Republican candidate Donald J. Trump won Tuesday’s presidential election in a shocking victory.
The 70-year-old billionaire businessman defeated Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton in a path to victory that became clearer after wins in key swing states including Florida, North Carolina and Ohio. The Associated Press called the race at 2:30 a.m.
“I pledge to every citizen of our land that I will be president for all Americans, and this is so important to me. 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 we can unify our great country,” he said as he addressed supporters in Midtown Manhattan after his victory.
Trump also told the crowd that Clinton called him to concede, and said that “we owe her a major debt of gratitude.”
“I’ve just received a call from Secretary Clinton, she congratulated us, it’s about us, on our victory. And I congratulated her and her family on a very, very hard-fought campaign. She fought very hard,” he also said.
The man who goes by the Secret Service code name “Mogul” had previously told PEOPLE: “It is the biggest story in politics.”
Trump had endured the nail biting wait for the results surrounded by his five children: sons Donald Jr., 38, Eric, 32, and Barron, 10, daughters Ivanka, 35, and Tiffany, 23, alongside wife Melania, 46, and some of his grandchildren.
Despite trailing in the polls throughout the month of October, the former Apprentice star and his running mate, Indiana Gov. Mike Pence, rebounded in the final days to secure a surprise victory. Clinton’s campaign had been dealt a blow after the FBI launched another probe into her emails before confirming they would not take further action – just two days before the election.
Trump has long been considered an unconventional choice for the country’s highest office, taking many departures from the standard road to the White House.
He praised foreign leaders like Russian President Vladimir Putin and criticized American allies. His campaign was self-funded, a point of pride for the candidate, who claimed nobody could buy his influence.
He relied on a team of relatively unknown advisors, including press secretary Hope Hicks, who had formerly handled publicity for his daughter Ivanka’s luxury lines.
Meanwhile, Trump’s glamorous wife, Melania, barely joined him on the campaign trail, appearing only at his debates – and making just one public campaign speech, on Thursday, concentrating on her bid to ban cyberbullying.
Instead, Melania insisted she wanted to stay at home for the sake of their young son.
In her place, Trump’s adult children stepped in to handle campaign appearances, with Ivanka telling PEOPLE Melania had “the right priorities.”
Over the last year, Trump successfully harnessed a widespread frustration with inside-the-Beltway politics to win over a powerful following, running on the platform that he would “Make America Great Again” by “draining the swamp” in D.C.
“We need really competent leadership right now, maybe more so than ever before,” Trump told PEOPLE in September 2015, at the outset of his campaign. “You need spirit, you need outreach, and you need jobs. I’m going to stop the world from ripping off the U.S. I’ll be able to take care of that.”
BECOMING THE DONALD
Trump’s background is decidedly different from that of most presidential candidates.
Born in Queens, New York, in 1946, the second youngest of five children born to Fred Trump, a real estate developer, and Mary, a homemaker, the young Donald John Trump was told by his father: “You are a killer … you are a king.”
The family was well off; Trump’s grandfather Friedrich Drumpf was a German immigrant who opened a series of hotels during the Yukon Gold Rush, while father Fred Trump had a thriving development business in Brooklyn and Queens. Mary had emigrated from the Isle of Lewis in Scotland – a world away from Manhattan.
Trump avoided the Vietnam draft four times, and after graduating from Wharton, expanded his family’s business empire to Manhattan real estate, taking on his first major project, the Grand Hyatt Hotel, in 1978, after negotiating a 40-year tax abatement with the city.
More skyscrapers followed, including the now-iconic Trump Tower on N.Y.C.’s Fifth Avenue. In the ’80s, he expanded with golf courses around the world and multiple casinos in Atlantic City, New Jersey, and acquired the Plaza Hotel, giving the operations and design over to his first wife, Ivana.
But he also dealt with controversies. In 1990, Trump split from Ivana after she discovered he had been having an affair with Marla Maples, a former beauty queen, whom he would later marry, kicking off a multi-million dollar divorce and scandal that dominated the New York City tabloids for months. Donald Jr., Ivanka and Eric were sent to boarding school to shield them from their parents’ public war of words.
As Ivanka told PEOPLE in July: “They did a remarkable job protecting us from something largely outside of their control.
“We didn’t have newspapers in the house for a significant period of time and the TV wasn’t on when they weren’t there. So they tried to mitigate the attention that that moment received.”
Amid the scandal, Trump’s businesses began to falter, with three of his hotels and casinos filing for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection in 1991 and 1992. He even allegedly had to borrow the diamond ring he gave to Maples ahead of their 1993 wedding. (The pair, who welcomed daughter Tiffany in 1993, finalized their divorce in 1999.)
But eventually Trump rebounded and began acquiring new and high-profile businesses, including the Miss Universe pageants, where he was a frequent presence. He then rebranded himself as a reality star and his hit show, The Apprentice, launched in 2004, made him a household name across the country.
However, in June 2015, NBCUniversal chiefs announced they were severing ties with Trump following comments he made about Mexican immigrants.
“When Mexico sends its people, they’re not sending their best,” he said at his campaign launch. “They’re not sending you. They’re sending people that have lots of problems, and they’re bringing those problems with us. They’re bringing drugs. They’re bringing crime. They’re rapists. And some, I assume, are good people.”
NBCUniversal retaliated by issuing a statement saying: “At NBC, respect and dignity for all people are cornerstones of our values.
