By Steve Holland and John Whitesides
(Reuters) – Republican Donald Trump stunned the world by defeating heavily favored rival Hillary Clinton in Tuesday’s presidential election, ending eight years of Democratic rule and sending the United States on a new, uncertain path.
A wealthy real-estate developer and former reality TV host, Trump rode a wave of anger toward Washington insiders to win the White House race against Clinton, the Democratic candidate whose gold-plated establishment resume included stints as a first lady, U.S. senator and secretary of state.
Worried a Trump victory could cause economic and global uncertainty, investors were in full flight from risky assets. But the U.S. dollar and world stocks began to steady in the European morning on Wednesday, having been hammered overnight.
Trump collected enough of the 270 state-by-state electoral votes needed to win a four-year term that starts on Jan. 20, taking battleground states where presidential elections are traditionally decided, U.S. television networks projected.
He appeared with his family before cheering supporters in a New York hotel ballroom, saying it was time to heal the divisions caused by the campaign and find common ground after a campaign that exposed deep differences among Americans.
“It is time for us to come together as one united people,” Trump said. “I will be president for all Americans.”
He said he had received a call from Clinton to congratulate him on the win and praised her for her service and for a hard-fought campaign.
His comments were an abrupt departure from his campaign trail rhetoric in which he repeatedly slammed Clinton as “crooked” amid supporters’ chants of “lock her up.”
Republicans also kept control of Congress. Television networks projected the party would retain majorities in both the 100-seat U.S. Senate and the U.S. House of Representatives, where all 435 seats were up for grabs.
At Clinton’s election event at the Javits conference center a mile away from Trump’s event, an electric atmosphere among supporters expecting a Clinton win slowly grew grim as her losses piled up.
Clinton opted not to appear at her event, instead sending campaign chairman John Podesta out to tell her supporters to go home. “We’re not going to have anything more to say tonight,” he said.
Clinton was expected to speak on Wednesday morning, an aide said.
Prevailing in a cliffhanger race that opinion polls had clearly forecast as favoring a Clinton victory, Trump won avid support among a core base of white non-college educated workers with his promise to be the “greatest jobs president that God ever created.”
In his victory speech, he said he had a great economic plan, would embark on a project to rebuild American infrastructure and would double U.S. economic growth.
His win raises a host of questions for the United States at home and abroad. He campaigned on a pledge to take the country on a more isolationist, protectionist “America First” path. He has vowed to impose a 35 percent tariff on goods exported to the United States by U.S. companies that went abroad.
Trump, who at 70 will be the oldest first-term U.S. president, came out on top after a bitter and divisive campaign that focused largely on the character of the candidates and whether they could be trusted to serve as the country’s 45th president.
The presidency will be Trump’s first elected office, and it remains to be seen how he will work with Congress. During the campaign Trump was the target of sharp disapproval, not just from Democrats but from many in his own party.
Countries around the world reacted with stunned disbelief.
German Defense Minister Ursula von der Leyen, an ally of Chancellor Angela Merkel, described the result as a “huge shock” and questioned whether it meant the end of “Pax Americana”, the state of relative peace overseen by Washington that has governed international relations since World War Two.
Neighbor Mexico was pitched into deep uncertainty by the victory for Trump who has often accused it of stealing U.S. jobs and sending criminals across the border.
British Prime Minister Theresa May congratulated Trump and said the two countries would remain “strong and close partners on trade, security and defense.”
Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif called on Washington to stay committed to last year’s international nuclear deal with Iran, which Trump has threatened to rip up.
Trump’s national security ideas have simultaneously included promises to build up the U.S. military while at the same time avoiding foreign military entanglements.
He wants to rewrite international trade deals to reduce trade deficits and has taken positions that raise the possibility of damaging relations with America’s most trusted allies in Europe, Asia and the Middle East.
Trump has promised to warm relations with Russia that have chilled under President Barack Obama over Russian President Vladimir Putin’s intervention in the Syrian civil war and his seizure of Ukraine’s Crimea region.
