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Trump falsely accuses Democrats of trying to ‘steal’ the election

President Trump walks away from the podium in front of reporters in the White House press briefing room
President Trump walks away after speaking at the White House on Thursday.
(Evan Vucci / Associated Press)

Speaking publicly for the first time since election night, a somber-faced President Trump stepped behind a White House lectern Thursday evening to spread baseless accusations of voter fraud as his reelection appeared in increasing doubt.

Even by the president’s standards of mendacity, he delivered an extraordinary stream of falsehoods and a dramatic display of desperation as his path to winning a second term seemed to shrink by the hour.

But Trump was notably deflated as he read from prepared remarks in a subdued voice, suggesting the possibility of losing to former Vice President Joe Biden is sinking in. He departed from the briefing room without taking questions.

In his comments, Trump insisted that election officials in multiple states were tampering, fabricating or manipulating ballots since polls closed Tuesday night, although he offered no credible evidence to his charge of widespread malfeasance.

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He refused to acknowledge that many states often take days to tally tens of millions of legal ballots, including those sent by mail, and suggested they were somehow invalid.

“If you count the legal votes, I easily win,” Trump said, pointing to the leads he held Tuesday while millions of votes were still uncounted. “If you count the illegal votes, they can try to steal the election from us.”

No winner has been declared, and Trump’s campaign has vowed to fight in court in an effort to prevent Biden from securing victory. It has filed or threatened litigation in at least four states, but that has yet to stop the ballot counting, as he has demanded.

Some of the lawsuits had limited success, such as increasing his team’s ability to watch ballot processing in Pennsylvania. But it’s unlikely that any will tip the results of the race.

Trump blamed pollsters for conducting what he called “suppression polls” to deliberately reduce enthusiasm among his supporters and make it harder for him to win.

“Media polling was election interference in the truest sense of that word,” he said. “Fake polls were designed to keep our voters at home, create the illusion of momentum for Mr. Biden” — a rare example of Trump attaching an honorific to his opponent’s name rather than a derogatory nickname — “and diminish Republicans’ ability to raise funds.”

And he repeatedly tried to undermine public faith in the electoral process by describing the counting of votes as deceitful.

Trump warned of “disturbing irregularities” and workers “doing a lot of bad things,” such as “duplicating ballots,” although no such incidents are known to have occurred. He also played the race card.

“Detroit and Philadelphia, known as two of the most corrupt political places anywhere in our country — easily — cannot be responsible for the outcome of a presidential race,” Trump said, citing two cities known for their large Black populations.

The president accused state and local officials responsible for conducting elections as being “part of a corrupt Democratic machine.” He even falsely claimed the election apparatus in Georgia is “run by Democrats” although the governor and secretary of state are Republicans.

“They’re trying to steal an election,” he insisted. “They’re trying to rig an election.”

Mail ballots were a particular target for Trump. He spent months during the campaign claiming without evidence that they were fraudulent, while Democrats urged their supporters to submit ballots by mail to avoid crowded polling places during the pandemic.

Now Trump is furious that millions of mail-in ballots are being counted in the battleground states he needs to beat Biden, particularly in Georgia and Pennsylvania.

“We were winning in all the key locations by a lot actually, and then our numbers started miraculously getting whittled away in secret,” Trump said of the counting of ballots Wednesday and Thursday.

Republican and Democratic poll watchers play a role in every state’s vote tabulation, and none of it is done in secret. Some states provide live video feeds so the public can watch.

Trump’s incendiary remarks, which prompted some television networks to cut away, amounted to deepening the partisan divisions of a nation already tense from the cliffhanger election that has moved into overtime.

The president’s supporters have gathered outside some election offices to denounce the counting, and his media allies unleashed unproven conspiracies and increasingly unhinged statements.

Mark Levin, a conservative talk radio host who is close to the president, urged Republican-controlled state legislatures in swing states won by Biden to disregard the will of the voters and nominate pro-Trump electors next month.

Stephen K. Bannon, Trump’s former senior advisor, suggested on his podcast that the president should do more than just fire FBI Director Christopher A. Wray and Dr. Anthony Fauci, the government’s top infectious-disease expert.

“I’d put their heads on pikes,” Bannon said.

And the president’s eldest son, Donald Trump Jr., tweeted that his father should “go to total war over this election to expose all of the fraud, cheating, dead/no longer in state voters, that has been going on for far too long.”

Trump Jr. and his younger brother Eric also accused Republicans of failing to fight hard enough on his father’s behalf, suggesting the family would remember their perceived disloyalty.

“Have some backbone. Fight against this fraud,” Eric Trump tweeted. “Our voters will never forget you if [you’re] sheep!”

Vice President Mike Pence voiced his support for Trump on Twitter, saying “we must count every LEGAL vote.”

Few Republicans stepped forward to directly denounce Trump in the immediate aftermath of his comments.

“There is no defense for the President’s comments tonight undermining our Democratic process,” tweeted Larry Hogan, the Republican governor of Maryland. “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.”

Sen. Mitt Romney (R-Utah), one of the few Republicans in Washington to occasionally criticize Trump, tweeted a statement saying “counting every vote is at the heart of democracy.”

Trump has long targeted the nation’s election machinery. When polls suggested he might lose to Hillary Clinton in 2016, he claimed the election was going to be rigged.

When he won, he falsely claimed that immigrants living in the U.S. illegally were the only reason Clinton won 3 million more votes overall.

His administration launched a commission to investigate voter fraud but did not come up with any evidence of malfeasance.


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