When the Trump campaign announced a noon press conference today, there was some speculation that it might signal an end to the president’s doomed effort to challenge his election defeat. That might have seemed rational, since Team Trump and its subordinate allies have again and again struck out in court, all over the country, in efforts to even raise the remote possibility there was enough “fraud” to change the outcome. And with state certifications of the results on the very near horizon, there’s no question Republicans were privately whispering to the president and his staff that it was time to end the circus and move along.
Lord have mercy, was the end-is-coming speculation wrong! In an interminable press conference, Trump’s legal team upped the ante by about a million percent, alleging a massive national conspiracy personally directed by Joe Biden, but bankrolled by “communist money,” to steal an election that “the president clearly won by a landslide,” as Trump attorney Sidney Powell said at one point. Chief lawyer Rudy Giuliani became more and more agitated as the strange event went on, spending most of his time attacking reporters from the “fake media” in the room and symbolizing the heat of his words when his hair-dye melted, leaving brown streaks down each side of his face.
Recounting this 100-minute cascade of madness is more than I can bear. But the basic idea laid out by Trump’s lawyers is that they have come across vast evidence of systematic voter fraud in “Democrat” cities (though the claims go far beyond such jurisdictions) that they can’t present publicly now, but are demanding that courts address immediately after the campaign files a battery of lawsuits tomorrow. Again and again, Giuliani shrieked at the “censored” media for failing to cover “evidence” that he then said the campaign couldn’t disclose either because (a) the witnesses to the immense Biden conspiracy were in fear of their lives, or (b) it was being held for review by the courts. At several points, Trump legal adviser Jenna Ellis angrily told reporters that the case they were making at the presser was just an “overview” or an “opening statement,” with all the facts and figures they asked for not being appropriate at this stage of the proceedings.
But the longer the presser went on, the more it became clear that the Trump campaign was relying not so much on affidavits of misconduct or statistical demonstrations of altered results but rather the broadest sorts of conspiracy theories, most of them inherently absurd or previously exploded. Giuliani repeatedly spoke of mail ballots as though they are some sort of sinister new invention rather than a method of voting that has been available in one form or another in every state for years. He also with a straight face argued that the reversal of early Trump leads in many states as mail ballots were counted was prima facie evidence of fraud, rather than a reflection of his own client’s loud, constant, and successful efforts to convince Republicans not to vote by mail – and of Republican legislators’ decision to ban the counting of mail ballots until Election Day or immediately before it.
In other words, having failed to supply evidence of wrongdoing sufficient to change the results in individual states, Team Trump has headed into the murky and dangerous territory of declaring the entire election illegitimate, from sea to shining sea.
This became plain when Sidney Powell took the presser far down the rabbit hole into discredited claims that voting machines designed in Venezuela had systematically miscounted the vote in order to throw the election to Biden. Weeping actual tears, Powell spoke darkly of “communist money” and veered off into murky claims from years far past. I wasn’t the only one who struggled to follow her: “Even by the standards of the Trump legal team, Sidney Powell is making no sense right now. You have to be just mainlining http://TheDonald.win and Gateway Pundit to have any idea what she’s referencing,” observed the Daily Beast’s Will Sommer.
Other than lashing the media for failing to “cover” its incoherent theories and alerting the president’s supporters that the fight was by no means winding down, what was the point of the presser? It appears that the lawsuits Giuliani threatened will seek to get judges to stop state certification of results. Since they will probably not gain any more traction than earlier campaign or GOP efforts to slow down the process, the real goal was probably indicated by Ellis and Powell, both of whom mentioned “constitutional provisions” for “fixing” a rigged election. By that I am assuming they meant the questionable theory that state legislatures can put aside “disputed” results and just appoint electors on their own.
It’s no coincidence that the legislatures of Arizona, Georgia, Michigan, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin are controlled by Trump’s GOP. And worried observers have long feared Trump had in mind exactly this sort of end-run of the results if he lost. Based on the overall impression left by Trump’s team after this stunning event, it’s reasonably clear the strategy is to get the MAGA masses to press Republican legislators in the key states to steal the 2020 election on grounds that it was earlier stolen by Democrats.
I’ve been watching political developments closely for a half-century, and have witnessed all sorts of craziness. But the spectacle of the president’s lawyers menacing reporters (“You’re lying! You’re lying! You’re lying!” Giuliani screamed at one reporter trying to ask a question, after asking her “What fake media do you work for?”) trying to unravel their wild claims was something out of a bad alternative history where the bad guys won World War II. At one point, Powell said: “This is the 1775 of our generation and beyond!” Are these people threatening violent revolution if they don’t get their way? Normally I’d say, “Of course not!” But for the first time, I’m really not sure.
This comment from the recently fired Director of the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency in the United States Department of Homeland Security, Christopher Krebs, sums it all up: