The sun may be setting on the 2020 Presidental Election, but the dust hasn't settled just yet. President Trump has pledged to continue the fight to contest the results, releasing a statement yesterday which read: "we all know why Joe Biden is rushing to falsely pose as the winner, and why his media allies are trying so hard to help him: they don't want the truth to be exposed."
"Beginning Monday, our campaign will start prosecuting our case in court to ensure election laws are fully upheld and the right winner is seated. The American People are entitled to an honest election: that means counting all legal ballots, and not counting any illegal ballots."
The attempts to discredit the democratic process are truly unfounded. It is a slippery slope that, if found to be objectively false, could do lasting damage to the very institution of democracy. To some, it may seem in evaluating these claims I am giving weight to "baseless conspiracy theories". But even if the voter fraud accusations are false, it is fundamentally important that they are addressed in an honest and transparent way, and investigated to the fullest extent of the law. To do anything else, would be to invite some to discredit the democratic process.
So, what are the accusations? Trump's personal lawyer, Rudy Giuliani, has stated that they would begin legal challenges on Monday, presenting to prosecutors and the public a consistent set of allegations with evidence. Until then, we simply cannot speculate about the validity of any legal cases the campaign may bring forward. We can, however, attempt to ascertain from context (and what we know so far) the positive arguments for pursuing court action:
Argument #1: Mail-in Ballots
This was an election unlike any other, where mail-in ballots were used at an unprecedented rate. Usually you'd expect 25% of all ballots cast to be absentee, this year it was more like 66%. If mail-in ballots are usually the source of voter fraud, then it simply makes sense that more attention should be placed on the risks associated with them.
There is also reportedly anecdotal evidence that "shenanigans" have taken place. Trump's legal team have launched a 'Voter Fraud Hotline' to collect these reports. So far, these allegations include 'dead people casting ballots', 'people turning up to vote just to be told they've already voted', and 'votes being handed in after the polls closed'.
Argument #2: Media Bias
The Trump campaign's statement was clear in who it alleges was complicit in the steal: "his media allies are trying so hard to help him". The 'media' - be it television media, print media, or social media - are undeniably anti-Trump and have actively worked to discredit him in the run-up to the election.
It is not outside the realm of possibility that the media would endeavour to ensure Trump lost the election - either by covering up instances of voter fraud or actively engaging in the stealing of the election. The place for these claims to be evaluated isn't on Cable TV, it's in the courts.
Argument #3: Russian Interference, Chinese Disinformation, etc.
The scale of Trump's refusal to accept the results of the election is historic and unprecedented. But it was a long time coming. It didn't begin with Trump; Democrats have, after all, spent four years casting doubt on the integrity of the 2016 Election. They did everything they could to take Trump down during his term in office, notably by impeaching him and painting him as an agent of foreign powers.
It seems inconsistent to have made those claims but dismiss these claims out of hand. If anything, we should be supporting the courts for consistency's sake.
However, we can also make several observations from what we know so far that cast doubt on the prospect that the election was stolen from Donald Trump.
Concern #1: Inconsistent Allies
What complicates matters for Trump is that supporters and detractors of his campaign to delegitimise the election aren't split along partisan lines. In fact, Trump appears to be losing allies by the day. He fell out with his key media ally, Rupert Murdoch, after Fox News called Arizona for Joe Biden early on Tuesday evening. Reports stated that Murdoch's office got several angry calls from the White House, including from campaign strategists, Trump's family and, finally, the President himself. Trump's own team are also losing faith in the President's claims. CNN's Kaitlan Collins reported last night that even Jared Kushner, Trump's son-in-law-turned-foreign-policy-advisor, has approached the President, asking him to concede the election.
In fact, The New York Post, the pro-Trump, Murdoch-owned daily tabloid which broke the 'Hunter Biden Laptop' story just a few weeks ago, has called for Trump to "behave with dignity in the face of likely defeat." Editors at the paper seemed to console the President, explaining that his "legacy is secure" enough to mount a 2024 campaign - on the condition that he "quits the conspiracy-addled talk of a 'stolen' election."
However, Trump does still have allies outside of his own campaign. High profile Republicans like Sen. Lindsey Graham, Sen. Ted Cruz, Sen. Marco Rubio have all come out and echoed Trump's concerns about voter fraud. However, there are also many that urged caution. Once Republican Presidential candidate Rick Santorum said:
"I know there's a lot of people that think this election is stolen, a lot of people think there was fraud. You know what, there may be fraud, it may be stolen, we don't know that just now. And for the President to come out and claim that without any evidence is dangerous. I'd just say to the President: 'there may be some validity in some of the things you believe. But to go out there and claim this is rigged without evidence, or counting votes in my home state was somehow rigged... No. Democrats voted by mail. That's why your lead went away."
Concern #2: Are they making allegations because of evidence, or are they looking for evidence after making allegations?
