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Americans woke up to a new world today: Trump world. The rise of the bombastic reality-TV star and real estate mogul to the most powerful office on the planet has startled millions in both the United States and beyond. Perhaps it shouldn't. Some things are shocking without being truly surprising. The Trump revolution has been a long time coming. Forces building within the Republican party, and the country at large, set up this staggering upheaval.

Republican insurgents have been struggling for years to push the party to embrace a purer and, in their view, more relevant form of conservatism. They all but wrested the GOP from its old guard, but at the presidential level, they were disappointed. Instead of a fellow true believer, they got Bob Dole, George W. Bush, John McCain and Mitt Romney.

After eight years of Barack Obama, for whom they formed a deep loathing, they were ready to toss a bomb. Donald Trump was the nearest ordnance at hand.

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Right-wing radio-show hosts and websites egged him. Mainstream media gave blanket coverage to the fascinating spectacle of his rise. Party rivals went after each other as much as him. Conservative evangelical leaders scenting power overlooked his three marriages, coarse language and dubious behaviour. In a coarsened, hyper-partisan political atmosphere of attack ads and over-the-top rhetoric from both parties, he was only the final notch in a years-long process of ratcheting up the level of vitriol. Mr. Trump's success took the party establishment by surprise, then by storm. When the race for the Republican presidential nomination got going last year, it seemed that it would be a choice between someone from the party centre such as Florida Governor Jeb Bush and someone from the new right wing such as Texas Senator Ted Cruz.

Instead, Mr. Trump, who had never held electoral office for any party, dominated a series of debates among the candidates and, to the astonishment of the party brass, kept winning state primary elections. Then he shocked the world by taking the nomination, and did it without ever really softening his initial message playing on fear of uncontrolled immigration, open trade and American decline.

Party rivals such as Ted Cruz who had denounced him during the primary season came around to backing him. Party leaders such as Chris Christie and Rudy Giuliani became his cheer squad. Even after a number of women came forward to accuse him of making unwanted sexual advances, and the release of the audio that showed him making crude remarks about his behaviour toward women, many party leaders continued to support him for president. Now, he is about to move into the White House with a Republican Congress, confirmed in Tuesday's voting, to back him up. For all his bombast and crudity – perhaps in part because of it – he tapped into a vein of genuine unease about the threat of terrorism and crime, the impact of globalization on traditional American industries, the lingering after-effects of a devastating recession and the changes wrought by the influx of immigrants from Latin America.

Mr. Trump also managed to tap into an overlooked demographic, the white working class. Workers, many associated with unions, traditionally voted Democratic, the party that was allied with big labour and fought for worker rights and the welfare state. Mr. Trump won many of them over with his call to "Make America great again." Like white Southerners in the civil rights era, they shifted to the Republican side.

"Trump didn't succeed by accident. He spoke to concerns in the base of the party that others weren't speaking to," said Philip Wallach, a senior fellow at Washington's Brookings Institution, as the voting was under way on Tuesday.

In midtown Manhattan, Amtrak train conductor Joe Mazzola, 35, said that many of his fellow rail workers, all of them unionized, were voting Trump. He said he was sick of what he called corrupt, inept politicians. "I'm done with all this crap. I love my country but our government, uh-uh," he said.

"Voters who were not engaged in the political process, Trump was able to draw in," said Ricky Montanye, secretary of the New York Young Republican Club.

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The Trump movement forced the party to reconsider some core parts of its message. The wing that favoured free trade, cuts to government programs and managed immigration is in eclipse. The Trump campaign took off in part because it realized that many voters felt they were being hurt by all of those things.

Former Obama strategist David Axelrod said on CNN that Tuesday's vote was a "primal scream" from disillusioned Americans.

"The country has been a state of stasis: racial tensions, economic stagnation, a general feeling of pessimism," said Deroy Murdock, a conservative political writer and Fox News commentator, in an interview. The Trump election, he said, could be "a very positive thing."

In Mr. Trump's unusually gracious victory speech – in which he said he would "bind the wounds of division," restore the country's infrastructure, double economic growth and keep on good terms with other countries – he promised that "the forgotten men and women of our country will be forgotten no longer."

Mr. Trump had the good fortune to run against a candidate who seemed to represent the status quo at a time when voters were hungry for change. Former first lady, senator and secretary of state Hillary Clinton was the ultimate Washington insider facing a man who could genuinely claim to be an outsider.

Mr. Trump ran not just against her but against the media, against the American establishment, even, in effect, against his own party, or at least its old leadership. It worked, just as it worked for Toronto's Rob Ford when he ran against an inbred, overfed city hall and when Britain's Brexiteers ran against a cosseted European bureaucracy.

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In a time of growing cynicism about politics, disenchantment about government and skepticism about the media, his shocking election victory is not really that surprising at all.

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