The 45th US President: Retracing Donald Trump’s path to the White House

Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump turns to face the US flag at a campaign rally in Sterling Heights, Michigan. (AP File Photo)

Donald Trump’s successful campaign for the White House broke every tradition and upended the political establishment with the same bluster, hyperbole and media mastery that made him one of the world’s best-known businessmen.

Trump told supporters at a rally early on Wednesday he had received a call from his Democratic rival Hillary Clinton, congratulating him on his victory.

From his grand Trump Tower escalator entrance into the Republican presidential race on June 16, 2015, Trump managed to be simultaneously charismatic and combative, elitist and populist, lewd and pious as he drilled into a lode of polarity and anti-Washington anger among American voters.

It was his first run for public office and Trump, a real estate developer, reality television star and self-confessed owner of a big ego, called it a movement, not a campaign. He drew large, enthusiastic crowds to rallies where people cheered him for “just saying what everybody’s thinking.” Critics labelled him misogynistic, ill-informed, uncouth, unpresidential, a racist, a hypocrite, a demagogue and a sexual predator, all accusations he denied.

It took Trump, 70, little more than 10 months to vanquish 16 other Republican candidates and win the party’s nomination, becoming the first major party nominee without government experience since General Dwight Eisenhower in the 1950s. He drew a record number of votes in primary contests but in doing so, created a rift in the Republican Party.

Read | President Trump: Property magnate and TV star to America’s commander-in-chief

Then Trump squared off against Clinton, 69, in a race marked by controversies that included upheaval in his staff, charges he had groped women and unheeded demands that he release his tax records. He said that as president he would investigate Clinton for her use of email while secretary of state. He vowed to send her to jail.

His campaign took a scandalous turn in October with the release of a 2005 video in which Trump, unaware he was being recorded, told a television entertainment reporter that he liked to kiss women without invitation and that, because he was rich and famous, he could grab them by the genitals with impunity.

Trump dismissed the remarks as “locker room talk” and denied the subsequent accusations from more than 10 women who said he had groped them or made unwanted sexual advances.

The American dream

Throughout his campaign – and especially in his Republican convention speech in July – Trump described a dark America that had been knocked to its knees by China, Mexico, Russia and Islamic State. The American dream was dead, he said, smothered by malevolent business interests and corrupt politicians, and he said he alone could revive it.

Trump said he would make America great again through the force of his personality, negotiating skill and business acumen. He offered vague plans to win economic concessions from China, to build a wall on the southern U.S. border to keep out undocumented immigrants and to make Mexico pay for it. He vowed to repeal Obamacare while being the “greatest jobs president that God ever created” and has proposed refusing entry to the United States of people from war-torn Middle Eastern nations, a modified version of an earlier proposed ban on Muslims.

Trump promoted himself as the ultimate success story. He dated beautiful women, married three of them, had his own television show and erected skyscrapers that bore his name in big gold letters. Everything in his life was the greatest, the hugest, the classiest, the most successful, he said, even though critics assailed his experiences with bankruptcies, the failures of his Atlantic City, New Jersey, casinos and what they viewed as the misplaced pride he showed when presented with evidence he avoided paying taxes.

In this June 28, 1978 photo, governor Hugh Carey points to an artists’ conception of the new New York Hyatt Hotel/Convention facility that was to be built on the site of the former Commordore Hotel. Donald Trump stands on the left. (AP File Photo)

Trump had flirted with presidential runs in the past and some initially saw his campaign as a vanity project meant to indulge his ego and burnish his brand. It was expected to be short-lived but as the election season progressed, he became the Republican front runner, winning state nominating contests despite an unconventional campaign that relied on large-scale rallies and mostly ignored grass-roots work.

His hired advisers came to realise there was only so much they could do to rein in Trump. His inner circle was dominated by his three oldest children – Donald Jr., Eric and Ivanka, along with Ivanka’s husband, Jared Kushner.

Twitter attacks

The rise of Trump, once a registered Democrat, threatened to blow up the Republican Party. Its establishment challenged his commitment to their tenets and organised against him. Prominent Republicans – including former presidents George HW Bush and George W Bush and congressional leaders – shunned him or offered lukewarm support.

Trump used Twitter as a weapon, firing off insults and mockery at those who offended him, including “Crooked Hillary” and Republican rivals “Little Marco” Rubio, Jeb “Low Energy” Bush and “Lyin’ Ted” Cruz.

Watch | Donald Trump’s full victory speech

Another target was the family of a Muslim US Army captain who died fighting in Iraq after the soldier’s father had spoken against Trump at the Democratic National Convention. Trump sniped back for days despite his advisers urging him to move on.

