A defiant president of the United States claimed without evidence Thursday that he was being cheated out of a second term.
“If you count the legal votes, I easily win,” said President Donald Trump. “If you count the illegal votes, they can try to steal the election from us.”
Trump spent 16 minutes at the White House press briefing room lectern saying the leads he held in swing states were being “whittled away in secret” as the vote counting continued.
Former Vice President Joe Biden, the Democratic Party’s candidate, leads Trump in both the popular vote and the more important Electoral College count, which determines the victor.
The president took no questions from reporters, and the three major television networks cut away from live broadcasting of his remarks as he made repeated unsubstantiated claims of fraud, accused the Democrats of trying to steal an election and uttered erroneous statements about Republicans not being allowed to observe ballot counting.
“We’ll not allow the corruption to steal such an important election,” vowed Trump, explaining he was prepared to take his case to the U.S. Supreme Court.
The president also blamed “phony polls” before the Nov. 3 election that he asserted were designed to keep his supporters at home.
Trump’s unsubstantiated claims that Biden and “the corrupt voting apparatus of states” with Democratic governors are engineering massive fraud brought quick rebuke and criticism from both critics and supporters.
Rick Santorum, a conservative political commentator, said on CNN he was “very distressed” by Trump’s comments. He called Trump's false claims about election cheating "dangerous" and said that "counting absentee ballots is not fraud.”
Sen. Mitt Romney, a former Republican presidential nominee, who has been a Trump critic, also reacted to Trump denouncing the vote-counting process.
“Counting every vote is at the heart of democracy,” Romney said in a tweet Thursday. “If there are irregularities alleged, they will be investigated and ultimately resolved in the courts. Have faith in democracy, in our Constitution and in the American people.”
Sen. Bernie Sanders, a former Democratic presidential candidate, denounced Trump for “undermining the legitimacy of an election,” and warned “this is how demagogues destroy faith in democracy and move us toward authoritarianism.”
Flagged on Twitter
Before Trump spoke, his campaign surrogates fanned out in linchpin states to file legal actions challenging the integrity of the process.
In a series of Thursday tweets as his path to victory narrowed, the president, who remained inside the White House during the day, declared without foundation that any vote that came in after Nov. 3 “WILL NOT BE COUNTED.”
That declaration was subsequently flagged by Twitter with a note: “Some or all of the content shared in this Tweet is disputed and might be misleading about an election or other civic process.”
'Plenty of proof'
On his @realDonaldTrump account, the president also stated that all the “recent Biden claimed states will be challenged by us” because of alleged voter fraud and state election fraud. Trump asserted in the tweet that there was “plenty of proof” of this “in the Media.”
He had earlier demanded on Twitter an end to the vote count, which is controlled by the individual states, not the federal government. Several states have laws permitting late-arriving ballots to be counted if they are postmarked by Election Day.
“Each ballot must be counted,” Biden said in brief remarks on camera in Wilmington, Delaware, before Trump’s on-camera remarks. “And that's what we're going to see, going through now. And that's how it should be. Democracy is sometimes messy. It sometimes requires a little patience, as well.”
With running mate Sen. Kamala Harris also on the podium, Biden added, “We have no doubt that when the count is finished, Senator Harris and I will be declared the winners. So, I ask everyone to stay calm. All the people to stay calm.”
Since Election Day, Trump’s campaign has filed or said it is filing lawsuits in a number of states, making various assertions about the voting or counting process. As of yet, no judge has made a preliminary ruling favorable to the incumbent in any of these actions. Several were quickly dismissed in Georgia, Michigan and Minnesota.
“The Trump campaign is alleging fraud without any basis,” said Robert Bauer, legal counsel and adviser to the Biden campaign. “This strategy of disrupting the vote is doomed to fail.”
In Clark County, Nevada, a Democratic Party-leaning area that could put Biden over the top in the nationwide electoral vote count, the Trump campaign said it was filing a court case alleging 10,000 nonresidents had been allowed to vote and that Republican monitors had been unable to inspect other ballots that were invalidated.
“It is unacceptable in this country to have illegal votes counted. And that is what's happening in the state of Nevada,” said Richard Grenell, a former acting director of national intelligence.
Grenell, also a former Trump-appointed ambassador to Germany and special envoy for peace negotiations in Serbia and Kosovo, did not provide any evidence of the charges and declined to respond to reporters’ questions.
Congressional Republicans have largely remained silent. A few have spoken out about respecting the process. One called for Trump to end his assertions that the Democrats are trying to steal the election.
“Stop. Full stop,” Representative Adam Kinzinger of Illinois tweeted to Trump on Wednesday. “The votes will be counted and you will either win or lose. And America will accept that. Patience is a virtue.”
The president’s reelection campaign has also signaled it will request a recount in the state of Wisconsin, where Biden has been declared the victor by more than 20,000 votes.
Recount requests by the Trump campaign are also possible in other states.
Supporters of the president gathered outside voting tabulation centers in Arizona, Nevada and Pennsylvania to protest ballot counting. In Philadelphia, other demonstrators, organized by various progressive groups, marched to call for every vote to be counted.
Trump allies have used other social media platforms to organize nationwide protests under a “Stop the Steal” banner.
A Facebook group under that name accumulated 360,000 members before it was removed Thursday because it violated the social media platform’s rule when conversation drifted into talk of armed conflict and overthrow of the government.
“The group was organized around the delegitimization of the election process, and we saw worrying calls for violence from some members of the group,” said Andy Stone, a Facebook spokesperson.