What It Was Like Being a Hillary Supporter at Trump's Election Night HQ

Covering the Trump celebration with some of his biggest supporters was the most isolating experience of my life.

Not Available Lead
Complex Original

Image via Complex Original

Not Available Lead

Last week, I accepted an assignment to report on the election for Flex the Vote, Complex’s live broadcast of the 2016 election results. My colleague Ross Scarano would be stationed at Hillary’s camp at the Javits Center, while I’d be on the ground at Trump’s headquarters at the midtown Hilton. I imagined Ross would report the announcement of our first woman president, sharing highlights from Hillary’s acceptance speech while I described the dejected faces of Trump supporters as they shuffled out of the building. There would be no more talk of pussy grabbing or wall building, I thought. After election night, that would all go away.

Except, it didn’t, and it won’t.

I have to be honest—I wasn’t even expecting this election to be close. But when Trump took Ohio, fear immediately set in. And although as a reporter, I vowed to stay objective, when he took Florida, I felt my cheeks warm with tears.

Clinton was not the perfect candidate but, in a choice between “the lesser of two evils,” America chose evil. We chose hate. 

We now have a president who openly brags about sexually assaulting women. Who refused to disavow the support of the KKK. Whose solution for people he disagrees with is to ban them from the country or build a wall. Of course, Hillary Clinton was not the perfect candidate but, in a choice between “the lesser of two evils,” America chose evil. We chose hate. And we now have this morally questionable man as the leader of the free world. As a Puerto Rican woman, I am terrified of what this means for women and people of color.

Last night, as I left the Trump headquarters, I recalled Maggie Smith’s poem “Good Bones,” which made the rounds after the Orlando shootings: “Life is short and the world/is at least half terrible/and for every kind/stranger there is at least one who would break you.”

It still resonates. Maybe it will for a while.

Tuesday, Nov. 8, 2016

A little over two hours before first polls begin to close, I arrived at the Hilton in Midtown Manhattan and took the escalator to the second floor ballroom where Trump’s “victory party” was being held. My producer set us up in a small area on the side of the press risers, just beside a partition that separated Trump’s fans and supporters from the media. It was crowded and inconvenient, with tangled wires covering the plush blue carpet, but afforded us a clear view of the stage (which I was convinced Trump would never take) and the Jumbotron, which was streaming Fox News.

Early in the night, the room was eerily calm, despite being filled with hundreds of reporters and news crews. But as the first polls closed and Trump took Kentucky and Indiana, scattered whistling and applause filled the room. Still, I was unphased. It was early; a Hillary win still felt imminent.

By the time I wrapped my first segment, the crowd of fans and supporters had swelled. Nearly all were in royal blue or red. Most of the men wore “Make America Great Again” hats. From my vantage point, it looked like a sea of Trumps. Even with a Hillary win seemingly on the horizon, it was a terrifying sight.

But something shifted when Trump took Ohio, an important swing state. The crowd broke into an impromptu singalong, bellowing “God Bless America.” I began pacing in the tiny space of the ballroom that we’d been allotted to quell the anxiety that was setting in. Suddenly, I became very aware of the simple fact that I was an outsider. These are not my people, I thought. We don’t want the same things—for our government, for our nation—but especially, for our friends and family. They haven’t been in bed, paralyzed, for hours at a time, weeping while watching videos of yet another police shooting. They haven’t stayed up late worrying about the fate of their future mixed-race child, wondering if he might one day be in such a video. If they had, they wouldn’t be putting our nation’s fate—and thus, that child’s—in the hands of a man who unflinchingly spews racist sentiments, inciting others to do the same.

These are things I might shout at the television if I was watching the scene unfold from my living room, but I am not in my living room and among friends drinking red wine and shouting at inanimate Trump supporters on a television screen. I was working, and surrounded by those people. I needed to work with my producer to create our next segment, and I owe our audience an unbiased, straight-ahead report of the scene, I thought.

Here is where I should explain something: I am not a newscaster. I am a writer and editor. I sit at my desk and write sentences. I delete most of them. I rewrite the rest. Being live on camera is foreign to me. Even more foreign: being in a room filled with Republicans.

trump supporters at his election night event

Still, I remained impartial. I interviewed Milo Yiannopoulos, a noted Trump troll. He was wearing a Trump windbreaker, sunglasses, and many gold chains. He looked out of place as the only person I’ve seen (save for myself and my producer) who was informally dressed. Yiannopoulos glibly shared misinformation about Hillary (“this woman is funded by people who execute homosexuals”) and seemed assured Trump would emerge victorious. When pressed on the possibility of Trump losing and what that would mean for his second act, Yiannopoulos said he thought Trump would start his own media company. “I can’t imagine it will be anything but glamorous, mischievous, dissident, and fantastic,” he said.

