President Donald Trump on Thursday evening listed a string of unfounded conspiracy theories to accuse state election officials of plotting to steal the election from him.
Taking the White House lectern for his first public address since election night, Trump offered no evidence for his assertions that officials are rigging the tallies or for his characterization of mail-in ballots as somehow illegitimate. The address came as his Democratic opponent, former Vice President Joe Biden, expands his lead to secure the presidency and as Trump’s path to a second term hinges on winning four key states. Those states have yet to finish counting their ballots amid an unprecedented number of mail-in voting because of the coronavirus pandemic.
“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. If you count the votes that came in late — we‘re looking at them very strongly, but a lot of votes came in late.”
State elections officials have resoundingly denied they are counting “illegal votes“ and have assured voters that this year’s election was hardly the chaos many feared due to Covid-19. Despite the occasional technical glitch and extended polling-site hours, there were no reports of major issues or interference. Though counting is taking longer this year, there is no support for the position that mailed-in ballots were part of a mass fraud.
Trump’s Thursday address immediately met with stern condemnation from his critics — including those in his own party. Gov. Larry Hogan of Maryland tweeted that “there is no defense for the President‘s comments tonight undermining our Democratic process.“ Former Sen. Jeff Flake, whose home state of Arizona flipped for Biden this year, tweeted: “No Republican should be okay with the President‘s statements just now. Unacceptable. Period.“ Rep. Adam Kinzinger (R-Ill.) called on Trump to “STOP Spreading debunked misinformation… This is getting insane.“
Fox News, which has platformed Trump claims that other networks choose to dismiss, also denied that there was any evidence of wide-scale election abuses. Trump‘s team has repeatedly butted heads with the network during the election over its polls showing favorable numbers for Biden in key states. The campaign was particularly incensed when Fox became one of the first outlets to call Arizona for Biden on Tuesday night, with Trump‘s surrogates insisting it was too close to call.
USA Today removed its live stream of Trump‘s address from its website. The newspaper‘s editor-in-chief, Nicole Carroll, said in a statement: “Our job is to spread truth — not unfounded conspiracies.“
Trump had also addressed supporters in the wee hours of election night, prematurely declaring himself the winner. He threatened to take votes to the Supreme Court if they did not fall in his favor — a threat he repeated during his speech on Thursday. Trump’s team has launched a bevy of lawsuits over the election, but they have largely proved inconsequential.
Trump also tweeted throughout Thursday morning that his shrinking margins in key states were part of a fraud. Twitter marked the posts as misleading.
The president’s approach comes in stark contrast to Biden, who has reassured supporters that he will wait until the final results are in before making any declarations, while also saying he is confident he’s on the path of victory. Speaking in Wilmington, Del., on Thursday afternoon, Biden said that “democracy sometimes is messy, it sometimes requires a little patience, as well,” but that the “process is working.”
Sen. Mitt Romney (R-Utah), who lost his own presidential run, against President Barack Obama in 2012, tweeted out a statement calling for patience in the tally.
“Counting every vote is at the heart of democracy,“ Romney wrote. “That process is often long and, for those running, frustrating. The votes will be counted. If there are irregularities alleged, they will be investigated and ultimately resolved in the courts. Have faith in democracy, our Constitution, and in the American people.“
Initially, the Republicans whocriticized Trump‘s allegations were ones with records of speaking out against the president. Romney was the sole Republican to vote for Trump‘s removal from office during his Senate impeachment trial. Hogan has clashed with the Trump administration over pandemic response, and Flake has described Trump as a xenophobic populist whose defeat would benefit the Republican Party.
But Rep. Denver Riggleman, whose reelection Trump endorsed, also voiced his concerns, retweeting Kinzinger and saying: “Count every vote, yes, but stop the Bravo Sierra, Mr. President, and respect the democratic process that makes America great.“
Former Gov. Chris Christie of New Jersey, a Trump ally, also rebuked the president‘s claims of fraud. Speaking on ABC News on Thursday night, Christie said that Trump was in his rights to say what he wanted from the White House lectern but that “we heard nothing today about any evidence.“
“This kind of thing, all it does is inflame without informing,” Christie said. “And we cannot permit inflammation without information.”
Christie had already called out the president for prematurely claiming victory on election night.
“There is just no basis to make that argument tonight. There just isn‘t,“ he said in another ABC News appearance. “All of these votes have to be counted that are in now. I disagree with what he did tonight.“