As of late October, The New York Times had counted 282 people and things he had insulted on Twitter since declaring his candidacy.

The Trump candidacy was brimming with contradictions. The candidate who vowed to bring back jobs to the United States had his clothing line and campaign hats manufactured in foreign countries. The man who decried the corrupting power of money in politics boasted of having bought influence himself.

Undocumented workers had been used on his building projects but as a candidate Trump vowed to ship illegal immigrants out of the country. He said no one respected women more than he did but even before the groping accusations emerged, he was branded a misogynist for making fun of the appearance of rival candidate Carly Fiorina and an apparent reference to the menstrual cycle of Fox News’ Megyn Kelly.

‘You’re fired!’

Trump’s campaign trail demeanour seemed to draw from his experiences as host of “The Apprentice,” a reality TV show where he barked a crowd-pleasing “You’re fired!” at contestants who fell short in competitions.

His speeches were often unscripted and featured boasts on everything from his money to his IQ. He peppered them with dubiously sourced declarations, misperceptions and false statements.

Read | US election: In bid for history, Hillary Clinton fails to reach the mountaintop

He suggested that gun rights activists could act to stop Clinton from nominating liberal US Supreme Court justices, a remark the Clinton campaign called dangerous.

Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump speaks at a campaign event at the former Osram Sylvania light bulb factory in Manchester. (AP File Photo)

Trump boasted of a fortune he put at $10 billion, although in September Forbes magazine estimated it at $3.7 billion, making him the 156th richest American.

Trump regularly made comments that would have doomed a more conventional candidate, such as when he said his supporters were so loyal that he could shoot someone on 5th Avenue in New York and not lose a single vote.

In May, he would draw accusations of racism for questioning the impartiality of a judge – born in the United States to Mexican immigrants – who was hearing a lawsuit against him.

No other candidate referred to the size of his genitals during a debate. He was flattered when Russian President Vladimir Putin called him a “brilliant and talented leader.” Trump mocked Senator John McCain, the Republicans’ presidential candidate in 2008, for having been captured during the Vietnam War and said he wanted to punch a protester in the face at a Trump rally.

Difficult child

Trump was born to money on June 14, 1946, in the New York City borough of Queens, the fourth of five children of Fred Trump, who would become one of the city’s biggest developers and landlords, and his wife. It was Fred Trump who taught Donald the value of self-promotion and a killer instinct.

By his own admission, Trump was not an easy child and in the eighth grade his parents sent him to the New York Military Academy in hopes of instilling discipline. Through student and medical deferments during the Vietnam War, Trump would never serve in the US military but said the school gave him “more training militarily than a lot of the guys that go into the military”.

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After graduating from the University of Pennsylvania, Trump went to work for his father’s company, which focused on the outer New York City boroughs of Queens, Brooklyn and Staten Island and owned an estimated 15,000 apartments. In 1973, the Trumps were charged with racial bias in their rental practices before reaching a settlement with the US government.

With a $1 million loan from his father, Trump eventually went into business himself in Manhattan, where he became a regular at some of the city’s most exclusive clubs and developed a reputation as a ladies’ man.

Trump Tower flagship

He soon made his mark with a series of real estate and development deals, including redoing an old hotel at New York’s Grand Central Terminal. In 1983, he opened his flagship, 58-story Trump Tower, which serves as both his primary residence and Trump Organization headquarters.

More projects around the world would follow, including golf courses, the Mar-a-Lago private resort in Florida, New York’s venerable Plaza Hotel and casinos.

Trump’s projects had mixed success. The flops included the real estate-oriented Trump University, Trump Mortgage, Trump Airlines and Trump Vodka but it was his experience with four casinos in Atlantic City, New Jersey, that took the golden lustre off his empire.

In this March 1988 file photo, Donald Trump stands next to one of his three Sikorsky helicopters at the New York Port Authority’s West 30th Street Heliport in New York. (AP File Photo)

Timothy O’Brien, author of “TrumpNation: The Art of Being the Donald,” wrote that in the 1990s Trump was out of money and twice had to go to his siblings for loans. A former employee said the Trump Organization would have shut down if the family had not come through but Trump disputed that in his 1997 book “Trump: The Art of the Comeback.”

While he never filed for personal bankruptcy, the downturn in the gaming industry sent parts of Trump’s corporate empire to bankruptcy court in 1991, 1992, 2004 and 2009. In the 2009 bankruptcy, the unsecured creditors received less than a penny on the dollar for their claim. Trump resigned as chairman four days before the filing.

Watch | Why Donald Trump was elected US President

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