In the moments after Donald Trump won the presidential election, his oldest son was struggling to grasp the magnitude of what his father had pulled off: He had captured the most powerful job in the world.
“It’s surreal,” Donald Trump Jr. said after he left the Manhattan hotel stage where his father announced that Hillary Clinton had called to concede. “It’s still setting in. We fought pretty hard for a very long time, and we’re emotionally numb right now.”
So were many of the Trump supporters who filled the hotel ballroom. Polls had pegged Clinton as the clear favorite, so there was scant reason to be more than cautiously optimistic when Fox News anchors on the big screens bracketing the stage started calling a few battleground states for Trump.
Now, advisors to the Republican presidential nominee were looking ahead to Trump — a novice in politics — taking command of the most powerful government in history.
Even Rudolph W. Giuliani, whose angry tirades against Clinton and President Obama could make Trump look gentle by comparison, struck a newly conciliatory tone as he looked forward to the transition of power.
“What I’ve found about Barack Obama, despite my disagreements, is he’s a gentleman,” Giuliani said.
It was a new tone set by Trump in his victory speech on a stage packed with family members, friends and allies, including some, like Giuliani, who might join the new Cabinet.
“For those who have chosen not to support me in the past, of which there were a few people, I’m reaching out to you for your guidance and your help so that we can work together and unify our great country,” Trump told his cheering supporters.
The audience that just hours ago was shouting “Lock her up!” even applauded Clinton when Trump said she had called to congratulate him.
“And I congratulated her and her family on a very, very hard-fought campaign,” he said.
In his 15-minute speech, Trump vowed to create jobs and rebuild America’s highways, bridges, tunnels, airports, schools and hospitals.
There was no mention of building a wall along the southern border, a proposal that had symbolized the nation’s sharp divisions over Trump’s belligerent political posture.
“We will seek common ground, not hostility,” he said. “Partnership, not conflict.”
The mood of jubilation built gradually in the hours before his speech as his battleground state victories piled up.
“That puts us on a path for a really, really good night,” said Sarah Huckabee, a senior Trump advisor watching the returns near the open bar in the party’s VIP section.
The next win, North Carolina, sparked louder applause. It was a more hard-fought contest. Clinton staged a midnight rally in Raleigh on the eve of the election, and President Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama both made repeated visits in what turned out to be a vain effort to inspire the state’s black voters.
Florida soon followed, and the mood suddenly turned giddy, with a constant din as Trump’s supporters, many of them wearing red “Make America great again” caps, marveled at the possibility that he could really pull it off.
But it was Fox’s call of Trump’s win in Wisconsin, where Clinton was heavily favored, that really sent the room into a frenzy. People screamed, waved their red caps in the air and leaped into one another’s arms. One woman lost her high heel. Another called out: “If he won this, my husband works in the White House.”
“Look at this excitement,” said Sasha Epshteyn, 50, a Russian immigrant wearing one of the red caps. “People laughing, people cheering, people kissing each other.”
No network had called the election for Trump, but Epshteyn, a New Jersey telecommunications manager, said he was “150% sure” at that moment that Trump had captured the White House.
Laura Loomer said she was “jumping up with joy” at Trump’s victories in Florida, Ohio and North Carolina.
“Now I feel redeemed,” said Loomer, 23, a multiplatform journalist wearing a “Hillary for Prison” T-shirt.
“He’s politically incorrect. He’s totally anti-establishment. He’s going to go to Washington and take a sledgehammer to everything, take a sledgehammer to the media,” said Loomer, who is from Westchester County, N.Y.
3:47 a.m.: Updated to add more background and reaction.
12:35 a.m. Nov. 9: Updated to include excerpts from Trump’s speech.
This story was originally published at 10:30 p.m. Nov. 8.