Or so Donald Trump told Byron York yesterday. In his Washington Examiner newsletter this morning, York reports on the conversation with the president about the prospects for victory in his election challenges. At best, one can say that Trump has a fairly accurate grasp of the gaps he needs to overcome.
At worst, this is only missing a “yeargh!” from Howard Dean:
“We’re going to win Wisconsin,” he began.”Arizona — it’ll be down to 8,000 votes, and if we can do an audit of the millions of votes, we’ll find 8,000 votes easy. If we can do an audit, we’ll be in good shape there.”
“Georgia, we’re going to win,” he continued, “because now we’re down to about 10,000, 11,000 votes, and we have hand counting” — a reference to the coming recount. “Hand counting is the best. To do a spin of the machine doesn’t mean anything. You pick up ten votes. But when you hand count — I think we’re going to win Georgia.” He’ll also win North Carolina, Trump joked, “unless they happen to find a lot of votes. I said, ‘When are they going to put in the new votes in North Carolina? When are they going to find a batch from Charlotte?'”
Then there are two more — Michigan and Pennsylvania. “The two big states,” Trump said, before allowing, “They’re all sort of big.” In those two, Trump is pinning his strategy on protesting the exclusion of his campaign’s observers during critical periods of vote counting. “They wouldn’t let our poll watchers and observers watch or observe,” Trump said. “That’s a big thing. They should throw those votes out that went through during those periods of time when [Trump observers] weren’t there. We went to court and the judge ordered [the observers] back, but that was after two days, and millions of votes could have gone through. Millions. And we’re down 50,000.”
That’s actually not what happened in Pennsylvania. That claim about observers being excluded from the ballot count has been repeated ad nauseam, but Trump’s own attorney was forced to admit in court that Republican observers were present during these counts. Note the date on this tweet:
The transcript from one of Trump’s legal challenges is fascinating. The judge trying to get to the bottom of whether they WERE allowed to have observers:
Judge : “Are your observers in the counting room?”
Trump lawyer: "There's a non-zero number of people in the room.” pic.twitter.com/CU4VbqIfj4
— Man vs Baby (@mattcoyney) November 6, 2020
That’s a week ago, and Trump’s still passing along false allegations about what happened. In that lawsuit, the judge did fix the number of observers to be present from each party during ballot counts, but established that the idea that Republicans got locked out in Pennsylvania is pretty much a myth. This is one reason why any claims of irregularities coming from Trump and his allies have to be taken with a grain of salt until they are made in court and under requirements of good-faith representation. If Trump and his legal team aren’t making such claims in court, there’s really no need to take them seriously. That includes all of the conspiracy theorizing around Dominion, which Trump notably did not include in his conversation with York.
On the rest, Trump’s talking about fairly normal election challenges and contests. As much as people gripe about it, those are part of the electoral process. Recounts, audits, and recanvassing provide checks on errors, although only recanvassing holds much promise on errors of large scale. Candidates are within their rights to hold off on concessions until exhausting the process, and everyone else should respect that, wrote Fordham Law professor Jed Shugerman yesterday at the Washington Post, which York also linked today. That shoe may well be on the other foot in the future, Shugerman argues:
The lawsuits may prove to be the best way to legitimize President-elect Joe Biden’s victory and draw to a close years of bogus complaints about voter fraud. The lack of merit in the legal complaints means they will be dead on arrival in the courts, and while the resounding rejection of Trump’s fantasies by judges will not persuade his fiercest loyalists, it will prevent conspiracy theories from spreading.
It is also a bad idea, as a general matter, to object to election law litigation: In two years, or four years — and possibly in two months in Georgia — the shoe may be on the other foot. It would look hypocritical to condemn the very idea of challenging an election result now, only to turn around and do so in different (albeit more legitimate) circumstances.
Ahem. We already have seen the shoe on the other foot — in Florida’s 2000 presidential election, and in Minnesota’s 2008 Senate election. The media didn’t lose its mind over recounts and election challenges in those examples, although it’s fair to note that the gaps were much more liable to changing the outcome through those processes in both cases. (Minnesota’s challenges went on for months, in fact.) Still, the process is exactly the same and just as legitimate, even when the circumstances now make this more futile.
And futile this is. Georgia’s hand recount might be the only suspense left, but it’s highly unlikely to produce any meaningful change in the outcome. “Two or three weeks” is a common Trump mantra for putting off accountability, as Allahpundit reminded me this morning, but in this case it’s also reality. States will have to certify their results in roughly that time frame in order to meet the Electoral College’s “safe harbor” deadline of December 8. At that point the election is over, and Donald Trump has to start planning his post-presidential life. For right now, he’s playing the string all the way out, even if he’s not playing fully in reality on his chances. Yeeeeeeeaaaaargh.