When meeting with New York labor leaders at Trump Tower this month, President-Elect Donald J. Trump explained how the margin of his presidential victory hinged on places like Pennsylvania, where he said hordes of Democrats became Republicans for him. It was unclear why he was talking about his win in Pennsylvania, people familiar with the meeting say.
When he strutted around Florida during New Year’s Eve at his plush Mar-a-Lago Resort, he told well-wishers near and far how he pulled out a victory. “They were just saying it was astonishing what he did,” said Richard LeFrak, a real estate mogul and close Trump friend. “It was astonishing what he did.”
Over lunch in Florida earlier this month, Trump told dining companions that the large and raucous crowd to a Michigan rally after midnight on Election Eve “made it clear I had a good shot.” He said that Hillary Clinton shouldn’t have sent aides to Arizona, Texas, Georgia and other states she was never going to win. And he dissected how he took Ohio, Michigan and Wisconsin from her campaign. “They just made a lot of mistakes,” Trump told the group.
“He was really teed in on it,” said Tom Quinn, a lobbyist who ate lunch with him. “I took some notes because he was so specific. He said, ‘When I had 30,000 the night before in Michigan, I think I’ve really got this one won.’”
Since he won the presidency in November, Trump has relished talking about his win, sometimes telling donors it was a surprise, while other times telling friends he knew he was going to win all along. “It was a 55 percent chance,” he told one person. To another friend, he said he knew he was going to win when Clinton’s campaign canceled a Hudson River fireworks show. He has publicly said, at other times, that he expected to lose.
Trump has left allies feeling that he was genuinely surprised that he won, and he has punctuated dozens of unrelated meetings and phone calls with tales from the campaign, according to people close to him. People who have met with him have been surprised how much he knew about his victory — or loss — in their area. One person close to Trump says “he talks about how he won in almost every meeting I’ve been in. I think he’s still trying to absorb it.”
“I told him, you’re a national figure now, you’re on the biggest stage in the world,” said Rev. Al Sharpton, who spoke with Trump last month. “He really feels like he’s an outsider. He still sees it that way, like an outer borough guy from Queens.”
Yet his inability to sometimes move on has sometimes left allies scratching their heads, as they want him to home in on hiring and running the government. In the weeks during the transition, he has often seemed more interested in litigating the past than focusing on the present, these people say. He has convened long-time New York friends to Trump Tower to talk about the win. “We just talked about the greatest hits of the campaign,” Carl Paladino, the co-chair of the New York campaign, said of his 45-minute meeting with Trump in December.
Publicly, he has flayed Lindsey Graham for not winning more than 1 percent of the vote and called Hillary Clinton “guilty as hell,” less than two weeks before the inauguration. He took a victory tour to states he won, telling allies he wanted media attention on his victory. He has grown particularly agitated when anyone questioned the legitimacy of his victory, which the 70-year-old apparently sees as a greatest validation of his life.
He has privately and publicly shown irritation about comments from Clinton aides, Democrats and others. The mention that he lost the popular vote seems to particularly enrage him. “He said he could have gone to California more,” Quinn said.
“We set records in so many different ways, they don’t love talking about that on the news.” Trump said Tuesday night during a Washington speech. “They don’t like saying more counties than anybody, you look at a map of the counties in this country that we won and it’s literally entirely, it just looks like it’s entirely red.”
Trump’s friends and allies say the talk isn’t all that surprising. He was written off by much of the establishment, which didn’t support his candidacy, and went through a number of trying and almost disqualifying experiences on the campaign trail. During the election, he would often express skepticism about the campaign’s chances.
“I don’t know any politician who doesn’t love to talk about their elections when they won. They don’t like to talk about it when they lost,” said Rudy Giuliani, a top Trump surrogate. “I love talking about the ones I won. I never want to talk about the ones I lost.”
Vincent Pitta, a lawyer who has recently met with Trump, said he was ebullient and braggadocious. “He’s got a right to pound his chest,” said Vincent Pitta, a lawyer who has met with him twice since the election. “Wouldn’t you revel in that if you were him? He hasn’t changed a bit since the first time I met him in 1979.”
Pitta said Trump told him that he had no regrets, and that he’d “broken his back on the campaign trail.”
“His insight was that working stiffs felt like the country deserted him and that he ran against both parties even though he ran as a Republican,” Pitta said. “He might be fighting with the Republicans more than the Democrats.”
In one such meeting, he talked to Long Island officials about vote counts in Nassau and Suffolk County, two largely white bastions near the city. He seemed acutely aware that he won one county and lost the other, and wanted to know why.
“He was telling my dad about the politics of Long Island, and how he did on Long Island, and New York State — what counties, he won and lost and that kind of thing,” said Erin King Sweeney, who attended the meeting with her dad, Rep. Peter King. “He was very interested in the details of the win.”
He also seemed aware that his neighbors near the gilded tower where he lives didn’t vote for him, she said. “Manhattan wasn’t really close,” she said.