‘They’re Trying to Rig an Election’

The lies aren't working anymore.

President Trump is having a meltdown as the counting of the votes leads to his inevitable defeat. An emboldened American press corps is mincing no words in reporting it.

At the New York Times, Peter Baker and Maggie Haberman (“In Torrent of Falsehoods, Trump Claims Election Is Being Stolen“) are having none of it:

Even for President Trump, it was an imagined version of reality, one in which he was not losing but the victim of a wide-ranging conspiracy stretching across the country in multiple cities, counties and states, involving untold numbers of people all somehow collaborating to steal the election in ways he could not actually explain.

Never mind that Mr. Trump presented not a shred of evidence during his first public appearance since late on election night or that few senior Republican officeholders endorsed his false claims of far-reaching fraud. A presidency born in a lie about Barack Obama’s birthplace appeared on the edge of ending in a lie about his own faltering bid for re-election.

“If you count the legal votes, I easily win,” Mr. Trump said Thursday night in an unusually subdued, 17-minute televised statement from the lectern in the White House briefing room, complaining that Democrats, the news media, pollsters, big technology companies and nonpartisan election workers had all corruptly sought to deny him a second term.

“This is a case where they’re trying to steal an election,” he said. “They’re trying to rig an election, and we can’t let that happen.”

He convinced few people who were not already in his corner. Most of the television networks cut away from the statement on the grounds that what Mr. Trump was saying was not true. On CNN, former Senator Rick Santorum of Pennsylvania, a Republican often put in the position of defending Mr. Trump over the years, appeared exasperated as he denounced the president’s loose talk of election thievery as “dangerous” and “shocking” and declared that “counting absentee ballots and counting mail-in ballots is not fraud.”

The New York Post, which published salacious articles on Hunter Biden planted by Mr. Trump’s associates before the election, headlined an article: “Downcast Trump Makes Baseless Election Fraud Claims in White House Address.” Even Fox News noted it had seen no “hard evidence” of widespread wrongdoing.

“There is no defense for the President’s comments tonight undermining our Democratic process,” Gov. Larry Hogan, Republican of Maryland and a critic of the president, wrote on Twitter. “America is counting the votes, and we must respect the results as we always have before. No election or person is more important than our Democracy.”

Former Gov. Chris Christie, Republican of New Jersey and a longtime ally of Mr. Trump’s, likewise disputed the president. “I talk tonight now not as a former governor but as a former U.S. attorney — there’s just no basis to make that argument tonight,” he said on ABC News. “There just isn’t.”

With his presidency on the line, Mr. Trump’s lonely appearance in the briefing room with no allies joining him and only staff members and reporters in attendance underscored how isolated he has become just two days after Election Day. With vote counts in key states turning grimmer even as he spoke, Mr. Trump was poised to end this term in office the way he began his presidential campaign in 2015 — defended most vocally by family members and a few loyalists while Republican leaders held him at arm’s length rather than embrace outlandish claims.

With Republican members of Congress largely staying silent or issuing anodyne comments about the importance of transparent vote counting, Mr. Trump was left to dispatch his two adult sons to hold news conferences in Pennsylvania and Georgia to protest aspects of the vote count. They were accompanied by allies like Rudolph W. Giuliani, his personal lawyer, and Corey Lewandowski, his first campaign manager from 2016. The same scene played out in Nevada, where a Trump ally, Richard Grenell, made claims about voting fraud that news outlets debunked a short time later.

Members of Mr. Trump’s inner circle sounded almost desperate as they sought to threaten other Republicans into backing Mr. Trump. Both Donald Trump Jr. and Eric Trump posted messages on Twitter complaining that Republicans were not standing with their father, especially those who may want his support if they run for president in four years.

One might wish for a more full-throated condemnation from Republican leaders in Congress. But recall that, just days ago, there were fears that Trump would somehow try to steal the election and do so with their backing. That’s simply not happening. They’re feckless but, no, they’re not going to back a coup.

At the Washington Post, Ashley Parker and Josh Dawsey turn to psychoanalysis (“Trump turns angry and despondent as possible defeat looms“):

By Thursday morning, President Trump was angry and defiant.

The polls had closed more than a full 24 hours before, and as several key states continued to update their ballot counts, the election increasingly felt like it was slipping away from him and toward Democratic nominee Joe Biden. He wanted to speak.

“STOP THE COUNT,” Trump bellowed on Twitter, a missive he quickly retweeted just over an hour later. “ANY VOTE THAT CAME IN AFTER ELECTION DAY WILL NOT BE COUNTED!” he added.

The only problem: If the vote-counting stopped at that moment, Trump would lose.

Trump’s senior advisers intervened, explaining to the president that he needed to be more precise about just which vote counts he wanted halted. He did not want all of the states to stop counting votes, they added, because that would lead to a Biden victory.

