Scenes from a sports bar viewing party as Trump supporters in suburban Atlanta gathered for the last hurrah of the 2016 presidential election.
By: James Swift
CANTON, Ga. - Considering how down and dirty the 2016 U.S. presidential race got, perhaps it's more than fitting the grand finale came down to a live televised spectacle inside a sports bar more accustom to grueling gridiron clashes than coverage of live election results.
The walls of the Sidelines Grille are lined with all sorts of miscellaneous football memorabilia. There are signed photographs of Joe Namath and Johnny Unitas, one of Joe Theismann's old Notre Dame jerseys and a whole row of jerseys once worn by members of the undefeated 1972 Miami Dolphins. On Nov. 8, however, the back of the building - at least for one evening - was adorned not with the dressings of the University of Georgia or Georgia Tech, but with the paraphernalia of the Republican Party. Elephant balloons, red confetti - attendees were even welcomed by the smiling face of a Ben Carson cardboard cutout.
The election night get-together was hosted by the Cherokee County Republican Party. About 75 people filled the bar as officially tallied guests. Unbeknownst to the hosts, a totally separate cluster of Trump loyalists had already gathered to watch the election results - some of them arrived as early as 5 p.m.
At peak occupancy, there were more than 100 spectators on hand - virtually all of them glued to the armada of plasma screen televisions locked to the Fox News cable network.
Around 6:30 p.m., the house - with the exception of the black-shirted, Millennial waitresses - was almost entirely comprised of the middle aged and senior citizens. The younger conservatives began trickling in right around 7 p.m.
One of them was First Vice Chair Trent Adams. The 35-year-old recounted his Republican "awakening" after college - the end result of a steady diet of John Locke, Adam Smith, Objectivism and the writings of economist Henry Hazlitt (although he may have been referencing yet another prominent libertarian thinker, former Financial Times and Reason scribe Thomas Hazlett.)
"I've never been one to just jump into something," he said. "I always do a lot of research before I get involved."
When it came time to select a political orientation, he carefully weighed the pros and cons of libertarianism and republicanism. He ultimately decided that he preferred the traditional "bottoms up government" approach of the G.O.P. to the more populist, "seeking change through mass action" tenets of libertarianism. In the Republican Party, he said he could do "the most good."
Donald Trump was not his first pick for the presidential nomination. He initially supported Rand Paul, but after he dropped out, he - as did millions of other conservatives - soon found himself hopping aboard the "Trump train."
Like many, many Republican voters, Adams said he was immensely disappointed by the national G.O.P.'s actions and inaction during the Obama Administration. Trump, he said, certainly captured the anti-establishment sentiments of a clearly disaffected and disenchanted party base.
"The national party has been playing at least what is perceived to be elitist politics - you've got them sacrificing principles for political expediency, looking at short term goals, not looking at the long term picture of how things should be established," Adams remarked. "I hope what the impact will be is a wake-up to the R.N.C. and some of the more traditional Republicans that the status quo of what they've been trying to push is not what the core, grassroots Republican Party is."
The polls close
|HANGING IN THERE: 35-year-old Trump supporter|
Trent Adams keeps a close watch as early election results
begin pouring in. (Photo Credit: James Swift)
The first projections started rolling in around 7 p.m. The attendees cheered like the home team just returned a kickoff for a touchdown when Trump leaped out to a 19-3 electoral point lead over his Democratic opponent.
All eyes, however, were on the extremely important - perhaps even election-determining - swing states Florida and Ohio. The Trump loyalists were laser focused on the early precinct results. Most were too concerned with the constantly fluctuating percentage points to even notice the smorgasbord of loaded potatoes, French fries and hot wings making their big arrival.
A call for West Virginia made it 24-3 Trump. Very early numbers indicated Trump had 57 percent in Florida while Ohio was a 50-50 deadlock. Many were taken aback by just how sizable Trump's early lead in North Carolina had grown - he had garnered nearly 63 percent of the state's votes tallied up to that point.
