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Expectation…and then Elation

Yisroel Besser, The Midtown Hilton, NY

Live Countdown from Trump HQ

Thursday, November 10, 2016

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President-elect Donald Trump thanks RNC Chairman Reince Priebus during his victory speech, November 9th, 2016

T he streets around Donald J. Trump’s election-night headquarters at Manhattan’s Midtown Hilton are crackling with excitement. Inside, thousands of supporters have gathered to cheer on their hero. Just miles away, at the Javits Center, Hillary Clinton’s supporters huddle in expectation. Tonight, these might be the most consequential few miles in all the world.

I’m not the only one who looks a bit bewildered at Trump HQ: the campaign-staff members are young and still raw. The top Trump staffers, on the other hand, are skilled and practiced. As a gaggle of cameramen follow them, they deliver their lines with bluster and confidence, predicting their candidate’s win.

Behind them, however, massive screens rain down numbers and graphs like confetti: a record turnout, unprecedented Hispanic involvement. Another worry: There is excitement in the Hillary camp, the major networks say. The Trump faithful remain undaunted, doubling down; there are millions who haven’t yet voted, they insist, and plenty of time still left. It’s barely seven o’clock.

It’s being billed as a victory party and the Wi-Fi code is DJT4thewin. But I’ll be honest: during the slow first few hours, I take advantage of the quiet to write a magazine feature about Trump’s impending loss.

It’s hard to pinpoint a particular moment when the winds begin to change, but in hindsight I’d say it was when the faces on the screen at the Javits Center started to show alarm, a bit of human-like surprise. Florida, the talking heads keep saying, is still neck and neck. If he holds on, he has a path.

“Build a wall,” calls out someone on the floor, but he’s quickly shushed. The mood here isn’t stadium rally but upscale dinner, well-heeled friends and associates of the candidate on hand. There are many, many young people, along with a few of the “deplorables,” the bikers and unemployed steel-workers who were the target of Clinton’s rhetoric during the bitter campaign. There is a sense that something historic and very significant is happening. I listen to a small group in conversation.

 

Lou Rinaldi of Westchester shows me his phone, a picture of him and Donald Trump playing golf two weeks ago. “He’s an old friend of mine, and we often golf. This time, he looked at me and said, ‘You know I’m going to win. The polls know nothing. I see the people. I love this country and I want to help them.’ ” Rinaldi, a gray-haired Italian, pauses. “If you know Donald Trump, you know to take him seriously. He’s got it.”

I catch up with David Friedman, the Woodmere lawyer who’s been advising Trump on Israel issues for the last few months. Friedman hasn’t been Trump’s lawyer in years.

“It was a business relationship,” he tells me, “but it became a friendship, and we chatted often — more often than not about Israel and Jewish issues. He’s super bright and likes to gather opinions. What can I tell you, I feel like I found a new life… I’m thrilled to have been able to play a role in crafting the [Republican] platform, and I’d be honored to continue to serve with him.”

Jason Greenblatt, chief counsel of the Trump Organization and another confidant, especially on Israel issues, shares the excitement. “If he gets in, then there’s so much good he could do. I think she would be bad for Israel, and he would be a positive force.”

As the night goes on, cheers rise — at first cautious, then more exuberant. Each state’s results bring a fresh round of applause. His chief staffers are giving interviews, not discussing victory but reiterating the same point: whatever happens, he was proven right. The people liked his message. There is a forgotten America for whom he speaks. The pollsters know nothing. A young man grabs his friend and says, “Oh my, we’re moving to DC!” I delete my first piece and start to write a new one.

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