The first sign of trouble came eight days ago. Donald Trump, desperate to find evidence of voting irregularities, told reporters, "It was reported in one of the newspapers that they found a lot of ballots in a river. They throw them out if they have the name 'Trump' on it, I guess."
A day later, at a campaign rally, the president pushed the same line, telling supporters that "they" found "many, many ballots thrown into a river someplace." The day after that, Trump started treating his claim as if it were common knowledge, saying, "They found many ballots, as you know, in a riverbed."
At this week's debate, the Republican added that ballots are "being dumped in rivers."
Yesterday, White House Press Secretary Kayleigh McEnany said Trump was actually referring to absentee ballots in Wisconsin that were found with mail that ended up "in a ditch." (Last night, Trump nevertheless referred to ballots he believes were "thrown into a creek or a river.")
It was embarrassing enough when the president's chief spokesperson effectively and grudgingly conceded that Trump's "river" references weren't accurate. It's quite a bit worse now that the underlying claim about ballots appears to be wrong, too. The Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel reported late yesterday:
No Wisconsin absentee ballots were found in mail discovered in a ditch in the Fox Valley last week, the state's top election official said Thursday.
Meagan Wolfe, director of the Wisconsin Elections Commission, told reporters during a virtual news conference, "There was mail found outside of Appleton and that mail did not include any Wisconsin ballots."
So, when the president first started pushing this, he said there were "a lot" of ballots; they were found "in a river"; and he guessed that "they" threw out the ballots because they were votes cast for him.
Literally every element of this now appears to have been wrong. It comes on the heels of Team Trump also flubbing the details about alleged voter fraud in Luzerne County, Pa., which came on the heels of Attorney General Bill Barr flubbing the details about alleged voter fraud in Texas.
The New York Times noted this week, "It is remarkable, but not at all accidental, that a narrative built from minor incidents, gross exaggeration and outright fabrication is now at the center of the effort to re-elect the president."
With Trump's "river" claims also unraveling, it's a tough assessment to disagree with.