Almost all media agencies - including Fox News - are currently describing these allegations as "baseless", with multiple senior White House officials telling the Press Poll that they haven't "yet" found "anything concrete".
This should cause real concern for those believing blindly that the election was stolen. Like it or not, we are currently watching a 'Boy Who Cried Wolf' scenario play out. Trump has claimed for years that the system is rigged against him, going back all the way to his TV days. Until now, none of these claims were found to have any validity.
Just because Trump has been claiming for years that the elections are rigged against him, though, doesn't mean they aren't actually rigged against him. But if he's making the accusation before he has the evidence, especially when there have been so many accusations of fraud in the past, then it should certainly cast doubt on whether or not you should trust their claims.
Concern #3: Why would the Democrats rig such a disastrous result?
From analysis of the context, it seems highly unlikely the Democrats rigged the election against him. Those still claiming the election was rigged, including the President if he tries to take his accusations to court, will have several very difficult questions to answer. Why would they rig the election to be so embarrassingly different than the polls prediction? Why would they make it so close that there would need to be mandatory recounts and why would they allow Trump to ask for others to be recounted, too? Why would they rig this election but not the 2016 election? Why would States with pro-Trump Republican governors, like Georgia for instance, be in on the conspiracy? Why would they allow Trump to do better in certain areas and among certain demographics than he did in 2016, particularly with minorities - much to the embarrassment of Democrats?
But, most importantly, why would they rig the Presidential election but allow themselves to disastrously lose multiple Senate and House races they were on track to win? Democrats may win the Executive Branch but they're in for two years (and probably a further two years after that, many expect the Democrats to lose the House in 2022) of split government. Knowing Biden doesn't have a mandate for anything other than bipartisan governance, and knowing that Trump is well within his rights to run again for office in 2024 against a significantly weaker Democratic Party, what reason would Democrats really have for rigging the election against Trump? And if these ballots were "rigged", does this also mean that all the ballots which voted for GOP candidates going down the ballot but chose Joe Biden over Trump at the top are also fraudulent? Is the implication that the Democrats gave Republicans seats in the House and Senate?
Concern #4: Are foreign governments - some of which have benefited from Trump's Presidency - in on the steal?
Nearly all major foreign leaders have released statements congratulating President-Elect Biden VP-Elect Harris.
Some - including European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen and Canadian President Justin Trudeau - gave warm congratulations, clearly relieved that they wouldn't have to endure another frosty four years of Trump's open hostility.
However, others - including British Prime Minister Boris Johnson and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu - have actively benefitted from Trump's presidency and would almost certainly benefit from four years more. Furthermore, they could well be actively hurt by a Biden Administration. It at first seemed as if these leaders would wait until the picture of Trump's legal challenges became clear, with UK Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab prefacing his congratulations for the President-Elect with "while some of the processes are playing out."
However, slowly even these leaders began to release statements. Benjamin Netanyahu last night congratulated Biden on Twitter, followed quickly by a hearty thanks to President Trump:
Why would leaders like Johnson and Netanyahu allow themselves to become accessories to an act of anti-democratic fraud which would only serve to harm them? Are we to accept that these foreign leaders are in on the "steal"? Or are we expected to believe that foreign governments - with complex and extensive inter-governmental connections and extremely powerful intelligence apparatus - are simply unaware of a massive political conspiracy in the most powerful country on the planet?
Concern #5: Maybe it isn't about winning the election...
A Cambridge University study by Kirby Goidel, Keith Gaddie and Spencer Goidel last year found that the "rigged" rhetoric before the 2016 Election inspired more people to go out and vote for Trump, believing their ballot was a blow to the corrupt system. Perhaps that explains why Trump has been claiming the election will be fraudulent for as long as he's known he will be fighting it - there is statistical evidence that when Trump claims the election is rigged, he tends to do better.
It is therefore also possible that Trump's insistence on delegitimising the election doesn't come from an expectation that he believes he will actually change the results. Perhaps Trump simply wants his base invigorated for his return to the world of politics in four years time, or ready to tune-in to the widely rumoured Trump News Network.
Make no mistake, there is currently no evidence that Joe Biden's election is illegitimate. But the inverse is true, too; there is currently no evidence that there wasn't any significant voter fraud. If Trump's legal team can produce convincing evidence of a "rigged election", it is essential the President gets his day in court.
But if you are still absolutely convinced that Trump has been cheated even with an abundance of conflicting information and the complete absence of evidence, be careful. You can't be a "winner" in a democratic system. Whether there is fraud or not, whether Biden wins or Trump, we must all be ready to concede defeat and to put our faith not in our enemies, but in democracy.
Voters will be split across party lines, and that's okay. Not only did the 2020 Election see the largest voter turn-out of all time, but it served to remind us that the political movement behind Trump is as powerful as ever. But now is the time for responsibility. Whether you're pro-Trump or anti-Trump, wait for the evidence before you cast your judgement.
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