President Donald Trump continued his quixotic fight to overturn the results of the election he lost — by taking to Twitter to encourage supporters who believe the race was rigged and by blatantly ignoring reality.
These efforts came to a head late Sunday night with a tweet that read, “I WON THE ELECTION!”
The president, of course, did no such thing — President-elect Joe Biden won both the popular vote, by 5.5 million, and 306 electoral college votes, 36 more than the 270 needed to win the White House and 74 more than Trump. But that fact has not, and appears as though it will not, stop the president from falsely claiming otherwise.
Trump signaled he would not accept the results of the election before it was held, for instance telling Fox News’s Chris Wallace in July, that he would “have to see” whether he believed the results ought to be seen as valid. And days before Election Day, Axios and others reported Trump planned to declare victory before enough votes had been counted to determine a winner.
He followed through on that plan, and since that time, he has worked to change election results in key states through a series of legal challenges — many of which have been dropped or rejected due to a lack of evidence of wrongdoing — and has spread conspiracy theories about voter fraud, something that election officials have found little to no evidence of.
Democrats and democracy experts have decried this behavior as corrosive, arguing that it weakens America’s system of government and seeds doubt about the country’s electoral process that will linger long after Trump leaves office. Republican lawmakers have been largely supportive of the president, saying they believe there should be investigations into the nonexistent voter fraud.
And, perhaps lending credence to the fears of the president’s critics, much of Trump’s base has been energized by his rhetoric — so much so that several thousand of his supporters traveled to Washington, DC, on Saturday for a “Million MAGA March” at which they incorrectly claimed that the election is not over and that Democrats are trying to steal Trump’s rightful second term from him.
Trump rewarded these supporters with a brief appearance Saturday morning, driving by on his way to golf; he later retweeted scenes and videos from the gathering, including ones that incorrectly claimed the current vote totals in states like Michigan — which Biden won — are wrong.
It seems inevitable that Biden will be installed in the White House — again, he won the election, states are about to certify their results, and electors are on track to cast their votes for or against him as their states dictate. And as Vox’s Andrew Prokop has explained, even Republican leaders like Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell — who has said Trump is “100 percent within his rights to look into allegations of irregularities and weigh his legal options” — have suggested that once the Electoral College’s votes are in, the election is settled as far as they are concerned.
“At some point here we will find out finally who was certified in each of these states and the Electoral College will determine the winner,” McConnell said recently.
But Trump does not seem poised to follow McConnell’s lead, and neither do his most passionate supporters, who appear to have suspicions about how the 2020 election was conducted that even assurances of propriety from Trump’s own officials can’t seem to assuage.
And that is because they have their trust in Trump, and he continues to falsely say that many things were amiss with the election.
With lies and conspiracy theories, Trump is spreading doubt in the electoral process
The president spent part of the weekend promoting a conspiracy theory that machines manufactured by Dominion Voting Systems, a company that also makes voting software, were altered to misread ballots in order to ensure a Biden victory. It’s a lie that was spread by QAnon adherents and amplified by far-right networks that have curried favor with the president, like the One American News Network (OANN). It has been repeated by Trump’s personal lawyer Rudy Giuliani and has been heavily featured on the president’s Twitter account.
The New York Times notes the conspiracy theory appeared to gain traction following Dominion machine user errors in Michigan and Georgia that led to the miscounting of a few thousand ballots in the former state and delayed results in the latter. Those errors were found and swiftly corrected, but that did not stop the president and his allies from falsely claiming that something sinister was happening — in the president’s words, that the race was the “Most fraudulent Election in history!”
That the president has been so effective in planting doubts about the election led to hope among some observers that he would be able to convince his supporters that the election was over on Sunday, when he appeared to acknowledge — albeit alongside more conspiracy theories — for the first time that Biden won the election.
“He won because the Election was Rigged,” Trump tweeted.
He won because the Election was Rigged. NO VOTE WATCHERS OR OBSERVERS allowed, vote tabulated by a Radical Left privately owned company, Dominion, with a bad reputation & bum equipment that couldn’t even qualify for Texas (which I won by a lot!), the Fake & Silent Media, & more! https://t.co/Exb3C1mAPg
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) November 15, 2020
The disinformation about the election aside, many — including, reportedly, at least one White House official — took the tweet as a concession, and incoming Biden officials seemed cautiously optimistic about the message, particularly given the president’s refusal to concede has held up the start of the official transition process.
But Trump followed that tweet with another a few hours later that made his intentions clear, writing, “I concede NOTHING!”
That tweet was prefaced by a promise that “WE WILL WIN!,” a sentiment that was disregarded shortly before midnight on Monday, replaced by Trump’s stronger, and factually incorrect assertion, “I WON THE ELECTION!” — one that was reiterated Monday morning:
Nearly two weeks after voting concluded, Trump’s latest tweets put the president essentially where he was on election night: denying reality.
Early on November 4, Trump said Democrats were trying to steal the election from him, and said the Supreme Court would help ensure his victory. He suggested then that his legal challenges would help make this possible, but lawsuits in Pennsylvania, Arizona, and Michigan have failed, and it appears outstanding cases yet to be heard will fail as well.
The legal route looking increasingly dubious, Trump is now trying to steal the election by saying what happened didn’t actually happen at all and that election officials, voting companies, and the media are all lying to the American people.
His assertions are in one way futile. States are working to certify their results and are scheduled to submit them to the federal government by December 8. The Electoral College plans to vote on December 14. And Biden’s inauguration is still scheduled for January 20. Nothing Trump says on Twitter can stop time from progressing toward these events.
But what he says clearly has sway over many Americans, from those who marched on Washington on Saturday to those who used rhetoric similar to the president’s in explaining to ABC’s This Week on Sunday why they don’t believe Biden won.
If these feelings take permanent root, Trump’s disinformation campaign won’t have been ineffectual at all. Instead, it will mean one of his last acts as president will have been to create an alternate reality inhabited by many of his supporters in which the 2020 election was illegally stolen from him and in which elections cannot be trusted to be free and fair.