If anyone was hoping that President Donald Trump would gracefully acknowledge the increasingly likely chance that he will lose the presidency to Joe Biden, the dishonest press event he held Thursday evening at the White House indicated he still has little respect for democracy.
With Biden now in striking distance of the 270 electoral votes he needs to become president-elect — as this is written, he is narrowly trailing Trump in 20-electoral vote Pennsylvania, with a large number of votes in heavily Democratic areas still to be counted — the president stood behind the White House podium and tossed out baseless accusations that he was the victim of election fraud.
Trump began with a whopper, saying, “If you count the legal votes, I easily win. If you count the illegal votes, they can try to steal the election from us.” In fact, even the Trump campaign has failed to provide evidence that fraud played any role in Trump seemingly coming up short in key states like Arizona and Nevada.
Trump then tried another argument, claiming that the media conspired to interfere in the election against him, “getting it knowingly wrong” by inflating Biden’s popularity in an attempt to demoralize Trump supporters. He contradicted himself by framing efforts to count all the votes in places like Michigan and Wisconsin as part of a plot to steal the election from him, while in the next breath insisting that all the votes in Arizona must be counted so he can continue closing the gap in a state that Fox News has already called for Biden (though Vox’s partner Decision Desk has not yet).
Insane -- after arguing that Michigan, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin were rigged against him because all the votes were counted, Trump calls for all the votes to be counted in Arizona. He's blatantly trying to have it both ways. pic.twitter.com/UoAvMCqvOW— Aaron Rupar (@atrupar) November 5, 2020
Trump wrapped things up by calling for the Supreme Court to save him — “it’s going to end up, perhaps, at the highest court of the land” — then essentially tried to call dibs on certain states before walking out of the room without taking questions, seemingly oblivious to the reality that it doesn’t work like that.
"As you know, I've claimed certain states," Trump says, as though calling dibs means he's won. He then walks off without taking any questions. pic.twitter.com/q0V2bIhipY— Aaron Rupar (@atrupar) November 6, 2020
The takeaway from Thursday’s event was basically the same as the widely panned one Trump held early Wednesday morning, when the election results were still in more doubt — the president thinks only the votes cast for him should be counted and is hoping a Supreme Court that he’s reshaped with three conservative justices will save him.
The problem, however, is that Trump hasn’t yet come up with a convincing argument that anything amiss happened during the election. His campaign has already filed a number of lawsuits challenging the vote-counting process in states like Georgia and Michigan, but as my colleague Ian Millhiser explained, “At least some seem to rest on dubious or incomplete allegations. And it’s not clear what legal benefits Trump would gain if his campaign prevails.”
So unless institutions like the Supreme Court prove to be corrupted beyond repair, it’s highly unlikely that any legal challenge the Trump campaign would mount would change anything. And as more votes are tallied, it appears Biden has a good chance of sweeping Nevada, Pennsylvania, and possibly even Georgia. That means that when all the votes are counted (and likely recounted in Georgia), he could have a very comfortable margin in the Electoral College.
But beyond the specifics (or lack thereof) behind Trump’s allegations, the fact that the president of the United States is using his platform to undermine American elections is a spectacle without precedent. It’s why international observers are starting to talk about the US in a manner we’re used to hearing with regard to failed states in other continents.
Findings by international observers:— Brett McGurk (@brett_mcgurk) November 5, 2020
“Baseless allegations of systematic deficiencies, notably by the incumbent president ... harm public trust in democratic institutions.”
"Making sure that every vote is counted is a fundamental obligation for all branches of government."
The contrast between Trump’s speech and one Biden gave earlier Thursday was jarring. Instead of trying to delegitimize the process in states he lost, Biden urged people to have patience and alluded to the US’s long history of stable transitions of power.
Biden: "Democracy is sometimes messy. It sometimes requires a little patience as well, but that patience has been rewarded now for more than 240 years with a system of governance that has been the envy of the world. We continue to feel very good about where things stand." pic.twitter.com/gTgN1UKEel— Aaron Rupar (@atrupar) November 5, 2020
The Biden campaign responded to Trump’s Thursday press event by calling his remarks “desperate, baseless, and a sure sign he’s losing.” Even Fox News’s Martha MacCallum noted that the allegations Trump made lacked evidence to back them up.