Guillermo Torres, a 17-year-old viewing party attendee, lined up for a plate of fried pickles and chicken tenders. When asked how long he had been a supporter of the Republican Party, he said it was practically hereditary - his mom and dad are Republicans, so that made him a G.O.P. loyalist by default.
Every time the shrieking "Fox News Alert" flashed on screen, the party-goers began fidgeting in their seats. With a win in South Carolina, Trump increased his lead to 33-3, but a quick update showed he appeared to be losing ground in Florida.
Then a deluge of state projections flashed onscreen. The attendees were elated as Trump was declared the victor in Tennessee and Oklahoma, but they quickly became crestfallen as Hillary was declared winner of Massachusetts, Illinois, Maryland and New Jersey.
|THE FUTURE OF THE RIGHT? 17-year old |
Guillermo Torres may not have been able to vote, but he
said his parents' political leanings certainly inspired him
to throw his moral support behind Trump.
(Photo credit: James Swift)
Like that, Clinton took the lead, 68-67.
A palpable unease took hold of the room. Just seconds ago a cacophony of chattering and laughing voices, one could now hear a pin drop.
One attendee made a joke about ordering some shots.
"Maybe we should have a prayer right now," another disembodied voice stated. "No, really."
Regaining the lead
The first pitcher of beer was spotted around 8:30 p.m. While pundits on Fox News talked about Trump's efforts to tear holes in the so-called "blue wall" of historically Democratic Midwestern states like Ohio, Michigan and Pennsylvania, the attendees began criticizing one another for being pessimistic.
"Stop saying if he's going to win," one attendee muttered.
Spirits picked up by the time the stuffed jalapenos and Tater Tots arrived - which, incidentally, came around the same time Marco Rubio's reelection as a U.S. Senator was announced.
A Trump win in Alabama propelled him to a 76-68 lead. Trump was reported as having locked up 51 percent of the national popular vote up to that point.
The doldrums kicked in around 9 p.m., as no new state projections were announced for roughly half an hour. During the downtime, attendees shared cell phone videos and put the political rhetoric behind to chat - some may even consider it gossip - with and about old friends.
Co-Chair Lyn Murphy was one of the more animated party-goers. Early on, she greeted attendees with the salutation "welcome, deplorable" - a reference to a Clinton speech in which the former first lady referred to half of the Trump supporter base as, well - "a basket of deplorables."
She wore a bright blue sweatshirt. Scrawled on it was the message "I Wished Hillary Had Married OJ."
|A PROUD 'DEPLORABLE' 53-year-old Lyn Murphy said the failures of the G.O.P. during Obama's presidency was a major factor in Trump's political ascension. (Photo credit: James Swift)|
Despite her vim and vigor for "The Donald," Trump was not her first choice among the field of 17 Republican challengers at the beginning of primary season. Not only did the 53-year-old say she originally wanted either Scott Walker or Marco Rubio to score the final nomination, she also said she initially had some big doubts about Trump's chances against Clinton.
"I always loved Trump, I just was not sure he would be able to win America because I know the media bias is so bad," she said. "I knew he could take the primary, but probably not the general."
Over the last few months, she said she warmed up to Trump as the party's presidential nominee. She cited immigration and economic concerns - as well as the "failures" of the establishment G.O.P. - as the chief drivers of Trump's political ascension.
"I think the establishment is done," she said. "I want them to be more inclusive. I want them to welcome log cabin Republicans, I want them to take things like abortion and same-sex marriage out of the Republican Party because personally, I don't think it needs to be in our platform. I really believe in the separation of church and state."
The rout is on
Almost as soon as Clinton secured New York, Trump was announced the projected winner of Nebraska, Kansas and Texas. Things got very boisterous as Trump was declared the victor of Clinton's old stomping ground Arkansas.
Trump was ahead 139-97 a little before 10 p.m.
