President Donald Trump, who is lagging farther behind Joe Biden in the 2020 election, appeared at the White House on Thursday night to deliver a dispirited stream-of-consciousness address about election fraud that absolutely did not happen and for which he offered not a shred of supporting evidence.
It was a shocking address for a sitting president, undermining the very election system at the heart of the nation’s democracy — and the same voting system that put Trump into power four years ago. The three broadcast networks — ABC, NBC, and CBS — cut away from the address because of his lies.
Standing at the podium in the press briefing room and speaking in a raspy monotone, Trump droned on about “mystery ballots,” “secret count rooms,” and “illegal votes.” Essentially, he concocted an imaginary, impossible-to-pull-off system of election fraud that was designed to make sure he lost — but not other Republicans around the US who won in many of the states he lost.
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Just as bizarrely, Trump described the regular process of counting votes — which, this year, is taking longer than usual because the pandemic he grossly mismanaged drew in an unprecedented number of people voting by mail — as some vast conspiracy against him. Trump repeatedly had told his voters not to trust voting by mail and is now feigning shock that mailed-in votes are not in his favor.
“In Georgia, I won by a lot. A lot,” Trump said. (No winner has been declared in Georgia.)
“With a lead of over getting close to 300,000 votes on election night in Georgia and by the way, it got whittled down and now it's getting to be to a point where I'll go from winning by a lot to perhaps being even down a little bit in Georgia,” he said, describing the actual process of counting votes, which is not instantaneous.
Trump claimed the election apparatus in Georgia was “run by Democrats.” Georgia’s Republican governor has been a close Trump ally for years. Georgia’s secretary of state, Brad Raffensperger, whose office oversees all elections in the state, is a Republican.
Trump went so far as to allege, “If you count the legal votes, I have decisively won,” despite no evidence of illegal votes being cast and counted. (In fact, the Pennsylvania secretary of state was asked Thursday if her office found any evidence of voter fraud. She noted one single man who tried, but failed, to get a mail-in ballot for a deceased relative.)
Of Democrats, who have pushed for all votes to be counted across the country, Trump said, “They’re trying to rig an election. They’re trying to steal an election.”
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Each state has its own specific system of voting. There is no widespread plot to steal the election. Poll counters are normal people with normal lives who follow state-mandated rules for counting ballots — but they have been threatened by Trump supporters.
“These people are not involved in voter fraud. These people are not involved in voter suppression,” Georgia’s voting administration manager Gabriel Sterling said during a press conference earlier Thursday.
There was only one state about which Trump did not have any complaints or raise any baseless allegations of fraud: Arizona, the only state where it seems possible that outstanding votes still to be counted could push the president into the lead.
In Trump’s imaginary world of voter fraud, only he is impacted.
Though Democrats consistently and seriously outraised Republicans in Senate races across the country and were projected to flip control of the chamber, Republicans held their Senate seats in Maine, Kentucky, Montana, South Carolina, and Iowa and will likely retain control.
House Democrats are on track to retain their majority, and due to redistricting in North Carolina, they secured two newly drawn districts. But as of Thursday night, no House Republican incumbent has yet lost, and the party has picked up five seats. Frustrated with the losses, some moderate Democrats have been reportedly mulling a challenge to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi.
And on the state level, Republicans gained control of the New Hampshire state legislature — a state Biden won.
Despite these successes — and the fact that Trump himself won the critical swing states of Ohio and Florida and will register the second-highest popular vote count in history (behind Biden) — Trump claims the fix was in against him.
Trump’s strategy from early Wednesday morning has been to flood the zone with lies, flimsy lawsuits, and social media outbursts to throw the integrity of the election into question.
Judges tossed out lawsuits claiming poll observers in Michigan were denied access and that ballots in Georgia were being mishandled. The campaign touted an order from a Pennsylvania court about poll watcher access as a big win, but all it meant was that observers who had already been allowed in could stand closer to the action — they couldn’t stop the counting from happening. In another case in Pennsylvania, the campaign claimed victory when a court ordered the state to set aside ballots if the voter failed to take care of a missing ID by Nov. 9 while the case was pending, but there was no way to know how many ballots that could affect.
The Trump campaign all day Thursday teased an imminent lawsuit in federal court in Nevada challenging certain ballots, but nothing had been filed as of Thursday night.
Close Republican ally Rep. Jim Jordan backed the president’s claims about election fraud in Pennsylvania when he tweeted, “Pennsylvania. Protect the integrity of our election." Republicans on one of the most powerful committees in Congress, the House GOP’s Judiciary account, tweeted, “It’s always shady in Philadelphia.” But this evening after his speech, Rep. Adam Kinzinger urged the president to “STOP spreading debunked information,” calling Trump’s attempt to undermine the election “insane.”