Putin sent Trump a congratulatory note on Wednesday, saying he hoped that they can get the U.S.-Russian relationship out of crisis.
Trump entered the race 17 months ago and survived a series of seemingly crippling blows, many of them self-inflicted, including the emergence in October of a 2005 video in which he boasted about making unwanted sexual advances on women. He apologized but within days, several women emerged to say he had groped them, allegations he denied. He was judged the loser of all three presidential debates with Clinton.
A Reuters/Ipsos national Election Day poll offered some clues to the outcome. It found Clinton underperformed expectations with women, winning their vote by only about 7 percent, similar to Obama when he won re-election in 2012.
And while she won Hispanics, black and millennial voters, Clinton did not win those groups by greater margins than Obama did in 2012. Younger blacks did not support Clinton like they did Obama, as she won eight of 10 black voters between the ages of 35 and 54. Obama won almost 100 percent of those voters in 2012.
During the campaign, Trump said he would “make America great again” through the force of his personality, negotiating skill and business acumen. He proposed refusing entry to the United States of people from war-torn Middle Eastern countries, a modified version of an earlier proposed ban on Muslims.
His volatile nature, frequent insults and unorthodox proposals led to campaign feuds with a long list of people, including Muslims, the disabled, Republican U.S. Senator John McCain, Fox News anchor Megyn Kelly, the family of a slain Muslim-American soldier, a Miss Universe winner and a federal judge of Mexican heritage.
A largely anti-Trump crowd of about 400 to 500 people gathered outside the White House after his victory, many visibly in shock or tears. Some carried signs that read “stand up to racism” and “love trumps hate.”
The election was unprecedented in the way it turned Americans against each other, according to dozens of interviews in rural United States and across some of the most politically charged battleground states.
Throughout his campaign – and especially in his acceptance speech at the Republican National Convention in July – Trump described a dark America that had been knocked to its knees by China, Mexico, Russia and Islamic State. The American dream was dead, he said, smothered by malevolent business interests and corrupt politicians, and he alone could revive it.
He has vowed to win economic concessions from China and to build a wall on the southern U.S. border with Mexico to keep out undocumented immigrants.
As financial markets absorbed the prospect of Trump’s win, the Mexican peso plunged to its lowest-ever levels. The peso had become a touchstone for sentiment on the election as Trump threatened to rip up a free trade agreement with Mexico.
His triumph was a rebuke to Obama, a Democrat who spent weeks flying around the country to campaign against him, repeatedly casting doubt on his suitability for the White House. Obama will hand over the office to Trump after serving the maximum eight years allowed by law.
Trump promises to push Congress to repeal Obama’s troubled healthcare plan and to reverse his Clean Power Plan. He plans to create jobs by relying on U.S. fossil fuels such as oil and gas.
Trump’s victory marked a frustrating end to the presidential aspirations of Clinton, 69, who failed for the second time to be elected the first woman U.S. president.
In a posting on Twitter during Tuesday evening, she acknowledged a battle that was unexpectedly tight given her edge in opinion polls going into Election Day.
“This team has so much to be proud of. Whatever happens tonight, thank you for everything,” she tweeted.
The wife of former President Bill Clinton, she held a steady lead in many opinion polls for months. Voters perceived in her a cautious and calculating candidate and an inability to personally connect with them.
Even though the FBI found no grounds for criminal charges after a probe into her use of a private email server rather than a government system while she was secretary of state, the issue allowed critics to raise doubts about her integrity. Hacked emails also showed a cozy relationship between her State Department and donors to her family’s Clinton Foundation charity.
Trump seized on the emails to charge that Clinton represented a corrupt political system in Washington that had to be swept clean.
(Writing by John Whitesides and Alistair Bell; Additional reporting by Amanda Becker, Emily Stephenson and Christopher Kahn in New York, Letitia Stein in St. Petersburg, Florida, Luciana Lopez in Miami, Colleen Jenkins in Winston-Salem and Kim Palmer in Ohio; Editing by Howard Goller and Frances Kerry)
IMAGE: Donald Trump greets supporters during his election night rally in Manhattan. REUTERS/Mike Segar