The doldrums kicked in once more. The nearly 30-minute blackout on new state projections was broken up by announcements that Clinton won Connecticut and Trump picked up Louisiana.
With Trump leading 147-109, news broke of Dow Futures plunging more than 400 points.
Half the bar had emptied by the time Clinton was declared winner of Virginia - now, only the really die-hard Trump supported remained.
Discussion momentarily drifted to the latest college football playoff rankings and reflections on friends, two years removed from high school, who had somehow managed to gain 100 pounds since earning their diplomas.
An attendee checked his phone. With Trump leading by 10 points in Ohio, early projections gave Trump a 75 percent shot of winning the whole she-bang.
"I ain't saying nothing 'til he hits 270," another jinx-averse party-goer stated. "Every point counts."
With Colorado chalked up as a victory for Clinton, the race tightened to 168-131, Trump. At approximately 10:30 p.m., the placed figuratively exploded when the first major blue state to flip red, Ohio, was announced as a projected win for Trump.
And just before 11 p.m., another formerly blue state switched colors. With North Carolina called for Trump, the Republican presidential nominee took a 183-131 electoral point lead.
"Hell, I might get me a beer tonight," one relieved party-goer declared.
As expected, the closing of polls on the West Coast resulted in a deluge of points for Hillary. Wins in California and Washington gave her a 202-183 lead.
The electoral tilt for Clinton, however, was short-lived. Idaho was soon called for Trump, and then Florida - perhaps the most important swing state of them all - was formerly declared Trump territory.
The attendees' reaction to the news - as one would imagine - couldn't be described as anything other than sheer exuberance.
The upset continues
A Trump victory in Utah gave the Republicans a 222-202 lead, with projection updates becoming quite sporadic after 11 p.m. After Oregon was called for Clinton, attendees whipped out their phones' calculator apps and started counting up the remaining states' electoral point values.
Around 11:30 p.m., two more previously blue states - Wisconsin and Iowa - were called for Trump. Shortly thereafter, Georgia was announced as yet another win for Trump. Leading 254-209, he was now just 16 electoral points from becoming the 45th President of the United States.
The television screens flashed a live shot from Clinton's campaign headquarters. The scene was a sea of deathly somber faces, many of them weeping.
A party goer shares a tidbit from Facebook. Apparently, Canada's immigration website just crashed.
The electoral map flashed back onscreen.
"Look at all that red, baby," yelled Bobby Walsh, a former United States Army Ranger who said he was a Trump supporter since the day he announced he was running for the Oval Office.
"I knew he wasn't a career politician," he said. "I feel like our country, for so many years, has just been fed up with the career politicians getting nothing done, especially with us having a Republican House and a Republican Senate during the last eight years."
The impending Trump victory was triply sweet for Walsh. Not only did it look like Trump was going to pull off arguably the greatest presidential election upset in U.S. history, it also appeared that the president-elect would inherit a Republican majority in both houses of Congress.
|THE PEOPLE HAVE SPOKEN: "This election is not about Donald Trump and it's not about Hillary Clinton," said disabled veteran Bobby Walsh. "It's about the American people and what we've got to do to fix our nation."|
"I truly believe with his business connections around the world that he can, no. 1, fix our economy, and no. 2, bring back jobs," he said. "That's going to put thousands, maybe even millions of people, back to work."
A disabled veteran who served in Iraq's Anbar Province, he said he was greatly offended by Clinton's inaction regarding the plight of many ex-military members. "We've got 40,000 homeless veterans in our country right now in the streets that need help," he said. "She didn't talk a lot about them, but she talked a lot about refugees. We've got to help out our own people first."
He's still furious about President Obama withdrawing troops from Iraq. With his son living in Germany, Walsh said he is also greatly concerned about the ISIS threat in Europe - an international scourge he firmly believes Trump is better suited to handle than the Democratic nominee.
