Trump Victory Party
New York Hilton Midtown
10:59 p.m., Election Day
I’m about to throw up.
I’m standing on the press riser at Donald Trump’s New York City Election Night headquarters. Fox News is playing on two big-screen televisions, framing a stage covered with American flags and punctuated by two glass cases, each containing a make america great again hat. At the center, there’s an empty podium gathering historical significance by the second.
“We have a big call to make right now,” says Megyn Kelly, on the screen alongside Bret Baier.
As the clock strikes 11 p.m., the Fox camera pans across the studio to a jumbotron to reveal an oversized yellow check mark next to Donald Trump’s grinning portrait and a picture of the state of Florida. Trump has just won it, along with all twenty-nine of its electoral votes. The ballroom crowd of staffers, super supporters, and volunteers goes absolutely wild. The journalists in the room fall silent.
If the future is a blank sheet of paper, this news rips it in two.
My phone vibrates. And vibrates again. It doesn’t stop.
“Holy shit, you called it!” flashes a text from a friend who had been insisting, like nearly all the polls on Planet Earth, that Hillary was a lock. I pick up my phone and check the New York Timeselection forecast. After predicting a Clinton victory for months, it has flipped. Trump has a 95[i] percent chance of winning the election, it says. Only two hours ago, Hillary Clinton had an 85 percent chance.
Holy shit. I did call it.
In the seventeen months before now, I visited more than forty states, filing more than thirty-eight hundred live TV reports. I did all that as the Trump correspondent for NBC News and MSNBC, and I did it with one audience in mind: the American voter. My goal was to explain what Trump believed in and how he would govern if elected. The job came with all the usual hardships of the campaign trail plus a few new ones, such as death threats and a gazillion loops of Elton John’s “Tiny Dancer,” a staple of Trump’s campaign rallies. I am proud of the work I’ve done but also quite ready for it to be over, thank you very much.
Ali Vitali weaves her way over to me on the crowded riser. She’s been NBC’s Trump embed since early on, a job that means not only attending virtually every campaign event, but also recording it for posterity. “Katy!” she says, with desperation in her voice. I am not prepared for the news she’s about to deliver.
“Katy!” she says again. “He’s going to keep doing rallies.”
At first I don’t understand her. He’s going to be president—why would he keep doing campaign rallies?
“Trump,” Ali says. “He’s already planning victory rallies.”
My head is a helium balloon.
The panic mounts.
I am nearly falling over.
More taunting crowds, more around-the-clock live shots, more airports, more earsplitting Pavarotti . . . I can’t. I just can’t.
The room goes wavy. My stomach churns. Lights flash in my eyes.
I’m never going on vacation. I’m never seeing my friends. I’m never getting my bed back. My brutal, crazy, exasperating year with Trump is going to end—by not ending at all. Trump will be president. The most powerful person in the world. And I will be locked in a press pen for the rest of my life. Does anyone really believe he’ll respect term limits? I have a vision of myself at sixty, Trump at a hundred, in some midwestern convention hall. The children of his 2016 supporters are spitting on me, and he is calling my name: “She’s back there, Little Katy! She’s back there.”
Anthony Terrell, my producer, taps me on the shoulder.
“They want you,” he says.
I put in my earpiece and hear Brian Williams and Rachel Maddow digesting the news. In seconds, I’ll be live in millions of homes. I can feel the bile in the back of my throat, but before I can swallow, I hear Brian building to a toss.
“Katy Tur is just up the block from us after a 510-day Trump campaign,” he says. “What are you learning from there?”
Well, I’ve learned that Trump insists that he has “the world’s greatest memory,” but his vision of the future got him this far. I’ve learned that Trump has his own version of reality, which is a polite way of saying he can’t always be trusted. He also brings his own sense of political decorum. I’ve heard him insult a war hero, brag about grabbing women by the pussy, denigrate the judicial system, demonize immigrants, fight with the pope, doubt the democratic process, advocate torture and war crimes, tout the size of his junk in a presidential debate, trash the media, and endanger my life.
I’ve learned that none of this matters to an Electoral College majority of American voters. They’ve decided that this menacing, indecent, post-truth landscape is where they want to live for the next four years. Look, I get it. You can’t tell a joke without worrying you’ll lose your job. Your twenty-something can’t find work. Your town is boarded up. Patriotism gets called racism. Your food is full of chemicals. Your body is full of pills. You call tech support and reach someone in India. Bills are spiking but your paycheck is not. And you can’t send your kid to school with peanut butter. On top of it all, no one seems to care. You feel like you’re screaming at the top of your lungs in a room full of people wearing earplugs.
I get it.
What I don’t get are the little old ladies in powder-pink Trump hats calling me a liar. I don’t get the men in hillary sucks—but not like monica T-shirts. I don’t get why protesting a broken political system also means you need to protest the very notion of objective truth. Because of Trump’s war on the media, networks have required a traveling security detail except for Fox News (which hasn’t been as demonized) and CBS (whose main correspondent is a guy who looks like he might be named Major—and is). A couple of weeks ago an advance staffer at a rally told me not to worry. “Save for Trump,” he said, “you’re the most watched person in the room. The Secret Service always has eyes on you.”
I also know enough not to mention it.
“The Trump campaign is feeling really good,” I tell Brian, detailing what my sources are describing as the crazy, jubilant behavior inside Trump Tower at the moment. Trump himself has supposedly left. “He is upstairs spending some time with his family as the prospect of him becoming”—smallest of pauses—”president of the United States is suddenly a little more real than it was even earlier today.”
I make it through the hit and the nausea passes. I have work to do, and nobody cares how tired I am. But that wave of whoa lingers. It is unbelievable, I think. All of it. Utterly. Inescapably. Completely. Unbelievable.
I’m writing these words on the eve of Trump’s inauguration, seventy-seven days and at least seventy-seven thousand think pieces after Election Night. I’ve read countless articles about the 2016 election. Some have been insightful. Some have been absurd. As the very first national TV news reporter to cover the Trump juggernaut, I was there from the beginning—covering it every day for nearly two years, until the shocking end—and I’ve reached just one conclusion. Actually, two conclusions. First, no one can make perfect sense of it. Second, I’m smart enough not to try. The Trump campaign was the most unlikely, exciting, ugly, trying, and all-around bizarre campaign in American history. It roiled America and with it, my little life. I won’t pretend to explain it. I will tell you what I saw.
From UNBELIEVABLE: My Front-Row Seat to the Craziest Campaign in American History, by Katy Tur, published by Dey Street. Copyright © 2017 by Katy Tur. Reprinted courtesy of HarperCollinsPublishers