Why Trump's Election Night speech was so indefensible

It seemed almost fitting, in a tragic way, to see Trump, after brazenly lying to the nation for his entire term, lying once more on Election Night.
Image: President Donald Trump speaks about early results from the 2020 U.S. presidential election in the East Room of the White House
President Donald Trump speaks about early results from the 2020 U.S. presidential election in the East Room of the White House, Nov. 4, 2020.Carlos Barria / Reuters

On Sunday afternoon, Axios jolted the political world a bit with a striking scoop: Donald Trump, the report said, had already told confidants that he was prepared to declare victory on Election Night, "even if the Electoral College outcome still hinges on large numbers of uncounted votes in key states like Pennsylvania."

The president and the White House soon after denied the reporting.

Yesterday morning, the Republican incumbent continued to suggest he'd be responsible while the vote count was underway. Trump assured Fox News that he'd declare victory "only when there's victory." He added, "There's no reason to play games."

Those were, to be sure, the right things for the president to say. Unfortunately, he didn't mean a word of it. The New York Times reported on Trump's early-in-the-morning remarks at the White House:

With no winner in the 2020 race and votes still being counted in several battleground states, President Trump entered the East Room of the White House at 2:21 a.m. on Wednesday and asserted without evidence that the election was being taken from him by "a very sad group of people."

"As far as I am concerned," the president declared, "we already have won it."

The problem, of course, is that reality is indifferent to Trump's "concerns" -- and the evidence does not show that he's "already won" the race.

Indeed, the president's remarks featured one false claim after another. Trump said people were trying to "disenfranchise" his supporters, but he didn't say how, and the very idea is ridiculous. Trump listed a series of states that he claimed to be winning, none of which have been called, and some of which he may yet lose.

He equated counting votes with perpetrating a "fraud." He suggested vote-counting should continue, but only in states he thinks he might love. He announced his intentions to go to the U.S. Supreme Court, but Trump didn't even try to explain why or what case he expects the justices to hear.

It was, as a Washington Post report noted this morning, "an extraordinary assault on the integrity of the U.S. election system" from the sitting American president.

It seemed almost fitting, in a tragic way, to see Trump, after brazenly lying to the nation for his entire term, lying once more on Election Night.

The president's lying, however, is likely to prove inconsequential. The Republican can say he's already won as far as he's concerned, but that only matters in his imagination. He was clearly trying to create the impression of a victory, likely hoping to delegitimize a possible defeat, but this was more of a tantrum than a meaningful presidential declaration.

Not surprisingly, Joe Biden's campaign wasted little time in pushing back.

"The president's statement tonight about trying to shut down the counting of duly cast ballots was outrageous, unprecedented, and incorrect," Biden campaign manager Jen O'Malley Dillon said in a statement. "It was outrageous because it is a naked effort to take away the democratic rights of American citizens."

She added, "We repeat what the Vice President said tonight: 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."