The year in review
President Barack Obama begins his final year in office as the nation prepares to choose a new leader. Hillary Clinton, once prohibitive favorite for the Democratic nomination, heads into the primary season clinging to a narrow poll lead over Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders. The crotchety, wild-haired Sanders, 74, running as an economic populist, finds a passionate following among younger Democrats, who flock to his rallies by the tens of thousands. On the Republican side, New York real-estate billionaire Donald Trump still enjoys an improbable double-digit lead in the polls over a crowded GOP field. Trump’s nearest rivals are Texas Sen. Ted Cruz and Florida Sen. Marco Rubio, while former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, once the party’s presumptive nominee, has seen his poll numbers slide into the single digits, thanks in part to a sustained campaign of mockery by Trump—much of it on Twitter—who insists Bush is too “low energy” to be president.
At the Iowa caucuses—the first vote in the presidential selection process—Clinton squeaks past Sanders by a razor-thin margin, while on the GOP side, Cruz beats Trump by 4 percent. Most encouraging to Republican party leaders—who see both Trump and Cruz as too extreme to win a general election—is a strong third-place finish by Rubio. At a Republican debate on the eve of the New Hampshire primary, however, a flustered Rubio repeats the same canned, ungrammatical talking point—“Let’s dispel with this fiction that Barack Obama doesn’t know what he’s doing...”—no fewer than four times. Rival Chris Christie mocks Rubio on stage as robotic, and Rubio slides to a dismal fifthplace finish in New Hampshire, as Trump wins the state by a resounding 20 points. Desperate to save his candidacy, Rubio— whom Trump has taken to calling “Li’l Marco”—fights back with comments about Trump’s own physical appearance. “You know what they say about men with small hands?” Rubio says. Supreme Court justice and conservative icon Antonin Scalia dies in his sleep at the age of 79. Conspiracy theorists suggest that Democrats murdered him by putting a pillow over his face.
At the next Republican debate, Trump shows the crowd what he insists is a pair of normalsize hands, and—in a first for American political discourse—assures voters that “there’s no problem” with the size of his penis, either. Trump and Clinton go on to dominate the “Super Tuesday” primaries, though Sanders pulls off a big upset in the Rust Belt state of Michigan. After losing to Trump in his home state of Florida, Rubio drops out of the race. In Europe, ISIS spreads fear across the continent when suicide bombers terrorize Brussels, killing 31 in coordinated attacks on the city’s subway system and airport. President Obama makes a historic visit to Cuba, and calls for an end to the 54-year U.S. trade embargo against the island. In Washington, Obama picks Judge Merrick Garland, 63, to fill the empty seat on the Supreme Court, but GOP Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell refuses to hold confirmation hearings, insisting that Scalia’s replacement should be chosen by “the next president.” In Syria, government and Russian warplanes violate a cease-fire and bomb rebel strongholds in Aleppo, now the site of a full-blown humanitarian crisis.
Cruz wins the Republican primaries in Wisconsin and Colorado, raising the prospect of a “brokered” party convention at which delegates could choose a nominee other than Trump. Trump warns of “riots” if the party denies him the nomination. Sanders, meanwhile, is enjoying a hot streak, winning seven out of eight consecutive primaries, but Clinton’s resounding win in delegate-rich New York keeps her on track for the nomination.
Donald Trump scores a crushing victory in the Indiana primary, prompting his two remaining rivals, Cruz and Ohio Gov. John Kasich, to exit the race. Trump is now the GOP’s de facto nominee, though some mainstream Republicans are still hesitant to endorse him. “I’m not there right now,” says House Speaker Paul Ryan. On the Democratic side, Clinton’s steady march toward the nomination continues, though she still faces questions about her use of a private email server during her time as secretary of state, which is the subject of an ongoing investigation by the FBI.
With a string of primary wins, Clinton finally clinches the Democratic nomination. She will be the first woman in U.S. history to lead a major political party into a presidential election. Republicans show signs of starting to unite behind Trump, though Trump sparks fresh controversy when he says that an Indiana-born judge presiding over a fraud suit against him has “an absolute conflict” of interest because he’s “a Mexican.” An exasperated Ryan calls that “a textbook racist comment.” British voters shock the world when, in a special referendum, they vote narrowly to leave the European Union. The so-called Brexit vote roils global financial markets and prompts British Prime Minister David Cameron to announce his resignation. In Orlando, a gunman enters Pulse, a gay nightclub, and shoots dead 50 clubgoers, dialing 911 during the rampage and pledging allegiance to ISIS.
