The Slatest

The Uncanniness of Watching Donald Trump Claim Premature Victory

Trump looks down with his eyes closed and an American flag behind him.
Shame. Mandel Ngan/Getty Images

In the early hours of Wednesday morning, President Donald Trump addressed a group of supporters in the White House to declare that he had won an election in which the votes were still being counted.* Over the weekend, Axios had reported on “Trump’s plan to declare premature victory,” so to many, this did not come as a surprise. And yet it was still something to watch a speech from a sitting president declaring that an election in the United States was over before all of the votes had been counted.

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Meanwhile, former Vice President Joe Biden had used his own speech about an hour earlier as an opportunity to call for a calm counting of the votes, saying that he believed he would come out ahead once all of the votes were tallied. Around that time, Twitter blocked a Trump tweet claiming “they are trying to STEAL the Election,” on the grounds that the tweet was “disputed and might be misleading about an election or other civic process.” But when Trump addressed his supporters at the White House, nearly all of the networks carried the bulk of his rambling, discursive rant. “We were getting ready to win this election,” Trump declared near the end of this speech. “Frankly we did win this election.”

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He then promised that “we are going to the U.S. Supreme Court” to fight out the election, without articulating exactly what he meant. “We want all of voting to stop,” he said. “We don’t want them to find any ballots at four o’clock in the morning and add them to the list.” And he repeated: “We will win this. And as far as I’m concerned, we already have won it.”

Due to the pandemic, many Democratic voters in the potentially decisive states of Georgia, Wisconsin, Pennsylvania, and Michigan cast their ballots by mail. And thanks to gerrymandered Republican state legislatures in those last three states, no accommodations were made to count those votes early. It was always expected that a big block of pro-Biden ballots would be counted in the hours and days after election night. These votes might be enough to allow Biden to claim victory, and they might not. Counting those ballots is normal procedure. It is called holding a democratic election. Biden’s campaign released a response to Trump’s statement early Wednesday saying that it would fight any effort to stop the vote count:

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Immediately after Trump’s speech, Vice President Mike Pence professed a desire to preserve “the integrity of the vote,” while also staking a claim to be on Trump’s side as well. “While the votes continue to be counted, we’re going to remain vigilant as the president has said,” Pence told the country. This statement, with its apparent suggestion that Trump was the one seeking to safeguard the count, read as more than a bit disingenuous after what the president had said moments before. “The right to vote has been at the center of the democracy since the founding of this nation,” Pence continued. In any case, it’s hard to believe that a statement as generic as this could feel like such a stark a contrast to what we’d heard from the president—who said, quite simply, “we won.”

Correction, Nov. 4, 2020: This post originally misstated that Trump declared victory in the early hours of Monday morning. It was Wednesday morning.

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