They Kilt Us, But They Ain’t Whupped Us Yet

Two days later, and it finally starts to feel real. President Obama met with President-elect Trump in the Oval Office this morning to kick off the peaceful transition of power between their administrations.

After 18 months of this intense, brutal, nasty, exhausting campaign, it is only fitting that it would end with the most shocking Electoral College victory in history.

No one thought that Hillary would lose. The polls showed her with a comfortable margin, even larger than the one that reelected President Obama. We asked, “What if Trump wins?” not as a legitimate thought, but as a way to break the tension during the last week.

Here in Indiana, we were confident about our statewide chances. We thought that we just might sweep all of the offices, losing only one or two races. We were confident that John Gregg would be our next Governor, and Evan Bayh our next Senator.

When we got to our field offices at 5:15 on Tuesday morning, people were anxious. They were nervous, they were excited, and they were exhausted. Everyone was optimistic that at the end of the day, we would all be celebrating a wide range of victories.

Throughout the day, we remained hopeful. Our turnout operation was in full swing; we had hundreds of volunteers knocking on doors and calling voters, making sure that they knew where and when to vote.

We had minimal reports of problems throughout the county. It seemed as though most polling places were running smoothly, with no real problems of intimidation or suppression. The biggest challenge we faced was making sure people stayed in line, especially as lines were longer than expected.

As we reached the afternoon, and I reached my fourth coffee, things were still buzzing. We were still optimistic that we just might pull off the win in our local races. We were confident that Hillary would win easily, gathering more than 300 electoral votes. We were hopeful that turnout would pick up in parts of the county as people got off work and headed home.

I looked down at my watch as it ticked 6:00pm, and breathed a sigh of relief. We were just a few short hours away from knowing who won our local races and finally getting to celebrate historic achievements all over the country.

When the polls closed, we were ready to go celebrate. Over the course of four days, our get out the vote operation reached tens of thousands of voters. We knew we had left it all on the field, with nothing to regret at the end of a hard fought campaign.

Before heading over to get results, I took a moment to pause and appreciate all of the work that went into this campaign. Our office was full of volunteers each and every day, with hardworking men and women giving up some of their time to elect leaders they truly believed in.

When the results finally started coming in, then, we were more than shocked to see numbers so low. We knew early on that we had lost many of our local races. We still held out hope, though, that we might win statewide. We knew Hillary would win the Electoral College.

As I got in my car to drive home, there was still optimism. Hillary still had several paths to 270 electoral votes, but they would be tough. She would need high turnout numbers and a few other factors to break her way. I was hopeful, but I began to brace myself for what might come next. At a red light, I just screamed.

And then it all happened.

Florida was called for Trump.

Ohio was called for Trump.

Pennsylvania was called for Trump.

Our cautious optimism turned to absolute horror as we started picturing the once unthinkable: Donald Trump would really be the 45th President.

I broke down and started crying. Friends and family called and texted, offering words of encouragement or looking for some kind of answers. I had no words for them. It was just as shocking to me as it was to them.

I struggled to find the right thoughts or to understand the reasons for what happened. I was so exhausted that I had no control over my emotions.

Shock. Sorrow. Anger. Horror. Disappointment. Fear. Helplessness. Hopelessness.

I was waiting for the network anchors to apologize, to remember 2000, and to pull back states from Trump. I waited for the news that Hillary had actually won, that we were not actually living this nightmare. The numbers had to have been wrong, and Hillary would win once all of the votes were in.

When I woke up the next morning and realized it was over, I cried.

I screamed.

I sobbed.

I cursed.

As I tried to process the outcome with a friend on Wednesday night, I remembered the scene as I left the County-City Building, where I had been getting results as they came in.

I walked outside, where it’s then just a short walk across the street to our office. But at that moment, in that intersection, there were two cars that had just been in an accident. Fortunately, no one was injured; the cars, though, were another story.

I told this to my friend, and thought, “How fitting?” I should have known at the time what a bad omen that scene would turn out to be.

I was so lost on Wednesday morning, struggling to understand how this could have happened. How could we have worked so hard and come up so short? Surely we could have done something more, right?

We left it all on the table. We fought hard for our candidates, and we built a campaign that we can be proud of. But a campaign can only get you so far; you can only control so much.

Watching Hillary deliver her concession speech gave me the first real sense of purpose after the results. She was so poised, so gracious, and so ready for the next challenge.

Yes, there is a time to grieve. Wednesday was one of the hardest days of my life. I have never felt so lost and so hopeless, wondering what comes next with no real answer. So many of us were left speechless, struggling to figure out where we go from here.

But then I took a step back. I watched President Obama address the nation from the Rose Garden. I texted my family, my friends from other campaigns, and my classmates, trying to process what happened.

They all offered words of strength and sorrow, consolation and encouragement. They all spoke with a common theme, knowing that we will rise from what happened, that we will come back stronger than ever before.

I was inspired by them to keep moving forward, just like I was inspired by Hillary’s message to young people in her concession speech:

“You will have successes and setbacks, too. This loss hurts. But please, please never stop believing that fighting for what’s right is worth it. It’s always worth it. And we need you to keep up these fights now and for the rest of your lives.”

We fought for what was right this election cycle. We fought for what was right in 2008. We will continue to fight for what is right so long as the sky is blue and the sun rises in the East.

I am still sad; I am still angry; I am still confused. But I am not discouraged, nor am I disheartened.

We will always look towards the future, towards continuing the progress for which we have worked so hard. We will never shy away from a challenge. We will never quit.

Two days after the election, we are still fired up. We are still ready to go.

Break’s over. What’s next?