In Nice, France, a Tunisian-born Muslim immigrant plows a 19-ton truck into crowds celebrating Bastille Day. The horrific attack kills 86 people, including at least 10 children, before the driver dies in a gun battle with authorities. The French government responds with new airstrikes against ISIS targets in Syria, though a clear terrorist motive for the attack is never established. In the U.S., the police shootings of two black men, Alton Sterling and Philando Castile, spark national protests by the Black Lives Matter movement. At one protest in Dallas, a sniper shoots and kills five police officers, before being killed himself by a police robot armed with a bomb. In an unusual press conference, FBI Director James Comey announces the bureau will not recommend any charges against Clinton for her use of a private email server for official State Department business, but says her handling of classified information was “extremely careless.” A rowdy Republican National Convention opens in Cleveland. Egged on by delirious cries of “Lock her up!” from the crowd— now a constant refrain at Trump’s boisterous campaign rallies—speaker after speaker tears into Hillary Clinton as a criminal. Trump’s wife, Melania, gives a speech that turns out to be partly plagiarized from a 2008 speech by first lady Michelle Obama. On the convention’s final night, Trump paints a dark portrait of an America ridden with crime, poverty, and illegal immigration, and proclaims, “I alone can fix it.” At the Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia, a long list of party luminaries deliver rousing testimonial to Clinton’s fitness to lead. But the most memorable speech is delivered by Khizr Khan, 66, the father of a Muslim soldier killed in Iraq, who brandishes a copy of the Constitution and condemns Trump for his anti-Muslim rhetoric. Clinton lays out a detailed policy agenda in her acceptance speech; she also warns voters that “a man you can bait with a tweet is not a man we can trust with nuclear weapons.”
Trump launches his general election campaign by feuding with Khizr Khan, and at one riotous rally in North Carolina jokes that if Clinton is elected, only “Second Amendment people” will be able to stop her. Clinton suffers a setback with new allegations that foreign and corporate donors to the charitable Clinton Foundation received preferential treatment from Clinton’s State Department. But Trump’s vitriolic attacks on critics raise eclipse Clinton’s woes, and at month’s end he has slipped a full 6 points behind the Democrat in national poll averages. Trump starts warning his supporters that November’s election is being “rigged.” In Aleppo, 5-year-old Omran Daqneesh becomes a symbol of the carnage in Syria when a photo of the bloodied, dazed child goes viral.
At a 9/11 memorial event in New York, Clinton is filmed collapsing and being propped up by aides as they hustle her into a waiting van. While the candidate recuperates from what her doctors say is a bout with pneumonia, a video surfaces of Clinton, at a private fundraiser, dismissing half of Trump’s supporters as “a basket of deplor ables...racist, sexist, homophobic, xenophobic, Islamophobic, you name it.” By month’s end, Trump has pulled level with Clinton in the polls. With anxiety over the election at fever pitch, the first presidential debate is the most watched in U.S. history. Clinton—relaxed, confident, and evidently healthy—emerges as the clear winner, while Trump comes across as sniffly, rambling, and unprepared, a performance he later blames on a “defective” microphone.
Clinton regains her lead in the polls, but WikiLeaks, the anti-secrecy group, starts publishing embarrassing internal emails from the Clinton campaign—stolen, say U.S. intelligence services, by hackers working for Russia. The New York Times obtains documents showing that Trump declared a $916 million loss in the early 1990s and may have effectively paid no federal income tax for 18 years—which may explain his refusal to make public his tax returns. In a far more damaging revelation, 2005 video footage surfaces in which a 59-year-old Trump boasts to NBC’s Billy Bush of kissing women without permission and being able to “grab them by the p----” with impunity because he’s “a star.” Trump dismisses his remarks as “locker-room talk,” but more than a dozen women come forward to say he forcibly kissed, grabbed, or groped them. At the second d ebate, Trump vows that if elected he’ll put Clinton “in jail.” With the election only 11 days away, FBI director Comey announces the discovery of new emails that “appear to be pertinent” to the investigation of Clinton’s private email server, and her seemingly comfortable poll lead shrinks to just 2 or 3 percentage points.
Comey announces that an FBI review of the new emails revealed nothing incriminating. Election Day finally arrives, with most pollsters and pundits confidently predicting a Clinton victory
But as the votes are tallied that evening, the so-called blue wall of Democratic-leaning states in the Midwest crumbles, and in the small hours of Nov. 9, 2016, Donald J. Trump is declared the 45th president of the United States. It’s perhaps the biggest upset in U.S. presidential election history. Although Clinton wins the popular vote by 2.8 million votes and 2 percentage points— not far off most predictions—Trump’s success with white, working-class voters in the Rust Belt states of Wisconsin, Michigan, and Pennsylvania gives him a decisive edge in the Electoral College. As a stunned nation works though its shock, Trump has a cordial meeting with President Obama at the White House. In Cuba, Fidel Castro finally dies at the age of 90.
All eyes remain on Trump Tower as the nation wonders what to expect from its unpredictable next president. Trump’s staffing picks—immigration hawk Sen. Jeff Sessions for attorney general and climate-change skeptic Scott Pruitt to head the EPA— suggest a very conservative administration, but his intervention at Carrier’s Indiana plant to save 800 jobs indicates he will use his power very unconventionally. In a breach of diplomatic protocol, Trump has a telephone conversation with the president of Taiwan, Tsai Ing-wen. When China files a complaint, Trump fires off several insulting tweets. The CIA tells Congress that Russia hacked into Democratic emails in a deliberate attempt to hurt Clinton and help Trump, and the president-elect responds by questioning the agency’s credibility. As a wild year draws to a close, all that seems certain is that the loudest voice for the foreseeable future will be that of Twitter user “@realDonaldTrump.”