And so, shortly after noon Thursday, Trump blasted out the message he had workshopped with advisers: “STOP THE FRAUD!”

There is no evidence of widespread voting fraud, and Twitter flagged his tweet as “misleading” about the election. But for the president’s purposes, the missive was more helpful to his electoral hopes.

[…]

Though aides had tried to prepare Trump that mail-in ballots would probably favor Biden, he was “genuinely taken aback,” in the words of one campaign adviser, as the votes rolled in for his rival, the former vice president.

Instead of reflecting on whether his rhetoric throughout the campaign demonizing mail-in ballots could have helped cost him the election, the president has taken the results as a vindication on his views of it, advisers said.

“The president’s position is, they are just going to keep finding the ballots until they have enough,” said one adviser who spoke to him Wednesday.

Trump began complaining about voter fraud and the election being stolen, and by the time he appeared in the East Wing around 2 a.m. Wednesday to make remarks, he was determined to declare victory, even though his prepared notes did not say that.

“Frankly, we did win this election,” Trump said in comments that were roundly criticized, including by many allies. Some of those in the room, including Lewandowski and Meadows, did not clap along with others after the impromptu line. Vice President Pence, who struck a different tone early Wednesday onstage, made no appearances later Wednesday or Thursday, though Thursday night he did tweet, “I Stand With President @realDonaldTrump. We must count every LEGAL vote.”

[…]

In some ways, the chaos and drama was its own version of normalcy for those who have worked around Trump, this person added. “One thing people forget, in general, is that for decades, long before the presidency, his whole life was a crisis and he thrived in that environment,” the official said. “It’d be boring if he just got blown out or won big. That would be very un-Trumpian for there not to be some calamity involved.”

By Wednesday evening, however, Trump had begun telling allies he believed he could lose — but only because the election was being “stolen from him,” a campaign official said. And when he woke up Thursday, he was angry again and eager to take a more defiant tone, advisers said.

The president was eager to speak publicly Thursday about the election — arguing that his rightful victory was being stolen, and that states were conspiring against him. But again, allies and advisers counseled caution, trying to assuage Trump by outlining their aggressive plan to fight and urging him to keep a low profile.

But on Thursday evening, the president appeared in front of reporters at the White House around 6:45, seeming subdued and deflated, and made unproven claims about voter fraud and vowing to continue the fight through legal channels.

He mocked mail-in ballots and polling from the news media and said, falsely, that states were making up ballots to cost him the election. He made a series of other unsubstantiated allegations against democratic elections.

At one point, Trump said states that counted the votes were behaving in a corrupt manner — while Arizona needed to count the ballots so he could win. He walked away without taking questions.

A senior campaign official said Thursday night’s appearance was the kind of news conference they wanted to avoid.

[…]

The president told advisers he believed he would win, and polled aides and allies all day on whether he should appear publicly, as he was eager to do. He worked on a statement with his press office taking credit for Republican gains in the House and for Republican victories in the Senate — and his standing among minority voters.

“President Trump defied all expectations in Congressional and Senate races, bringing great victories,” said Judd Deere, a deputy press secretary. He did not mention the presidential race tally.

On a call with campaign surrogates, a Trump campaign spokesman confidently declared, “We will be able to declare absolutely victory Friday afternoon when Arizona flips.” And the campaign also blasted out a fully capitalized statement from the president: “IF YOU COUNT THE LEGAL VOTES, I EASILY WIN THE ELECTION! IF YOU COUNT THE ILLEGAL AND LATE VOTES, THEY CAN STEAL THE ELECTION FROM US!”

While I understand the desire to see that man as some kind of evil genius trying to stoke his supporters into action, I see a man who is mentally unstable and unable to cope with reality. Dan Drezner has curated a 2000-plus incident Twitter thread and authored a university press book on Trump as The Toddler-in-Chief. These actions are consistent with a petulant child not getting his way. But I think it’s moved well beyond that: the man is just not well.

This doesn’t, of course, mean he’s not dangerous. He’ll be President of the United States and possessed with all its powers for another two-and-a-half months. But his authoritarian ramblings are being openly dismissed at this point. The press no longer feels a need to couch their reporting in “objective” language and his partisans in Congress no longer fear him.

FILED UNDER: Campaign 2020, Donald Trump, US Politics
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.

Comments

  1. al Ameda says:

    As Susan Collins said of Trump back in February 2020:

    “He was impeached. And there has been criticism by both Republican and Democratic senators of his call,” she continued, before predicting: “I believe that he will be much more cautious in the future.”

    It certainly seems that Trump was chastened by his impeachment.

    Watch now as Republicans step it up and try to get Republican Legislatures to select Electors to nullify the voting results.

    This Republican Party is far more radical thatt any Democratic Party was ever thought to be.

