Trump ramps up ‘fraud’ rant; Biden keeps lead
WASHINGTON/PHOENIX—President Donald Trump erupted in a tirade of unsubstantiated claims that he was cheated out of winning the US election as vote counting across battleground states early on Friday showed Democrat Joe Biden steadily closing in on victory.
“They are trying to steal the election,” an increasingly isolated Trump said in an extraordinary appearance at the White House on Thursday, two days after polls closed.
Providing no evidence and taking no questions afterward from reporters, Trump spent nearly 17 minutes making the kind of incendiary statements about the country’s democratic process that have never been heard before from a US president.
According to Trump, Democrats were using “illegal votes” to “steal the election from us.”
“If you count the legal votes, I easily win,” he claimed. “They’re trying to rig an election. And we can’t let that happen.”
Trump’s rhetoric came as his campaign aggressively challenged the integrity of the huge number of ballots mailed in, rather than cast in person on Election Day.
The big shift to postal ballots this year reflected the desire of voters to avoid risking exposure to COVID-19 in crowded polling stations during a pandemic that has already killed some 235,000 Americans.
With Trump charging fraud, mail-in ballots have tilted heavily to Democrats. In the crucial state of Pennsylvania, the Trump campaign moved to stop the counting of ballots which authorities were forbidden from processing before Election Day.
There were signs of cracks in support within his Republican Party.
Rep. Will Hurd called Trump’s call to stop vote counting “dangerous and wrong,” while Rupert Murdoch’s long supportive New York Post called Trump’s allegations “baseless.”
But prominent Republicans rallied behind Trump and signaled that they could challenge the legitimacy of results if he loses.
“I think everything should be on the table,” Sen. Lindsey Graham said when asked by Fox News host and Trump loyalist Sean Hannity if Pennsylvania’s Republican-led legislature should refuse to certify results.
1 to 2 states away
Biden, 77, was just one or at most two battleground states away from securing the majority to take the White House. Trump, 74, needed an increasingly unlikely combination of wins in multiple states to stay in power.
Biden, who has promised to heal a country bruised by Trump’s extraordinarily polarizing four years in power, appealed for “people to stay calm.”
“We have no doubt that when the count is finished, Senator (Kamala) Harris and I will be declared the winners,” he said in comments to reporters in his hometown of Wilmington, Delaware.
In Georgia, a generally Republican state, Trump had a razor thin and fast vanishing lead of around 1,800 votes.
In Arizona and Nevada, Biden held on to slim leads. If Biden wins both those states he would win the presidency.
But the biggest piece of the puzzle was Pennsylvania, where Trump’s early lead was again steadily draining away.
If Biden took Pennsylvania, he would grab 20 more electoral college votes, thereby instantly topping the necessary 270 for overall victory.
Both sides held rallies in Philadelphia on Thursday, where election staffers slowly counted thousands of mail-in ballots that could decide Pennsylvania’s crucial 20 electoral college votes.
Trump activists waved flags and carried signs saying: “Vote stops on Election Day” and “Sorry, polls are closed” as Biden supporters danced to music behind a barricade across the street.
“We can’t allow the ballot counters to be intimidated,” said retired social worker Bob Posuney, a 70-year-old Biden supporter wearing a “count every vote” T-shirt as Marvin Gaye’s “What’s Going On” filled the air.
Police probe attack plot
Late on Thursday, Philadelphia police said they were investigating an alleged plot to attack the city’s Pennsylvania Convention Center, where votes were being counted. Police took at least one man into custody and seized a weapon.
In the state capital Harrisburg, about 100 Trump supporters gathered on the steps of the Pennsylvania State Capitol Building on Thursday afternoon as part of a “Stop the Steal” demonstration organized by Virginia conservative activist Scott Presler.
Roughly a dozen counterprotesters arrived after an hour, shouting “Black lives matter” and “say their names,” referring to the victims of police brutality. Others threw eggs at the Trump supporters from a passing car.
Trump’s backers ramped up demonstrations on Thursday night against an election they believe was rigged or being stolen, clashing with counterprotesters.
In Arizona, Trump supporters massed outside the Maricopa County Elections Department in Phoenix.
Far-right conspiracy theorist Alex Jones roused a heavily armed crowd there, shouting on a megaphone about Trump’s supposed enemies, “They will be destroyed because America is rising.”
“They are trying to steal the election but America knows what happened and it’s fighting back,” Jones told the throng of some 300 people. “1776 is the answer to 1984,” he said, an apparent reference to the US Declaration of Independence and the dystopian George Orwell novel.
Facebook Inc. said it had taken down a rapidly growing group the social media site said pro-Trump activists had posted with violent rhetoric calling for “boots on the ground” to protect the integrity of the election.
Biden supporters have adopted the slogan “count every vote,” saying a complete and accurate tabulation in the remaining battleground states would show the former vice president had won the 270 electoral votes needed to win.
In Washington, a procession of cars and bicycles sponsored by activists from a group called Shutdown DC paraded slowly through the streets of the capital to protest what they called “an attack on the democratic process” by Trump and his “enablers,” according to its website.
In Las Vegas, at least 400 protesters gathered outside the Clark County Election Department. Loud patriotic anthems blared over speakers as scores waved giant Trump and American flags.
Trump backers wearing red “Make America Great Again” hats demanded to see ballots being processed.
Brando Madrigal said he wanted to verify that the votes are “not coming from the people who died with Covid, people who are out of state, people who don’t have the ability to vote because they don’t have the papers.”
But while Trump was demanding that counting be halted in Georgia and Pennsylvania—where he is leading—his supporters and campaign insisted that it continue in Arizona and Nevada, where he is trailing.
Bob Bauer, a lawyer for the Biden campaign, dismissed the slew of lawsuits as “meritless.”
“All of this is intended to create a large cloud,” Bauer said. “But it’s not a very thick cloud. We see through it. So do the courts and so do election officials.”