The Election Meltdown, Minute By Minute


At 7:15 election night, The New York Times gave Hillary Clinton an 85 percent chance of winning the Presidency.

Then – in the words of dozens of journalists – it all went downhill from there.

In a series of extensive interviews for CNN, they recounted what it was like on election night, as the election results came in and it became clear that Donald Trump would be the next president of the United States.

Here is a snippet of how it went down, in their own words:

7:22 p.m.

Nate Cohn (NYT): “We learned about the night in two steps. First was the Florida early vote. It just didn’t come in for Clinton like we thought it would.”

John Dickerson (CBS News): “The Clinton people and people aligned with Clinton had been saying ‘We’re turning out a massive Latino vote in Florida,’ but reality was not matching their boasts. It was the first sign of the evening. I thought, ‘If their boasts about how well they were doing in Florida were off, they might be off in other places.’”

8 p.m.:

Maria Elena Salinas (Univision): “Our Democratic pollster started saying, ‘It’s not looking good. It’s not looking good.’”

John Dickerson: “I just remember a period of — just — there just was not clarity.”

8:15 pm.: The NYT forecast went from 85 percent to 80, then 75 percent

Chris Wallace studied the East Coast results from his perch at the Fox News studio.

Wallace: “The sweep that the exit polls had predicted just wasn’t happening. Now we were down to counting individual votes.”

Carolyn Ryan (NYT): “Amy Chozick, our Clinton reporter, told me, ‘People on the Clinton campaign who don’t even smoke are outside smoking. There’s this crazy nervousness.’”

8:45 p.m.

Judy Woodruff (CNN): “By 9 o’clock, we knew something was ‘off’ with the prediction.”

9:08 p.m.:

Nate Cohn: “We were on the second floor at the Times, in the sports conference room. I think I said something to the room like, ‘Gun to my head, Trump’s got this.’ And then I said, ‘Can I tweet it?’”

Cohn’s colleagues said no. Better to be cautious. So he tweeted cryptically: “This is going to be a long night.”

David Chalian: “By 9:15, I think I said to my producer Terence Burlij, ‘Trump may win this thing.’ He looked at me like I was crazy. You could sense that the night was different.”

9:22 p.m.:

Nate Cohn commented on Twitter that “the early Wisconsin results — perhaps unrepresentative — are all great for Trump.”

Cohn: “THAT’S when I started writing my Trump-wins piece.”

At the Javits Center, Abby D. Phillip had been interviewing Clinton aides on camera for the Post’s live webcast. One of them, Zerlina Maxwell, was scheduled for a 9:30 interview.

Phillip: “Maxwell was physically there at the live shot location. She was on her phone. She looked up and said, ‘I can’t do this.’ That’s when things were starting to look very, very iffy for them in a number of states. When they canceled that hit, I realized, this is pretty serious.”

9:30 p.m.: Trump takes the lead in the NYT Forecast:

Amanda Carpenter, a Ted Cruz aide turned CNN commentator, was in a CNN green room in D.C.

Carpenter: “I was watching The New York Times ticker go wildly. I would walk away and go breathe and say, ‘Is this really happening?’”

Nate Cohn: “People I haven’t heard from in years were texting me, ‘Is it going to be all right?’”

David Chalian: “My phone was blowing up. Two types of questions. ‘Why haven’t you called X?’ And astonished sources on both sides being like, ‘What is going on?’”

Nate Cohn: “I turned off my phone. I still haven’t looked at my texts.”

9:33 p.m.:

John Dickerson: “We knew it was going Trump’s way. The question was where, and why.”

Judy Woodruff: “We had a news story on our hands. A huge news story!”

10 p.m.:

Hugh Hewitt: “From that moment on, from the moment The Upshot went to 55%, 60% likelihood of Trump winning, everyone realized, ‘Wow.’ I showed my phone to James Carville, and James saw it and immediately knew it was over.”

10:10 p.m.:

Annie Linskey (Boston Globe): “My editor said, ‘We need to get the Trump-wins story in better shape.’”

10:30 p.m.:

Susan Swain, president of C-SPAN, which showed a split screen of the two parties: “In TV terms, those two scenes were perfect for C-SPAN — no commentary was necessary. The faces said more than any words could.”

Judy Woodruff: “We were collectively realizing what was happening.”

10:45 p.m.:

Associated Press executive editor Kathleen Carroll was at the D.C. bureau: “There was not the shock that I’ve heard other people describe. There was a dawning realization that it was going to go his way.”

11:30 p.m.: Fox News calls election for Donald Trump

John Harwood: “It was a gradual realization. It wasn’t fully realized I think until 11 or midnight — when it was like, ‘Wow, she IS going to lose.’”

11:32 p.m.:

At the Javits Center, there were tears in the eyes of some Clinton supporters. The event staffers charged with keeping reporters from Clinton supporters melted away.

Annie Linskey: “It was much easier, all of a sudden, to get people to talk.”

Abby D. Phillip: “That was the most visible manifestation of the breakdown of the night.”

Linskey: “People were saying these incredibly quotable things. The passion that came out for her losing seemed much stronger, even that night, than any excitement about her winning.”

12:45 p.m.:

The liberals on television who expected a celebratory evening looked distraught. On CNN, the panel of left and right commentators agreed on one point — that there was real pain on both sides.

Van Jones channeled the messages he was receiving. “I have Muslim friends who are texting me tonight saying ‘Should I leave the country?’ I have families of immigrants that are terrified tonight.”

2:05 a.m.: Clinton campaign chairman John Podesta addresses the crowd at the Javits Center: “Several states are too close to call, so we’re not going to have anything more to say tonight.”

Abby D. Phillip: “That was shocking. It’s over — but he did not tell them that the race is over.”

Maria Elena Salinas: “As a woman and a mother, what I thought was, ‘She’s a woman and a mother. She can’t come out. She crying. She’s in shock.’”

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