As election officials continue to count ballots across the country, President Donald Trump delivered a low-energy and belabored speech in the White House press room on Thursday in a desperate effort to seize control of the narrative.
His strategy was clear. He wanted to cast doubt on the results of the election and claim he won. Near the end of the speech, he said forthrightly that he's claimed some states and his opponent Joe Biden has claimed some states, "but ultimately, I have the feeling, judges are going to have to rule." (Biden has not "claimed" any states, which is meaningless, though some key swing states have been called in the Democrat's favor.)
Trump wants to trigger enough confusion and chaos around the election results so that he can take his case to judiciary, and possibly even the Supreme Court, which he knows is stacked with his ideological allies. The problem is, however, that as of yet, he appears to have no legal ground to stand on to actually challenge what appears to be the most likely result of the counting: a Biden victory in enough key states to hand him the presidency.
To support the strategy, Trump delivered a deluge of lies about the electoral process, trying to claim that he is victorious and being undermined by nefarious actors.
He started out by falsely claiming, "If you count the legal votes, I easily win." He has no basis for making this claim, and it's almost certainly wrong. He simply wants to declare votes against him as de facto illegitimate.
He claimed that no House Republicans had lost races in the November election, which was false, and that Republicans kept control of the Senate — which remains to be seen. Control of the Senate will likely be determined by runoff elections in Georgia, which won't be held until January.
He lied and said that his election observers were not allowed to watch the results get tabulated in key areas, a fact quickly refuted by people who had actually been on location. He lashed out at pollsters, who do indeed appear to have underestimated his level of support to some degree, but he falsely said they used "suppression" polls to try to discourage his voters.
In a contradictory rhetorical strategy, Trump tried to claim that he had won in states like Georgia and Pennsylvania, where his lead in the reported ballots has been dwindling as more votes are counted. But when he discussed Arizona, where Biden is currently leading as the ballots are counted, Trump claimed that he expects to come out ahead as more of the vote is assessed. He alleged that votes continue to be "found" for Biden, suggesting they were somehow fraudulent, even though the counting process is simply continuing as expected.
He even said, "It's amazing how those mail-in ballots are so one-sided." While the mail-in votes being counted do tend to favor Biden, that's exactly what everyone expected — largely because Trump actively discouraged his voters away from using mail ballots for months. Election Day votes, predictably, heavily tended to favor Trump.
Overall, it was an incredibly weak display, the desperate act of a desperate man. It may fuel the fires of conspiracy that drive many of his fans, but it will likely discourage his allies from defending his case — because it is so evidently meritless.
Many networks broke away from covering Trump's speech in real time to fact check his lies. Even on Fox News, hosts were critical of the president.
"The election is not going his way," said Fox News reporter John Roberts. "He's trying to plan an alternate route to the White House."
Phillip Rucker of the Washington Post noted: "Keep in mind Trump is reading his speech from a prepared text, which presumably means that a number of aides helped him compose this litany of lies and attacks on the integrity of America's democracy."
"President Trump without providing any evidence for his claims says of Democrats: They are trying to "steal" and "rig" the election. He is saying many, many things that are not true right now," said Yamiche Alcindor of PBS NewsHour.
Daniel Dale, CNN's prolific Trump fact-checker, observed: "I've read or watched all of Trump's speeches since 2016. This is the most dishonest speech he has ever given."