WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump, in a 2:30 a.m. address during an extremely tight presidential race, falsely spun incomplete election results to make it sound like there was some sort of fraud preventing him from winning reelection. There was absolutely no evidence to back up any of his claims.
Trump, surrounded in the White House by his cheering family and closest allies, rattled off a series of key swing states whose results have largely not even been projected by elections experts or officials. North Carolina, Georgia, Pennsylvania, Michigan, Wisconsin: All of these states are slower to count votes than in previous presidential elections because of the impact of COVID-19, which led to unprecedented early voting and specific rules around when those votes are counted. The winner of various combinations of these states will win the election, and those combinations are not yet known.
Trump made the decision to lie about the early results even as he legitimately won key states like Florida and Ohio, maintaining a path to a legitimate election victory. But his statement, and his pledge to somehow take his lies to the Supreme Court, could shadow whatever final results come in from states in the coming hours and days.
This is Trump’s boldest attempt to undermine the American election system: essentially declaring victory, or claiming victory was stolen from him, instead of waiting for the actual votes to be counted. It is part of a yearslong attempt by him and his allies to call American elections "rigged" — he called the election he won in 2016 "rigged" — and more recently to specifically undermine the process of mail-in balloting, which increases voter access to the polls and which Trump himself has used in the past.
“This is an existential threat to our democracy,” tweeted Josh Douglas, an election law and voting rights professor at the University of Kentucky J. David Rosenberg College of Law.
“There’s no ballots to be ‘found,’” Douglas wrote. “Ballots are validly coming in and being tabulated. Just count the votes!”
Douglas’s tweet was in response to Trump saying, “We want all voting to stop. We don't want them to find any ballots at 4 in the morning and add them to the list, OK. It is a very sad moment. To me, it is a very sad moment.”
There are no ballots being “found” — the ballots are in. Officials are counting them.
Trump also added, “we will be going to the US Supreme Court.” It is unclear what he was talking about at this moment, and the president can’t take an entire national election to the Supreme Court to intervene. A case needs to be filed in relation to how a state or local jurisdiction has handled its election, and go through the legal system, before it reaches the Supreme Court.
“This is a fraud on the American public,” Trump said about the normal process of counting ballots. “This is an embarrassment,” he added about the very election system that placed him in office. “We were getting ready to win this election. Frankly, we did win this election,” he said about an election that he could possibly win, but has not yet won.
“As far as I’m concerned, we already have won it,” he said, even though he has not.
Just before 4 a.m., Joe Biden's campaign manager issued a statement condemning Trump's remarks. "Joe Biden and Kamala Harris will stand for the right of all Americans to have their votes counted — no matter who they voted for," she said. "And we remain confident that when that process is completed, Joe Biden will be the next president of the United States."
David Becker, executive director at the Center for Election Innovation and Research, also underscored the urgency of every ballot being counted. "There are FIVE MILLION ballots left to count in the 5 remaining toss up states," he tweeted shortly before 3 a.m. ET. "All those ballots were cast legally and must be counted."
Ben Ginsberg, a lawyer who has represented Republican presidential and congressional candidates, said on CNN that any process of trying to toss legally cast votes "would just I think be viewed by any court, including the Supreme Court, as just a massive disenfranchisement that would be frowned upon."
Rick Santorum, a former Republican senator from Pennsylvania who ran unsuccessfully for president in 2012, also told CNN that Trump was wrong to speak of unspecified incidents of fraud.
“I was very distressed by what I heard the president say,” he said.
Chris Christie, the former Republican New Jersey governor and federal prosecutor, also said he disagreed with Trump's baseless legal claims.
“There’s just no basis to make that argument tonight. There just isn’t,” Christie told ABC News. “All these votes have to be counted that are in now.”
Christie said he understood that there could be an argument to challenge Pennsylvania’s Nov. 6 deadline to accept absentee ballots, “but that argument’s for later.”
“I disagree with what he did tonight," he said, adding that it was a bad “strategic” and “political” decision to make claims of fraud so early on in the counting process.
After standing next to Trump as he falsely declared victory, Vice President Mike Pence then used more cautious language, saying only he believed they were "on the road to victory."
"While the votes continue to be counted," Pence said, "we're going to remain vigilant."
Later Wednesday afternoon, the campaign insisted on a call with reporters that Trump had already won Pennsylvania, despite many votes still being counted.
Trump for days ahead of Election Day suggested votes should not be counted after Nov. 3. This past weekend, he railed against a Supreme Court decision that allowed Pennsylvania extra time to receive mail-in ballots, alleging a delay would cause “bedlam” throughout the country. His comments are in line with previous attempts to discredit the election after voting rights changes were implemented because of the coronavirus.
After polls closed, Trump attempted to sow doubt again with a tweet that Twitter quickly labeled as misleading.
“We are up BIG, but they are trying to STEAL the Election. We will never let them do it. Votes cannot be cast after Polls are closed,” he posted, after deleting a previous message that misspelled the word "polls."
There is no evidence of the voter fraud the president so often suggests.
Biden gave short remarks before Trump spoke, from Wilmington, Delaware, where he also expressed confidence in his own path to the White House. “I’m here to tell you tonight: We believe we’re on track to win this election,” he said.