Donald Trump’s decision to prematurely declare himself the winner in the hours after Election Day and pledge to quash the ongoing counting of legitimate ballots provoked withering bipartisan criticism of his presidency — with even a few ardent allies all but accusing him of pushing the country to the precipice of political crisis.
The president’s baseless claims of victory at a celebratory event in the East Room of the White House had been foreshadowed for weeks and months. Trump has repeatedly vented outrage over the expansion of mail-in voting amid the coronavirus pandemic and warned of efforts to “steal” the race from him.
His overnight remarks came as contests in battlegrounds across the nation remained too close to call, with tens of thousands of mail-in ballots left to be tallied. Neither Trump nor Democratic nominee Joe Biden have clinched the 270 electoral votes needed to secure the presidency, the winner of which will likely be decided by outstanding races in Georgia, Michigan, Nevada, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin.
Nevertheless, when Trump attempted to claim victory at around 2:30 a.m. Wednesday, he was met with condemnation by prominent Republican figures and informal advisers providing color commentary on news networks — including former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, a longtime ally of the president.
“I talk tonight now not as a former governor, but as a former U.S. attorney. There’s just no basis to make that argument tonight,” Christie told ABC News, rejecting Trump’s assertion that a “major fraud” had been perpetrated on the United States and its voters.
“There comes a point where you have to let the process play itself out before you judge it to have been flawed,” Christie said, adding: “I think it’s a bad strategic decision, it’s a bad political decision, and it’s not the kind of decision you would expect someone to make tonight who hold the position he holds.”
Former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum, who endorsed Trump in 2016, said on CNN that he was “very distressed by what I heard the president say,” and that Trump’s suggestion “that there’s fraud being committed by the people counting votes, I think, is wrong.”
“The president is a 70-some-year-old man at 2:30 in the morning, after a very stressful time. And I think he was just unfortunately being more a raw version of himself. And so that’s just disappointing,” Santorum said.
“I hope that … they walk it back tomorrow and say, ‘We want the votes to be counted,’” he added. “Particularly in Arizona. If you want them counted in Arizona, you need to count them in Pennsylvania, Michigan and Wisconsin, too. And Georgia.”
On Twitter, conservative podcaster Ben Shapiro wrote that it was “deeply irresponsible” for Trump to say he had “already won the election,” and Rep. Adam Kinzinger (R-Ill.) objected to a post the president issued before emerging on stage that included similarly inflammatory language. “Stop. Full stop. The votes will be counted and you will either win or lose. And America will accept that. Patience is a virtue,” Kinzinger wrote.
Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) offered a more muted response that did not invoke Trump by name, tweeting: “The result of the presidential race will be known after every legally cast vote has been counted.”
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), who triumphed in his own reelection race Tuesday night, said at a news conference Wednesday that it is “not unusual for people to claim they’ve won the election.” But he also noted that “claiming you’ve won the election is different from finishing the counting.”
Trump’s speech was riddled with contradictions. He claimed it was “clear that we have won Georgia” and that he had “clearly won North Carolina” — both states that remained too close to call as of Wednesday morning — while attacking Fox News’ call that Biden had successfully flipped Arizona.
The president also claimed that Texas “wasn’t added” to his column — although several news organizations called the state for the president — and insisted that he was “winning” in the Great Lakes-area states of Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin, where vote-counting remained underway Wednesday morning.
Trump’s complaints continued into later Wednesday morning, when he tweeted that he was “leading, often solidly, in many key States, in almost all instances Democrat run & controlled.” But “one by one, they started to magically disappear as surprise ballot dumps were counted,” he wrote.
“How come every time they count Mail-In ballot dumps they are so devastating in their percentage and power of destruction?” Trump added in another message.
As the president posted online, his campaign manager Bill Stepien told reporters in a press call that Trump would ultimately carry Georgia while winning Nevada by a 5,500-vote margin, Arizona by a 30,000-vote margin and Pennsylvania by a 40,000-vote margin.
“We feel like the president is in a very, very, very good position this morning,” Stepien said, and “homing in specifically on Pennsylvania and Arizona, if all legally cast ballots are counted, the president will win.”
Pennsylvania has been viewed as the most competitive of the three Rust Belt battlegrounds Trump flipped in 2016 to win the White House. The state’s governor, Democrat Tom Wolf, contended Wednesday that the president had launched a “partisan attack” on its “elections, our votes, and democracy.”
“Our counties are working tirelessly to process votes as quickly AND as accurately as possible,” Wolf wrote on Twitter. “Pennsylvania will have a fair election and we will count every vote.”
In an interview Wednesday on CNN, Michigan Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson called on “every candidate on the ballot right now, as the vast majority have, to respect the process, respect the security of our process, and ensure and join with us in ensuring that every vote will count.”
“I fully expect I’m going to spend a lot of time today pushing back against false information about our state and about what the voters have voted,” she said.
For his part, Biden — who preempted the president’s White House appearance with his own speech early Wednesday in Wilmington, Del. — commended the “patience” of his supporters and declared that the election “ain’t over until every vote is counted, every ballot is counted.”
Biden campaign manager Jen O’Malley Dillon, meanwhile, blasted Trump’s remarks as “outrageous, unprecedented, and incorrect” in a statement. “Donald Trump does not decide the outcome of this election. Joe Biden does not decide the outcome of this election. The American people decide the outcome of this election. And the democratic process must and will continue until its conclusion,” she said.
Results from Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin are not expected to materialize until sometime later this week, and experts have cautioned that Trump’s early advantages there could be explained by still-uncounted mail-in ballots that are expected to generally favor Biden.
“This is a fraud on the American public. This is an embarrassment to our country. We were getting ready to win this election. Frankly, we did win this election. We did win this election,” Trump said Wednesday, threatening to challenge the results of the race in the Supreme Court.
“It’s a very sad moment. To me, this is a very sad moment,” he added. “And we will win this, and as far as I’m concerned, we already have won it.”
Trump campaign senior advisers David Bossie and Corey Lewandowski echoed that misleading rhetoric later Wednesday in an interview on Fox News, with Lewandowski claiming that Trump had “already won” Georgia, Michigan, North Carolina — and predicting he would also carry Pennsylvania.
Bossie warned that the campaign’s lawyers “are warming up in the bullpen” to litigate alleged acts of voter fraud, but insisted that the race “is over in our opinion,” saying: “President Trump has been reelected president of the United States.”
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