WELCOME TO THE United States of Uncertainty.
As the election results came in, Donald Trump seemed to be on his way to a razor-thin presidential victory, a result that, if it holds, will shock not just the nation but the world. Perhaps not since the election of Andrew Jackson will there have been such a jolt to the established political order.
If Trump wins, America will have elected a man who has campaigned on nativism and xenophobia, trafficked in conspiracy theories, and, with his call for putting his rival in prison, acted like a tinhorn demagogue.
If Clinton manages to pull this out, which was still possible at deadline, it will be by the narrowest of margins. But as Tuesday night gave way to Wednesday morning, that seemed less and less likely. In state after state where Hillary Clinton had expected to win, and sometimes win with a comfortable margin, Trump was either ahead or close on her heels.
Whatever the outcome, this election marked the revolt of the white working class. He obviously benefited from a strong hidden vote that defied both the pre-Election Day polls and, once again, the exit polls. And his hard-line message on trade and immigration obviously had even more resonance than had been apparent before Tuesday.
Trump hit those issues relentlessly, denouncing trade deals and blaming them for the loss of manufacturing jobs that once sustained many blue-collar Americans. He also spoke of illegal immigrants from Mexico as criminals, and at one point pledged to round up all illegal immigrants in the country and send them back, a promise he later quietly backed away from.
But there’s also the campaign-scrambling effect of FBI Director James Comey’s October surprise, the announcement that the FBI was reviewing new, recently discovered e-mails in connection with its probe of Clinton’s use of a private e-mail server while secretary of state.
Comey said on Sunday that the FBI was sticking with its original decision not to recommend any prosecution of Clinton. Still, his Oct. 28 letter apprising Congress of the new review let Trump portray Clinton as a candidate who faced huge legal problems. And Trump hammered that theme at event after event after event. No matter how this turns out, there will be tremendous anger among Clinton supporters over Comey’s intervention.
Truly uncharted territory lies ahead.