“Due to the recent derogatory statements by Donald Trump regarding immigrants, NBCUniversal is ending its business relationship with Mr. Trump.”
The network added it would no longer air the annual Miss USA and Miss Universe pageants that were part of a joint venture with Trump.
Its relationship with Celebrity Apprentice will continue, as Trump ceased his involvement with the reality show during his presidential bid.
AN UNLIKELY CANDIDACY
Over the years, Trump had publicly toyed with the idea of running for president, but always ultimately shied away from it.
“It’s something I didn’t need to do, but I wanted to make America great again,” he told PEOPLE after ultimately changing his mind. “Politicians have been all talk, no action. Our country is doing very poorly. Our people are disgusted with what’s happened. I feel I have an obligation to do this.”
When he did announce his candidacy at Trump Tower in June 2015, many failed to take him seriously.
One of 17 Republicans in the running, Trump seemed the unlikeliest of choices, but soon emerged as a frontrunner, parlaying his name-recognition and brash, unapologetic rhetoric into non-stop headlines — and a consistent lead in the polls ahead of more established Republican politicians including former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush and Texas Sen. Ted Cruz.
Of course, there was fallout.
After his statements characterizing Mexican immigrants as “rapists” caused outrage shortly after he announced his candidacy, he lost business contracts not just with NBCUniversal, but also Macy’s.
Many women were turned off by his continued emphasis and disparaging remarks about several women’s looks.
In an unprecedented series of scandals, the presidential candidate sparred with Fox News host Megyn Kelly, attacking her for her pointed questions during the first Republican debate last fall – and making a now-infamous Twitter comment in retaliation.
He slammed Sen. John McCain, who was famously a POW in Vietnam, saying he preferred “people who don’t get captured,” mocked rival Republican Carly Fiorina for her looks, and later made the shocking suggestion to impose a ban on allowing Muslims to enter the United States.
While any one of those scandals might have derailed a candidate in previous elections, Trump emerged each time unscathed and amassing an ever-larger following.
As the Republican primaries launched at the beginning of the year, and his 16 rivals left the race, Trump’s rallies began seeing spates of violence.
In March, he was forced to cancel a rally in Chicago after the crowd got out of control. That month, Trump told PEOPLE “professional agitators” hired by Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders were to blame, adding, “Our country is so divided it’s unbelievable but I will bring people together.”
In May, Trump’s last serious competitor, Cruz, dropped out of the race, essentially handing the nomination to Trump, though many states had yet to vote in the primary.
Transitioning into the general election, Trump shifted gears and revamped his campaign, firing controversial campaign manager Corey Lewandowski and initially seeming to run a kinder, gentler operation.
A ROCKY ROAD TO THE WHITE HOUSE
By the time the conventions were over (during which time Trump dealt with the embarrassing plagiarism of his wife Melania’s speech from Michelle Obama’s 2008 convention speech), he was again embroiled in a damaging scandal after publicly trashing the Gold Star parents of a Muslim war hero, Humayun Khan.
In September, an excerpt of Trump’s 1995 tax return was leaked to The New York Times, revealing the billionaire businessman had likely taken a $916 million loss that year, which would have allowed him to avoid paying income taxes for the next 18 years.
When called out by Hillary Clinton for manipulating the system at the first presidential debate, he defended the move as “smart.” Trump has continued to refuse to release his return – the first major party nominee since Gerald Ford to do so — citing ongoing audits.
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Then in October came the scandal that seemed it would destroy his chances of winning the election.
On Oct. 7, the Washington Post published video of a 2005 Access Hollywood appearance in which Trump, then 59, and already remarried to Melania, a former model from Slovenia, was heard on a hot mic bragging to host Billy Bush about how he would sexually assault women by grabbing their genitalia and kissing them without consent.
“When you’re a star, they let you do it,” he boasted, saying he had to “use some Tic Tacs” as he prepared to meet soap star Arianne Zucker.
Trump actually apologized for his words, saying “I pledge to be a better man.”
Melania insisted that her husband’s words were “offensive” but later defended him, saying host Bush had “egged him on.”
At the second presidential debate, Trump brushed off the incident as “locker room talk” and insisted to moderator Anderson Cooper that he had never kissed or groped women without consent. “Nobody has more respect for women than I do,” said Trump.
But within days, women began coming forward disputing that claim, including, most notably, former PEOPLE former writer Natasha Stoynoff, who described Trump forcing himself on her during a 2005 interview at Mar-a-Lago while a pregnant Melania was out of the room.
As a total of 12 women came forward with similar stories, Trump denied them one by one, and vowed to sue everybody following the election.
But on Oct. 28, when FBI Director James Comey indicated that new emails from Clinton’s top advisor Huma Abedin had been discovered in connection with Clinton’s previous case, Trump began seeing his numbers at the polls rebound as he painted his rival as “corrupt” and a “criminal.”
PREPARING FOR OFFICE
Now, as he prepares to take office in January and become the 45th president of the United States, Trump will have to face a reality many suspected he never fully anticipated.
It remains to be seen how involved Melania will be as a first lady.
Meanwhile, young Barron will be relocating to the White House alongside his parents as his older siblings take the helm of the Trump Organization.
“Running for office has impacted the family. I just don’t have time that I would love to have to spend with my children and my wife,” Trump told PEOPLE.
“But they understand how important it is, what we’re doing. We’re going to bring this country to a level we’ve never reached before.”