According to custom, Americans mark the end of an election campaign when the losing candidate makes a concession speech. By that standard, the 2020 presidential campaign may be with us awhile.
To appreciate the illogic of President Donald Trump’s effort to discredit the electoral process, consider: He argues that the lead former Vice President Joe Biden has built up in closely contested states is fraudulent. He also says that the failure of the so-called “blue wave” to materialize proves that pre-election polls were wrong. “Instead, there was a big red wave,” he said Thursday night.
Huh? So the votes for Biden were fraudulent, but the votes for Senate Republicans were authentic? Both assertions can’t be true. The Minnesota numbers show the same split: Many voters chose Biden, and also chose to keep the state Senate in Republican hands.
In our view, that sort of ticket-splitting suggests that voters were doing exactly as they ought to do — making up their own minds, rather than toeing a party line. The result is one more expression of Minnesota’s distinctive taste for divided government. It is a choice, not a reflex, and the choice deserves respect, even from those who disagree.
No such respect appears forthcoming from Trump. As he demonstrated in his pitiful news conference Thursday evening, as well as his Twitter feed, his political universe is divided into two spheres: Those who support him, and are therefore honest; and everyone else.
We can’t say he didn’t warn us. Trump had repeatedly said that he would find fraud in this election process, and that one reason he needed to expedite the appointment of his third Supreme Court justice was that he would need a compliant court to secure his re-election.
The facts, though, are not on his side. Final vote margins in several states may be close enough to justify ordinary recounts, which are not unusual and seldom change outcomes. But the slow-motion reveal of the 2020 outcome was not skulduggery, but exactly the scenario we were told to expect. In-person ballots cast on Election Day would be tallied quickly and would skew Republican. Absentee ballots would be counted more slowly and would lean Democratic. The whole process would likely take a few days, maybe longer, and a delay would not mean something untoward was happening — only that elections officials were taking their time and being careful.
Trump, true to form, argues exactly the opposite. In his view, votes are being “found,” not merely counted. “It’s amazing how those mail-in ballots are so one-sided,” he said Thursday, as if his supporters might have been expected to use a process he had derided for months. He declared that Democrats were “trying to steal an election. They’re trying to rig an election. And we can’t let that happen.”
To observe that the president’s charges are baloney is true, but it misses the point. This is not about truth or law. Much less is it about discerning and honoring the will of the electorate. It’s about Trump’s sense of entitlement, which has been on display at every stage of his presidency. A man who dares compare himself to Abraham Lincoln can’t be expected to show humility in defeat.
Biden, by contrast, conducted himself graciously as the count neared its finish. His restraint — in comparison to Trump’s fantastical claims of victory and bluster about fraud — seemed positively eloquent.
Once the 2020 fracas has subsided, we hope state legislatures will get to work refining the process for absentee voting. It’s proven itself a powerful tool of voter access, but it needs streamlining — as well as mechanisms for faster counting. No matter how often the media reminded voters that the counting process would take time, the hunger for instant results opened the door for Trump’s gamesmanship. The soon-to-be-former president and some of his followers were eager to walk through it; we hope and trust it will lead to a dead end.