Trump’s Dangerous Endgame

Trump’s Dangerous Endgame

By claiming the election has been stolen from him, Trump is poisoning Joe Biden’s victory.


This tiring election season doesn’t seem like it will ever end, as the vote count slowly trudges forward. But where the count is heading is now clear: The remaining votes in Georgia and Philadelphia are all in heavily Democratic areas. Joe Biden is on track to become the next president of the United States.

One way to gauge the probable outcome of the vote count is to listen to the rage coming from Republicans. Donald Trump gave a press briefing on Thursday night where he laid out his claims, which have no factual basis, that the election was being stolen from him. “If you count the legal votes, I easily win,” Trump said. “If you count the illegal votes, they can try to steal the election from us.”

Trump sounded exhausted during the speech, which managed to be paradoxically lethargic in delivery even as it was incendiary in messaging. “I’ve been talking about mail-in voting for a long time,” Trump asserted. “It’s really destroyed our system. It’s a corrupt system and it makes people corrupt, even if they aren’t by nature, but they become corrupt. It’s too easy.” Trump added, “Detroit and Philadelphia, known as two of the most corrupt political places anywhere in our country easily, cannot be responsible for engineering the outcome of a presidential race, a very important presidential race.”

The most disturbing part of the briefing came when Trump noted that his supporters were becoming violent in response to not being allowed to enter into counting rooms. Trump said, “They put a paper on all of the windows so you can’t see in, and the people that are banned are very unhappy and become somewhat violent.” It’s hard not to read these comments as anything other than a threat.

Trump’s comments were a farrago of lies. In a fact-check, the AP noted, “One allegation after another had no basis in fact, such as his accusation that election officials in Pennsylvania and Detroit tried to ban election observers from polling stations.”

A few of Trump’s erstwhile allies have pushed back against Trump’s allegation of evidence. The reporting side of Fox News has been adamant in insisting there is “no evidence” of the corruption that Trump alleges, although the opinion side of the cable network has frequently aired views supporting the president.

Former New Jersey governor Chris Christie has been the most prominent Republican to break with Trump. “We heard nothing today about any evidence,” Christie told ABC News. “This kind of thing, all it does is inflame without informing. And we cannot permit inflammation without information.”

But Christie’s mild rebuke was a lonely one. With rare exceptions, the overwhelming message from Republicans and the right-wing media has been support of Trump’s claims.

South Carolina Senator Lindsey Graham went on Fox News to say, “I’m here tonight to stand with President Trump.” Graham claimed the elections in Philadelphia were “crooked as a snake.” Graham also suggested that Republican state legislators in Pennsylvania throw out the votes and decide who should get the state’s electoral votes.

Former House majority leader Newt Gingrich went on Fox News to call for Attorney General Bill Barr to arrest Pennsylvania election workers. “You are watching an effort to steal the presidency of the United States,” Gingrich said.

House minority leader Kevin McCarthy conflated the congressional results with the presidential ones. “They didn’t defeat one Republican incumbent and they lost 15 and President Trump won this election,” he told Fox News. McCarthy added, “What’s very interesting here and shows more of the fraud: Not one Republican incumbent lost…How would President Trump lose in an atmosphere like that?”

As Politico reporter Tim Alberta summed it up on Thursday night, “The last 3 hours on Fox News has been a parade of fire-breathing Republicans ranting and raving about dark rooms and troves of ballots and a lack of transparency… and it’s obvious that none of them have any actual knowledge about the specifics of what’s happening on the ground.”

This campaign to delegitimize the election results is unlikely to stop Joe Biden from becoming president. As my colleague Elie Mystal has persuasively argued, Trump’s litigation is too ludicrous to achieve the goals sought, even with the most sympathetic of courts. You can use the courts to steal a close election, but Biden’s eventual victory is not likely to be close.

The real endgame is not to change the election results but to hand Biden a poisoned chalice, a victory tainted by allegations of corruption that will be believed by tens of millions of Americans who voted for Trump. Trump is preparing a stabbed-in-the-back myth so that he and his supporters don’t have to acknowledge the legitimacy of Biden’s presidency.

These unfounded allegations of corruption and election theft run the risk of inciting violence. Trump is aware of this risk, as his own remarks indicate. But he’s clearly willing to see others get hurt to salve his ego—and perhaps prepare the path for a political comeback in 2024.

On Thursday night, Philadelphia’s WPVI reported that “police are investigating an alleged plot to attack the Pennsylvania Convention Center in Philadelphia” where the votes are being counted.

Trump’s endgame for the election is shaping up clearly: He will claim victory and muddy the waters by suggesting the votes against him were fraudulent. This might provoke sporadic political violence, but it will also make Trump a martyr in a righteous cause. Biden is on the cusp of securing the presidency, but Trump is already hard at work to undermine the next administration.

There’s long been a hope among anti-Trump forces that in a moment of crisis, leading Republicans would break with him. That hasn’t happened so far, with a few negligible exceptions. Nor is a Republican break with Trump likely. The myth of the stolen election is on its way to becoming Republican gospel.

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