He also said something that turned out to be true, though: “Ohio picks presidents.”

After Trump won Ohio, the tenor of the room changed dramatically and the mood of the crowd became triumphant. They started chanting “USA! USA!” over and over. While it was still too early to call the election, it definitely felt like Trump was gaining significant momentum, and my panic went from subtle to palpable.

Then the crowd began chanting “Florida! Florida!”, knowing that if he takes the state, it would be possible that he’d win it all. Then, he did it—Trump won Florida. My throat got tight, as I became acutely aware that I wouldn't be capturing the losing party as Hillary ascended to the presidency. I’ve never felt more raw and exposed as I did in that moment  In the unwelcoming space, my vulnerability felt like a liability, so I focused on the ceiling and held back the tears pooling at the corners of my eyes before they revealed me.

An intoxicated 20-something walked by on the other side of the partition and looked directly at me to say, “You heard it hear first. We won!” I felt physically ill.

trump supporters at his election night event

Then Trump won North Carolina and I began running through lines with my producer, whispering so as not to call attention to myself and my views. I am trying to frame Trump’s win in a hopeful light for our audience just in case they cut to me when his win is announced and every time I get to one line in particular, my voice shakes and I begin to cry.

Everyone around me became a blur of indistinct faces as we waited for the final word. There was the white man in a striped tie who handed me a bottle over the partition and asked me to put it down on the floor for him. The trio of black men with shirts that read “Republicans and supporters of Trump are not racist.” The older woman in bathroom who expressed her disbelief that Trump is about to win. A smile followed, all gums and glee.

Just past 2 a.m., news broke that Hillary was not at the Javits Center where her Election Day celebration was being held. The crowd cheered and began chanting “Call it! Call it!” their shoulders touching as they blissfully swayed in unison. Shortly after, Hillary’s campaign manager John Podesta took the stage. “We’re not going to say anything more tonight. Everyone go home,” he urged the crowd. “She's done and an amazing job and she's not done yet” he added. The crowd at Trump’s HQ erupted into boos.

While absentee votes were still being counted in Pennsylvania, men in the crowd were already patting each other on the back.​ Several supporters on the other side of the partition asked me to charge their phones. I obliged. In that moment, I felt like Mother Theresa.

Just outside the ballroom, there were women sitting with their heels off, bare feet exposed and slumped against the walls. One had fallen asleep. It was late, but I was very alert, feeling the importance of being fully aware of my surroundings.

Then Hillary conceded. My face twisted into disbelief before freezing in a grimace. “Lock her up! Lock her up!” the crowd roared. It felt like a witch hunt. Within moments, Trump took the stage with his family and staff. Nearby, an older woman in a matted fur coat cheerfully shook pom poms. Tears snaked down my face but I quickly brushed them away.

Sometime during the middle of Trump’s victory speech, I stepped down from the chair I was standing on to report the news and sat, just staring at the floor. It’s not what a reporter should do, I thought. I should’ve been watching, taking notes, intently observing the scene—but I couldn’t move. My limbs were heavy. My heart, heavier. I didn’t belong here, and I wanted to leave.

After Trump’s speech wrapped, my producer set his camera up in front of the step and repeat outside and I asked female Trump supporters to speak on camera about what this presidency will mean for women, many of whom feel spurned by a Trump presidency, nevermind Trump’s personal code of conduct. One of the women I ask, a thin, attractive blonde in a short red dress who looks to be in her early 20s, said she couldn’t be on camera because she signed an NDA and was promised a job in the White House.

Just past 4 a.m, the crowd of Trump supporters had about all gathered outside the entrance of the Hilton. They were elated, embracing and shouting his name. I shuffled off in the opposite direction, avoiding eye contact.

As I walked down Avenue of the Americas, a black man driving in the opposite direction and filming people on the sidewalk with his iPhone screamed “Fuck Trump!” out of his car window.

“I feel you,” I think out loud.

I feel you.

Latest in Life