. It’s a kind of uprising, a kind of revolt,” she said.
CBS News’ Charlie Rose was almost whispering as he asked a panel of CBS political analysts if they had “any idea” that Trump would be as strong as he was when the coverage started just two hours before. “It’s both cultural and economic,” he said of the clear appeal of Trump’s message, despite the candidate’s polarizing comments about women, Hispanics, Muslims and immigrants.
Fox News’ Megyn Kelly observed that the long night ahead may force her to bow out of her scheduled guest co-hosting gig with Kelly Ripa on the syndicated “Live with Kelly” Wednesday morning.
“This was not what they expected,” Kelly said of the Clinton campaign. “They thought she was going to run away with it.”
Fox News’ Chris Wallace noted the last two presidential campaigns were called shortly after 11 p.m. ET. Not this time. “We’re a long way from it being over,” Wallace said.
As Trump began adding states to his win column, the analysis shifted from the dynamics in battleground state to explanation as to how so many polls could have been so far off the mark. The expectation that Trump had a nearly impossible climb to the 270 electoral votes had been turned on its ear by midnight ET.
“She’s now where we thought he would be,” Fox News’ Brit Hume said.
Analysts zeroed in on the angry strain of populism that buoyed both Trump and the Democratic candidacy of Sen. Bernie Sanders. “Face the Nation” anchor John Dickerson focused on the “education gap” among the large numbers of white men and women without college degrees who voted in numbers for Trump. Those supporters apparently offset Clinton’s effort to draw strength from young, multicultural voters who were alienated by Trump’s divisive rhetoric.
But in fact, exit poll data showed Clinton faring worse than Obama in 2012 among black men and Hispanic women while Trump had better-than-expected pull with blue-collar voters in Rust Belt states, according to CBS News.
Clinton’s campaign had no shortage of star power, particularly in the last few weeks when President Obama and first lady Michelle Obama hit the trail hard for the Democratic candidate. Bruce Springsteen, Jay Z, Beyonce, Katy Perry, Jon Bon Jovi and a host of other stars lent their support to Clinton in high-profile events, casting Trump as a danger to civil rights and common decency.
That sentiment was echoed by many establishment figures, from major newspapers who penned dire warnings about the threat he posed to Republican leaders who vowed not to vote for him. But that collective outrage and outreach didn’t dissuade millions of voters.
“The vaunted power of the media is not what it might once have been,” Hume observed.