Winner Donald Trump, loser Hillary Clinton and President Barack Obama all tried to calm a divided nation and a jittery world on Wednesday after Mr. Trump's historic come-from-behind election victory left the real estate mogul and former reality-TV star poised to become the 45th president of the world's most powerful nation.
The surprising win by Mr. Trump pitched the United States into unknown waters, leaving allies in doubt about the direction of the leading Western country and many Americans uncertain and anxious about the future.
Mr. Trump and his team immediately set about preparing to assume power in January. U.S. news outlets said the Trump team was already looking at cabinet options, considering allies such as former New York mayor Rudolph Giuliani, New Jersey Governor Chris Christie and former House Speaker Newt Gingrich for top posts. Among the issues he was expected to address first: cutting taxes and repealing Obamacare, Mr. Obama's signature health-care program.
His big win put him very much in the driver's seat. With Republicans now in control of two branches of American government – the executive and legislative – he has a chance to influence the third, the judiciary, by appointing a fifth conservative judge to the Supreme Court.
His victory also gave new life to his fractious Republicans, who had seemed on the edge of civil war when his campaign was faltering this fall. Paul Ryan, the House Speaker who had been holding Mr. Trump at arm's length, praised his "enormous political feat" and said he had managed to hear the voices of previously unheard Americans.
It was all unexpected, astonishing and, for many, more than a little scary. The United States has never seen anything quite like the rise of Donald Trump. The president-elect has held no elected office of any kind.
Anti-Trump rallies broke out in several cities, including Chicago, Boston, Philadelphia and New York, outside his Trump Tower in Manhattan. Mr. Trump, 70, tried to calm unsettled nerves when he took the stage at a New York hotel early Wednesday. In what was, for him, an unusually gracious victory speech, he said it was time for the country to "bind the wounds of division." He even praised Ms. Clinton, whom he had earlier said should be behind bars, for her service to the country.
Ms. Clinton, too, struck a conciliatory note when she conceded to Mr. Trump. She told followers, many of them in tears, that even though "this is painful and it will be for a long time," they owe him "an open mind and the chance to lead."
Mr. Trump will be getting top-secret national-security briefings to prepare him for the Oval Office. Mr. Obama promised a smooth handoff to a Trump administration. He was to meet with Mr. Trump at the White House Thursday morning.
When Mr. Trump joined the campaign for the Republican presidential nomination last year, most insiders waved him off as a novelty candidate who would soon fall behind big names such as former Florida governor Jeb Bush or outspoken right-wing Senator Ted Cruz of Texas. Yet he built a mass movement of disenchanted voters who filled noisy arenas around the country, cheering his vows to build a wall on the Mexican border against illegal immigrants, take the gloves off in the fight against Islamic State terrorists and crack down on U.S. businesses that send U.S. jobs overseas. Despite a steady stream of inflammatory utterances that seemed sure to sink him – from mocking a disabled reporter to reviving a rumour that Mr. Cruz's father was linked to the assassination of John F. Kennedy – he won the long primary race and accepted the GOP nomination in July. Even after a number of women came forward to accuse him of making unwanted advances, and an audio clip showed him making crude sexual remarks, his support base stayed solid.
In the end, he won a convincing victory after a white-knuckle election night that went into the small hours. By Wednesday morning, he had taken 279 votes in the U.S. Electoral College to Ms. Clinton's 228. A candidate needs 270 to win.
His Republicans also kept control of both houses of Congress, with 51 confirmed Senate seats to the Democrats' 48 and 239 seats in the House of Representatives to the Democrats' 193.
Mr. Trump has vowed, among other things, to renegotiate or "terminate" the North American free-trade agreement. Abroad, he has questioned U.S. alliances, expressed admiration for Russian President Vladimir Putin and suggested global warming is a hoax.
The U.S. political scene, too, is undergoing a big shakeup. Mr. Trump managed to tap into an overlooked demographic, the white working class. He took 67 per cent of the vote among white Americans with no college education, exit polls showed. Ms. Clinton took 28 per cent. Though blue-collar workers have traditionally leaned Democratic, Mr. Trump won many of them over with his call to protect American jobs and "Make America Great Again."
The election result left the electorate highly polarized. Results as of Wednesday evening actually had Ms. Clinton leading slightly in the popular vote, despite her shortfall in the state-by-state tally. Men were far more likely to have voted Trump than women and whites far more likely than blacks, nearly 9 out of 10 of whom backed Ms. Clinton.
For all his bombast and crudity – perhaps in part because of it – Mr. Trump 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. Former Obama strategist David Axelrod said on CNN that Tuesday's vote was a "primal scream" from disillusioned Americans.
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. A former first lady, senator and secretary of state, Ms. Clinton was the ultimate Washington insider facing a man who could genuinely claim to be from the outside.
He 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 is a revolt that has been brewing since maverick presidential candidate Ross Perot challenged the traditional parties in 1992. A quarter century later, the rebels poured over the walls on Tuesday night.