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US election 2016 results: 5 reasons Donald Trump won

Very few people thought he would actually run, then he did. They thought he wouldn’t climb in the polls, then he did. They said he wouldn’t win any primaries, then he did. They said he wouldn’t win the Republican nomination, then he did.

Finally, they said there was no way he could compete for, let alone win, a general election.

Now he’s president-elect Trump.

Here are five ways he pulled off what was unexpected by most and incomprehensible to many.

Toss-ups were tossed aside. One after another, Ohio, Florida and North Carolina went to Mr Trump.

That left Mrs Clinton’s blue firewall, and the firewall was eventually breached.

The Democrat’s last stand largely rested on her strength in the Midwest. Those were states that had gone Democrat for decades, based in part on the support of black and working-class white voters.

Those working-class white people, particularly ones without college education – men and women – deserted the party in droves. Rural voters turned out in high numbers, as the Americans who felt overlooked by the establishment and left behind by the coastal elite made their voices heard.

While places like Virginia and Colorado held fast, Wisconsin fell – and with it Mrs Clinton’s presidential hopes.

When all is said and done, Mrs Clinton may end up winning the popular vote on the back of strong support in places like California and New York and closer-than-expected losses in solid-red states like Utah.

The Trump wave hit in the places it had to, however. And it hit hard.

Mr Trump insulted decorated war veteran John McCain.

He picked a fight with Fox News and its popular presenter, Megyn Kelly.

He doubled down when asked how he once mocked the weight of a Hispanic beauty pageant winner.

He offered a half-hearted apology when the secret video surfaced of his boasting about making unwanted sexual advances towards women.

He gaffed his way through the three presidential debates with clearly lightly practised performances.

None of it mattered. While he took dips in the polls following some of the more outrageous incidents, his approval was like a cork – eventually bouncing back to the surface.

Perhaps the various controversies came so hard and fast that none had time to draw blood. Maybe Mr Trump’s personality and appeal was so strong, the scandals just bounced off. Whatever the reason, he was bulletproof.

He ran against the Democrats. He also ran against the powers within his own party.

He beat them all.

Mr Trump built a throne of skulls out of his Republican primary opponents. Some, like Marco Rubio, Ted Cruz, Chris Christie and Ben Carson, eventually bent knee. The holdouts, like Jeb Bush and Ohio Governor John Kasich, are now on the outside of their party looking in.

And for the rest of the party insiders, from House Speaker Paul Ryan on down? Mr Trump didn’t need their help – and, in fact, may have won because he was willing to take a stand against them.

Mr Trump’s pox-on-them-all attitude is likely to have proved his independence and outsider status at a time when much of the American public reviled Washington (although not enough to keep them from re-electing most congressional incumbents running for re-election).

It was a mood some other national politicians sensed – Democrat Bernie Sanders, for instance, as well as Mr Cruz. No one, however, captured it more than Trump, and it won him the White House.

The polls clearly did a woeful job predicting the shape and preferences of the electorate, particularly in Midwestern states. In the final days of the campaign, however, the reality is that the polls were close enough that Mr Trump had a pathway to victory.

That pathway didn’t look nearly as obvious about two weeks ago, before FBI director James Comey released his letter announcing that they were reopening their investigation into Hillary Clinton’s private email server.

True, the polls were tightening a bit, but Mr Trump’s sharpest rise in the standings came in the weeks between that first letter and Mr Comey’s second, in which he said he had put the investigation back on the shelf.

It seems likely that during that period, Mr Trump was able to successfully consolidate his base, bringing wayward conservatives back into the fold and shredding Mrs Clinton’s hopes of offering a compelling closing message to US voters.

Of course, Mr Comey’s actions never would have been a factor if Mrs Clinton had decided to rely on State Department email servers for her work correspondence. That one is on her shoulders.

Mr Trump ran the most unconventional of political campaigns, but it turned out he knew better than all the experts.

He spent more on hats than on pollsters. He travelled to states like Wisconsin and Michigan that pundits said were out of reach.

He held massive rallies instead of focusing on door-knocking and get-out-the-vote operations.

He had a disjointed, sometimes chaotic national political convention that was capped by an acceptance speech that was more doom-and-gloom than any in modern US political history.

He was vastly outspent by the Clinton campaign, just as he was during the Republican primaries. He turned consensus wisdom about how to win the presidency on its head.

All of these decisions – and many more – were roundly ridiculed in “knowledgeable” circles.

In the end, however, they worked. Mr Trump and his closest confidants – his children and a few chosen advisers – will have the last laugh. And they’ll do it from the White House.