In an extraordinary late-night address on Wednesday, President Trump baselessly said he had won reelection even though the race was too close to call. The president also questioned the election process, indicated that he wanted all vote-counting ended, and suggested he would challenge in court any attempts to continue reviewing ballots.
“This is a fraud on the American republic. This is an embarrassment to our country,” Trump said to a crowd of supporters in the East Room of the White House. “We were getting ready to win this election. Frankly, we did win this election.”
Despite the president’s bluster, none of the major media decision desks officially named a winner. Trump’s opponent, former Vice President Joe Biden made his own statement calling for “patience.” Even though he indicated that the result would not be known until “tomorrow morning” or “maybe even longer,” Biden suggested that he was headed for triumph.
“We feel good about where we are. We really do,” Biden said, speaking before a crowd of socially distanced supporters seated in their cars in his home state of Delaware. “I’m here to tell you tonight we believe we’re on track to win this election.”
Trump began his speech by framing the election as a battle between “millions and millions of people” who voted for him “and a very sad group of people ... trying to disenfranchise that group of people.
“We won’t stand for it,” Trump said. “We will not stand for it.”
He then proceeded to list several states where he said he had won. Trump cited some states that had been called for him — including the key battlegrounds of Florida and Ohio — as well as Georgia, where there were no official results. The president falsely implied that the counting had been halted because he was “winning everything.”
“All of a sudden everything just stopped,” Trump said,
However, counting has not stopped in multiple states, including the final mix that will prove decisive. The lack of an official result and extended counting process is largely due to the unprecedented volume of mail-in ballots that were cast as voters stayed home due to the coronavirus pandemic.
Around the country, more Democrats tended to vote by mail, meaning there could be an advantage for Biden in the outstanding ballots in key states. In his address from the White House, Trump indicated that his campaign would challenge any attempts to keep counting ballots.
“We’ll be going to the U.S. Supreme Court. We want all voting to stop,” said Trump. “We don’t want them to find any ballots … and add them to the list.”
The president said the situation was a “very sad moment” and repeatedly claimed he had won.
“We will win this, and as far as I’m concerned we already have won it,” he said.
Shortly after Trump’s remarks, Biden’s campaign manager, Jen O’Malley Dillon, issued a statement calling his comments “outrageous, unprecedented and incorrect.”
“It was outrageous because it is a naked effort to take away the democratic rights of American citizens. It was unprecedented because never before in our history has a president of the United States sought to strip Americans of their voice in a national election,” O’Malley Dillon said, adding, “And it was incorrect because it will not happen. The counting will not stop. It will continue until every duly cast vote is counted. Because that is what our laws — the laws that protect every American’s constitutional right to vote — require.”
The president’s legal threat and false claims about the race were the culmination of extended efforts by Trump and his campaign to cast doubt on the results. Republicans and the president’s campaign have made legal challenges questioning mail-in ballots in key states. Shortly before the polls began to close on Tuesday evening, Trump campaign senior adviser Jason Miller held a press call with reporters in which he suggested that only votes received by Election Day should be counted.
“We want everyone who’s followed the rules and voted legally, on time, by Election Day to have their vote counted. That’s what democracy is all about,” Miller said. ”What we oppose are people who send in their ballots after Election Day.”
On Saturday, Trump telegraphed his response when he said that his campaign would be “going in with our lawyers” as soon as Election Day was over.
“If people wanted to get their ballots in, they should have gotten their ballots in long before [Election Day], a long time,” Trump told reporters Sunday, adding: “We’re going in the night of — as soon as the election is over — we’re going in with our lawyers.”
However, some states allow mailed-in ballots to be counted after Election Day as long as they were postmarked by a certain time. In Pennsylvania, a key swing state that was too close to call early Wednesday morning, the state Supreme Court has ruled that mail-in ballots can be counted until Friday so long as they were postmarked by Election Day.
The GOP challenged that decision, and two weeks ago the Supreme Court deadlocked on the issue, which allowed the Pennsylvania Supreme Court decision to stand. But Trump has signaled that he will try to contest Pennsylvania’s decision again now that he has placed another conservative justice, Amy Coney Barrett, on the high court. That appointment, which was sped through by Republican Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell in the weeks leading up to the election, gives conservatives a strong 6-3 majority on the Supreme Court.
On Election Day, Trump’s team did score crucial wins in Florida and Ohio, two key battleground states. Trump had been behind in the polls in Florida. He was also behind Biden in polls nationally and in other key states.
The completely different election night assessments delivered by the two candidates were just the latest example of the different realities Trump and Biden have operated in throughout the campaign. The pair took essentially opposite approaches to the pandemic, with the former vice president favoring his socially distanced events and the current occupant of the White House holding crowded rallies.
As the night came to a close, Biden’s better poll positioning left him with more paths to victory than Trump. While Florida was essential to the president’s chance of winning, Biden could win without the Sunshine State as long as he does well in the Southwest and Upper Midwest, where he has led in the polls.
One Biden staffer said Arizona was a chief concern and that he would only become “worried” if Biden lost that state. Shortly after Trump’s premature declaration of victory, the Associated Press called Arizona for Biden.
This post was updated at 4:06 a.m. to include the statement from Biden’s campaign manager.
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