An alternately defiant and deceitful Donald Trump spoke Thursday from the White House — his first appearance since election night two days ago, as millions of votes have since put rival Joe Biden on the brink of winning the presidency.
Trump, 74, tripled-down on what has become his closing argument for ensuring an ever-narrowing path to re-election: In strikingly undemocratic language, he dismissed the many ballots cast against him as fraudulent and suggested he wanted the courts to ultimately intervene on his behalf.
With no evidence at hand of actual trickery, he insisted that "if you count the legal votes, I easily win. If you count the illegal votes, they can try to steal the election from us."
He went on to blame "Democrats" in the various states where Biden, 77, looks to claim victory, including Georgia, whose state election officials are actually Republicans.
And he again attacked mail ballots, which were used in historic numbers this year amid the novel coronavirus pandemic. In some states, those votes could arrive after Election Day as long as they were postmarked by Election Day, to account for mailing delays.
"If you count the votes that came in late, we're looking to them very strongly, but a lot of votes came in late," Trump told reporters, where he spoke from the West Wing's press briefing room.
He did not take questions.
Elsewhere in his speech, in a kind of zig-zagging tone of dismay and celebration, Trump touted other Republican successes in Tuesday's election including their Senate wins. He also boasted about the swing states he did win — such as Florida, Ohio and Texas — and he compared pollsters' incorrect projections to "interference," complaining that "big media, big money and big tech" had aligned against him.
"They’re trying to rig an election," Trump said after complaining about the Democratic advantage in mail ballots. (Republicans, conversely, have strong showings on Election Day itself.)
"It’s amazing how those mail in ballots are so one-sided too," he said.
The mix of grievance, exaggeration and lies underlines the weakening position of the Trump campaign.
Biden has continued to gain in the popular vote as more and more ballots are counted — which various state and local officials have long said would take days, given the pandemic, various legal guidelines and the volume of mail — and Biden has won the key states of Arizona, Michigan, Minnesota and Wisconsin, according to The Associated Press' analysis.
He also leads in Nevada and believes he will make up the tiny deficit in both Georgia and Pennsylvania, which would earn him more than enough Electoral College votes.
Trump and his allies have taken contradictory stances on this, with supporters urging officials to keep counting votes in Arizona, where they believe the president might overtake Biden, while criticizing the vote counting in other states where Biden might pull out a win.
The Trump campaign has also threatened or filed several legal challenges, which have so far proved unsuccessful in affecting the voting process. His campaign said it will also request a recount in Wisconsin, where Biden won by some 20,000 votes — a victory Trump cast doubt on Thursday night.
Biden, speaking earlier that day, struck a contrast with that strategy. As he has in other remarks since the polls closed Tuesday, he called for patience and calm while saying he was confident about his path to the White House.
"In America, the vote is sacred," he said in a brief speech Thursday afternoon.
"It’s how the people of this nation express their will," he said. "And it is the will of the voters, no one — and not anything else — that chooses the president of the United States."
"So each ballot must be counted and that’s what is going on now," he continued. "And that’s how it should be. Democracy is sometimes messy, so sometimes it requires a little patience. But that patience has been rewarded now for more than 240 years with a system of governance that has been the envy of the world."
President Trump's White House speech drew some backlash from other Republicans, including former Sen. Rick Santorum, who called it “disappointing” and “dangerous.”
Sen. Mitt Romney, the 2012 Republican nominee for president, put out a brief statement that did not name Trump but reaffirmed the importance of the ballot box.
"Counting every vote is at the heart of democracy," he said. "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 our democracy, in our Constitution, and in the American people."
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