When it comes to immigration, Walsh said he doesn't think Trump is going to embark upon a massive deportation spree. In fact, he said he believes the Republican nominee will expedite the naturalization process so immigrants can start working - and paying taxes - in the U.S. faster. All of the talk of the infamous "wall," Walsh said, was meant to deter drug runners.
"He's a family man," Walsh said, "and I truly believe he will not separate families."
The clock struck midnight. The remaining attendees resorted to the old pen and paper method to outline every conceivable winning predicament for Trump. A Clinton win in Nevada narrowed the gap to 254-215.
Michigan and Pennsylvania remained up for grabs. With votes still being counted, both states seemed to be leaning heavily towards Trump.
Barring some sort of political miracle rivaling Auburn's game-winning "kick-six" off a missed Alabama field goal in the waning seconds of the 2013 Iron Bowl, Clinton's presidential aspirations were all but done for.
"Hillary Clinton lost this election because she was more focused on trashing Donald Trump and she made it too personal," Walsh said. "This election is not about Donald Trump and it's not about Hillary Clinton. It's about the American people and what we've got to do to fix our nation. That's why she lost - she never focused on the issues the American public wanted addressed."
The after party
On Fox News, Steve Hilton - ex-director of strategy for former U.K. Prime Minister David Cameron - was interviewed about the similarities between this monumental political upset in the making and the similarly "unanticipated" Brexit outcome.
One talking head on television said it was the American electorate resoundingly rejecting globalization. Yet another chalked up Trump's still-unofficial election win as "the revival of the white vote." Almost immediately, one of the remaining attendees responded with "that motherfucker got butt-hurt."
The bar shuttered its doors at 1 a.m. The electoral score remained 254-215 Trump.
|A ROYAL FLUSH? As the night dragged |
on, even the lavatory equipment got
decorated with pro-Trump paraphernalia.
(Photo Credit: James Swift)
A few attendees hung out in the parking lot after closing time. They vaped and listened to updates on a truck radio.
Matthew Hopper, 26, voted for Trump, although he considers himself an independent with more of a bent towards libertarianism than republicanism.
A staunch Rand Paul supporter, he said Trump was his "last pick" when it came to Republican presidential hopefuls. "I know he has a lot of business experience and all that kind of stuff, however, there's a lot of controversy with him just as there is with Hillary Clinton," he said. "I don't think as much and as serious, however, there are a lot of things he's said and done physically that could leave you questioning a lot of things."
Still, he said Trump is not without his appeal. Hopper said he believes Trump's platform strikes a solid balance between Republican and Democratic ideologies and has no doubts about his abilities to surround himself with "a knowledgeable team" to help get America back on track.
"Taking care of America here at home is probably his most important policy," he said. "Before we can do anything else, we have to take care of our country first. Then we can help others, but you can't keep pouring out a cup that's not getting filled."
Echoing the sentiments of Adams, Murphy and Walsh, he said he too has been upset at the Republican Party's stagnancy on Capitol Hill. He said he's hopeful Trump's election will not only solve the G.O.P.'s identity crisis, but give foreign governments a clearer portrait of the core principles and values the U.S. government embodies.
It was almost 1:30 a.m. The exterior lights on the sports bar dimmed. A brief burst of chilly wind swept across the almost abandoned strip mall parking lot. The "Trump/Pence" placards near the double doors of the restaurant vibrated and fluttered - almost like a short tremble before a earthquake hits.
Trump - the man who was given less than a 1 percent chance to win the Republican nomination and whose mere campaign aspirations were literally laughed off by news program pundits a year ago - was just 90 minutes away from being declared the president-elect of the United States.
Hopper, for a moment, reflected on Trump's election-winning mantra, "Make America Great Again."
And for a political campaign season so caustic, so divisive, so biting and so brutal, his concluding comments on the final outcome were unexpectedly impassive.
"Only time will tell to see if that's just a slogan," he said, "or something he really wants to do."
Uncommon Journalism, 2016.