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  2. James Joyner says:

    @al Ameda:

    Watch now as Republicans step it up and try to get Republican Legislatures to select Electors to nullify the voting results.

    That’s simply not going to happen. Aside from the fact that voters wouldn’t stand for it, it would be blatantly unconstitutional. Yes, they have plenary power to direct the manner of selecting Electors. BEFORE Election Day. Federal law has reinforced the uniformity of elections for Federal office.

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  3. Jen says:

    From this morning’s news:

    Milwaukee Journal Sentinel is reporting that the Trump campaign sent an email out *last night* to ask for volunteers to call Pennsylvania supporters and encourage them to return their absentee ballots. After the vote. After the postmarked date required.

    Meanwhile, Pennsylvania police are investigating a plot to disrupt ballot-counting. A group from Virginia apparently planned to drive there and disrupt the count.

    We know who is trying to “rig” this election and it ain’t the Democrats.

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  4. drj says:

    @James Joyner:

    That’s simply not going to happen.

    I agree. But that doesn’t mean they were not going to try.

    The Atlantic (prior to the election):

    Trump’s state and national legal teams are already laying the groundwork for postelection maneuvers that would circumvent the results of the vote count in battleground states.

    Forbes:

    Trump Allies Suggest Electoral College Could Overturn A Biden Win.

    And, as I pointed out in another thread, Lindsey Graham yesterday said on Hannity’s show that this option should at least be on the table.

    The fact that it almost certainly won’t happen, doesn’t mean that the GOP isn’t home to a significant number of dangerous, anti-democratic radicals.

    This isn’t simply going to go away by itself.

    And who knows what they would have tried if it were only a single state on which the outcome depended.

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  5. drj says:

    Another sitting US Senator (Ted Cruz):

    I am angry.

    The American people are right to be angry.

    We need observers.

    Now.

    He is lying, of course,

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  6. OzarkHillbilly says:

    To repeat myself from the open forum:

    Greta Thunberg
    @GretaThunberg
    ·
    17h
    So ridiculous. Donald must work on his Anger Management problem, then go to a good old fashioned movie with a friend! Chill Donald, Chill!
    Quote Tweet

    Donald J. Trump
    @realDonaldTrump
    · 23h
    STOP THE COUNT!

    ReplyReply
  7. CSK says:

    http://www.thebulwark.com/trump-the-pathetic-loser/

    The title says it all, but the piece is worth a read.

    ReplyReply
  8. mattbernius says:

    I’m honestly curious where @JKB and @Keef net out on that performance. It felt like @JKB was flexing to start pushing conspiracy theories as of a day or two ago.

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  9. gVOR08 says:

    The question going forward is whether this newfound willingness to call out obvious lies is a Trump specific thing or if it will continue. If politicians are no longer able to lie with impunity the Never Trumpers might actually get their reform of the Republican Party.

    ReplyReply
  10. ImProPer says:

    There is a very large conspiracy to steal the election from President Trump. Over half of the American electorate appears to be involved!

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  11. Andy says:

    What we are witnessing is Trump facing his greatest fear – becoming a loser.

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  12. Not the IT Dept. says:

    I really wonder what it would take for James to realize that the GOP are implicated in everything Trump does and have been since they refused to take him on during the 2015/16 primaries. Deal with it: they want him to do this, they’re not afraid of him because they agree with him.

    Donald Trump is saying the private stuff out loud and proud like the GOP has not been willing to admit. They’ve had hundreds of opportunities to defy or disagree with him and they haven’t taken them. This is who they are.

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  13. DrDaveT says:

    @Andy:

    What we are witnessing is Trump facing his greatest fear – being revealed as a loser.

    FTFY, but yes.

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  14. CSK says:

    @Andy: @DrDaveT:
    Quite so. Trump’s been a loser his entire career. I mean, this is a guy who lost money peddling booze and promoting gambling, bankrupted the Eastern shuttle in 3 years, bought the Plaza for an inflated price and sold it at a loss…oh, why go om with the list? But until now he’s been able to convince a pack of rubes that he’s a roaring success.

    But there’s no way to spin blowing the election. He’s now the biggest loser of all.

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  15. Gustopher says:

    I just sent a text to my Trumpy brothers that reads “Looks like Soros is finally stepping up his game and stealing this election for us. So happy that I’ll get to replace this 4 year old ObamaPhone.”

    I may be a bad person.

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  16. SC_Birdflyte says:

    I’m sure Donald is outraged that his flood of rage-tweeting isn’t stopping the tide from coming in.

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  17. Kathy says:

    From the hoocoodanode department, donations to Trump’s fund for electoral litigation will be used to pay down campaign debt.

    So now we know he’ll fight the results to the bitter end, because he’s profiting from litigation, not necessarily because he thinks he has any chance of success.

    ReplyReply

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