In what he had billed as a "big announcement" at the White House at 2:22 am Wednesday, President Trump could have chosen to highlight some of what he had achieved in his race for reelection. He could have boasted about having won more popular votes this year than in 2016. He could have talked about his campaign giving Republicans a strong showing in U.S. Senate races, where the GOP has a good shot at retaining its majority.
Trump could have talked about flipping possibly as many as six Democratic seats in the House. He could have gloated about his impressive appeal to Hispanic voters, especially in Florida, and his having helped some women Republican candidates secure House seats.
Finally, the president could have scoffed at predictions by the media, pollsters, Democrats and even some Republicans that the election would produce a blue wave similar to that in 2018, or as Republican Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas feared, "a bloodbath of Watergate proportions."
Few of these accomplishments were predicted or predictable given Trump's abysmal personal approval ratings. Never during his four-year term in office did a majority of Americans approve of him. And his Grand Old Party achieved this despite the still soaring COVID-19 pandemic, which Trump has continued claiming would "mysteriously disappear," but which has cost the nation almost 230,000 lives so far and an estimated $16 trillion, or some $125,000 per household.
Trump declined the opportunity to toot his own political horn. Rather, he falsely declared an election victory that he had not yet achieved and vowed to petition the Supreme Court to demand a halt to the counting of ballots — ostensibly to prevent "fraud" in late-counted mail-in ballots. This was the latest twist of an evidence-free narrative that the president has echoed in tweets for weeks.
Yet again, Trump accused Democrats — calling them a "sad group of people" — of trying to steal the election, saying he wanted "all voting to stop," which of course it had by the time he spoke.
What Trump really meant was that he wanted the courts to help him exclude millions of valid mail-in and early votes from the Midwestern and other battleground states where the winner of the presidential race remained undetermined, but which seem likely to go to for former Vice President Biden.
The fact that Trump had not yet been declared the winner, he said, was a "fraud" and a "sad" day for the nation. Thus, the putative "winner" positioned himself to be declared the victor while retaining his status as the election's ultimate potential victim.
There is an obvious contradiction between the president's fraudulent claim of victory and his demand to throw out ballots that might award the victory he claims to Biden. Despite his bravado and exaggerated assertions of triumph in state races that state officials have yet to declare, Trump's appearance smacked of desperation and of fear that he might actually lose to Biden.
"Winners" don't seek to suppress and disqualify ballots; they want every vote to be counted, confident that they will win.
There have been many "sad" moments in the campaign, but none more pathetic and outrageous than the president's effort to delegitimize some of the more than 150 million votes cast by 67% of eligible voters — believed to be the largest turnout in election history, and the American election process itself.
Trump's comments were a step too far even for some Republicans. Former New Jersey Republican Gov. and one-time Trump adviser Chris Christie called it a "bad strategic decision" and "bad political decision." Even Vice President Mike Pence tried desperately to walk back the president's claim, stating in his brief comments that he believed Trump was "on a path" to victory.
There will be time to explore the reasons why so many pollsters got the race wrong. The results, moreover, whenever they are final, will surely spark debate about whether Americans should abandon the Electoral College system that seems to unfairly favor rural over urban citizens and gives states with small populations disproportionate power.
But what the election has not yet sparked, for those who care about law and order, is the widely anticipated violence that so many feared. So far, Americans have exhibited restraint and patience with the pace of the ballot counting.
For now, the massive voter turnout in the midst of a pandemic, the most votes ever cast in American presidential history, as Biden stressed in a speech Wednesday, should rightly be seen as a victory for democracy — one of which Americans should be proud.
The slow counting of votes and state rules to include ballots that reach officials even days after the election are not evidence of voter fraud. It is how Americans traditionally elect local, state, and national officials. It is, as Biden called it Wednesday, evidence that "democracy is the heartbeat of this nation." It should be celebrated.