At the end of one of the ugliest political campaigns in American history, Democrats and Republicans finally agreed on something: It can’t be like this for the next four or eight years.
Hillary Clinton took the first step toward healing a deeply divided nation, offering an emotional concession to President-elect Donald Trump on Wednesday and imploring her supporters to accept him as their next president.
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“I hope that he will be a successful president for all Americans,” she said, apologizing to the crowd of supporters in New York for falling short of their goal to elect the first woman into the White House as president.
“I still believe in America and I always will. If you do, then we must accept this result and then look to the future,” she continued. “Donald Trump is going to be our president. We owe him an open mind and the chance to lead.”
President Barack Obama, who phoned both candidates early Wednesday morning after the outcome was decided, then did his part to continue laying the groundwork for a peaceful transition of power.
Delivering remarks on the election outcome Wednesday afternoon in the Rose Garden, Obama, who has invited Trump to the White House to further discuss the transition Thursday, said America is rooting for his successor.
“Everybody is sad when their side loses an election, but the day after we have to remember that we’re actually all on one team,” Obama said. “This is an intramural scrimmage. We’re not Democrats first. We’re not Republicans first. We are Americans first. We’re patriots first. We all want what’s best for this country.”
Indeed, the emerging theme Wednesday across both sides of the aisle is that Americans need to come together. House Speaker Paul Ryan, who has a rocky relationship with the billionaire, credited Trump for “the most incredible political feat I have seen in my lifetime” before looking ahead to a GOP White House to complement Republican majorities in the House and Senate.
“Now, Donald Trump will lead a unified Republican government, and we will work hand-in-hand on a positive agenda to tackle this country’s big challenges,” Ryan declared Wednesday in Janesville, Wisconsin.
And if the Republicans who didn’t even cast ballots for Trump coming around is any indication, Ryan wasn’t exaggerating. Former President George H.W. Bush, former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, and 2012 GOP nominee Mitt Romney offered well wishes and congratulations via Twitter.
Sens. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), Ben Sasse (R-Neb.), Mike Lee (R-Utah) and Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.) followed suit, with Flake expressing a desire to work with Trump.
“Now, back to eating crow..,” he tweeted.
Democratic leaders of the next Congress followed the lead of the White House and Democratic nominee, with House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi remarking in a statement that “we have a responsibility to come together and find common ground,” while future Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer said in a statement, “It is time for the country to come together and heal the bitter wounds from the campaign.”
With Clinton and Obama asking the American people to accept Trump as their next president — even as they expressed deep regret that the former secretary of state failed in her quest to become the first female president of the United States — wounded Democrats stoically set about their mission of helping unify the country after one of the most vicious presidential fights in the country’s history.
It was a dramatic reversal in tone for Clinton and Obama, who spent the closing weeks of the presidential campaign skewering Trump as a dangerous candidate who threatened to bring the country to its knees.
Speaking before dozens of her loyal aides, an emotional Clinton spoke frankly about the raw wound of the election, but she asked disappointed Americans to look beyond the letdown.
“This is painful, and it will be for a long time,” Clinton said. “But I want you to remember this: Our campaign was never about one person or even one election. It was about the country we love and about building an America that’s hopeful, inclusive and big-hearted.”
Obama, speaking shortly after Clinton wrapped, pledged to mimic his predecessor’s smooth transition, even while acknowledging the “pretty significant differences” between him and the man who wants to erase his legacy.
Obama had reviled the Republican candidate on the trail, flatly calling him unfit for the presidency, laughing at the notion that he’s a champion for the working class and urging Clinton’s supporters not to boo but to express themselves by voting against the brash billionaire and his bluster.
For his part, Trump had chided Obama in recent days, grumbling that he’s “a campaign president” who should be in the Oval Office working to fight the Islamic State and restore America’s jobs instead of stumping for a flawed candidate.
But in the wee hours of the morning — and in the wake of a magnanimous victory speech few expected Trump to give — Obama took his hat off to the nation’s next president and delivered a unifying message later Wednesday.
Trump campaign manager Kellyanne Conway described Trump’s dialogue with Obama as “a very warm conversation.” “I think they resolved to work together, which is exactly what this country needs to get the current president and the president-elect and others who are in leadership positions to help unify and heal the country,” she told NBC’s “Today.”
Pressed on what Trump, who called for unity in his victory speech, will do to bring the country together, Conway pointed to what’s on his calendar Thursday.
“One step that he’ll take immediately is to meet with President Obama,” she told “CBS This Morning.” “And I know he’s very excited for that meeting.”
Clinton, who forewent a formal concession speech after a devastating loss to a man she pegged as “temperamentally unfit” and “a loose cannon” that the world can’t afford to have in charge of the nuclear codes, privately conceded the election to Trump over the phone before her official speech mid-day Wednesday.
She was better funded. She was the candidate with more political experience and detailed policies. She had the support of the current White House — Obama, first lady Michelle Obama and Vice President Joe Biden. And she had the superior ground game.
But none of that mattered.
Voters overlooked his history of demeaning and disparaging rhetoric, and the combination of Trump’s celebrity and his promise to deliver economic prosperity as a Washington outsider propelled him to an unexpected but historic presidency. Polls projected a Clinton White House, and surveys pointed to Clinton as the candidate likely voters thought was qualified and had the temperament to occupy the Oval Office.
But as Trump defied the political odds, vanquishing 16 Republican primary rivals — including a very well-funded Jeb Bush — and fortifying that glass ceiling Clinton almost certainly will never break, he also defied the polls.
The real estate mogul held Republican strongholds once considered in play like Georgia and Texas and won several key swing states, including Ohio, Florida and North Carolina, and even penetrated the so-called blue wall with wins in Wisconsin, Michigan and Pennsylvania.
Trump celebrated quietly with an update to his Twitter account, which now includes a bio that refers to him as “President-elect of the United States” and a cover photo with a White House background and the presidential and vice presidential seals next to the names of Trump and his running mate, Indiana Gov. Mike Pence.
“Such a beautiful and important evening!” Trump tweeted for the first time as president-elect, shortly after 6:30 a.m. “The forgotten man and woman will never be forgotten again. We will all come together as never before.”
Louis Nelson contributed to this report.