Behind the scenes: Trump's "stop the steal" lie was premeditated

For weeks, Trump had been laying the groundwork to declare victory on election night — even if he lost. But the real-time results, punctuated by Fox’s shocking call, upended his plans and began his unraveling.

Trump had planned for Americans to go to bed on Nov. 3 celebrating — or resigned to — his re-election. The maps they saw on TV should be bathed in red. But at 11:20 p.m. that vision fell apart, as the nation’s leading news channel among conservatives became the first outlet to call Arizona for Joe Biden. Inside the White House, Trump’s inner circle erupted in horror…

As Trump prepared for Election Day, he was focused on the so-called red mirage. This was the idea that early vote counts would look better for Republicans than the final tallies because Democrats feared COVID-19 more and would disproportionately cast absentee votes that would take longer to count. Trump intended to exploit this — to weaponize it for his vast base of followers.

His preparations were deliberate, strategic and deeply cynical. Trump wanted Americans to believe a falsehood that there were two elections — a legitimate election composed of in-person voting, and a separate, fraudulent election involving bogus mail-in ballots for Democrats…

Trump had spent a bellicose summer and early autumn railing against mail-in ballots. After a toxic Sept. 29 election debate with Biden, Trump’s internal poll numbers nose-dived. He started choreographing election night in earnest during the second week of October, as he recovered from COVID-19.

His former chief of staff Reince Priebus told a friend he was stunned when Trump called him around that time and acted out his script, including walking up to a podium and prematurely declaring victory on election night if it looked like he was ahead.