President Donald Trump on Wednesday morning openly embraced a theory put forth by analysts earlier this week that he would try to misdirect the American people on election night by claiming a "landslide" victory that doesn't exist—leading grassroots organizers to begin planning for a chaotic post-election period during which the president is liable to claim that the counting of mail-in ballots is evidence of cheating by the Democratic Party.
While getting the details and implications of the story exactly backward, Trump tweeted the phrase "Rigged election?" along with a link to an article at right-wing website The National Pulse, titled "WARNING: Democrat Data Firm Admits ‘Incredible’ Trump Landslide Will Be Flipped By Mail-In Votes Emerging A Week After Election Day."
The article presented a right-wing narrative regarding what political data firm Hawfish this week called a "red mirage"—election night results which could give the appearance of a Trump victory before mail-in ballots have been tallied.
"He's laying the groundwork now to steal the election; we need to lay the groundwork now to fight back."
—Sarah Dohl, Indivisible
As Common Dreams reported Tuesday, Josh Mendelsohn, CEO of Hawkfish—founded by former Democratic presidential candidate Michael Bloomberg—warned that as in-person votes are counted on November 3, the president could claim victory as he appears to be in "a stronger position than he actually is."
Almost twice as many Democrats as Republicans plan to vote by mail to prevent the spread of Covid-19 pandemic, according to recent surveys, and Trump has been sowing doubt about the validity of mail-in ballots for months as it became apparent their use would skyrocket amid the coronavirus pandemic—despite the fact that the president himself voted by mail as recently as last month.
The National Pulse attempted to turn Hawkfish's warning on its head, claiming an election night victory by Trump—one that would not include millions of mail-in ballots—could be unfairly "flipped" after all of the votes are counted.
Natalie Winters of The National Pulse compared Hawkfish's projections with a warning from far-right British politician Nigel Farage about "'dark art operatives in the Democrats'...intent on 'abusing' mail-in ballots to secure a victory for [Democratic presidential candidate Joe] Biden."
"It's called counting votes," tweeted journalist Thor Benson in response to Trump's promotion of the article.
By twisting Hawkfish's warning to suit his own narrative about an election he says he is bound to win—despite the fact that his approval ratings have never risen above 49% during his presidency according to Gallup, and just 39% of Americans approved last week of his handling of the pandemic that's killed more than 850,000 people in the U.S.—"Trump is showing us his playbook," said Sarah Dohl, co-founder and chief communications officer at Indivisible.
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"He's signaling that he may try to exploit the confusion surrounding this unique election cycle to declare a premature 'victory' when the counting of ballots has only just begun," Dohl told Common Dreams.
To counter Trump's narrative, pro-democracy grassroots organizers say, voters—36% of whom currently believe results will be available on November 3, according to an Axios-Ipsos poll released Tuesday—should shift their understanding of election night and begin preparing for an "election period" during which all the ballots must be counted.
"The fact is that we will not get results on election night—it may take days or even longer for states to count the unprecedented number of mail-in ballots needed to conduct a safe election after Trump botched the response to the coronavirus," Ryan Thomas of Stand Up America told Common Dreams. "The baseless charges being spread by Trump's allies and right-wing media about the election results is not only damaging to the foundation of our democracy, it's wholly un-American."
Stand Up America, Indivisible, and other advocacy groups are incorporating into their voter outreach efforts information about how the pandemic has created a situation which won't allow for all votes to be counted on election night.
"Donald Trump is not running a re-election campaign. He's running a power grab," said Ben Wessel, executive director of NextGen America, which joined the coalition. "We must be prepared to protect the integrity of this election and ensure that the voices of the people determine the outcome."
The organizations on Wednesday unveiled Protect the Results, a coalition that will mobilize Americans "should Donald Trump contest the election results, refuse to concede after losing, or claim victory before all the votes are counted."
"For months Trump has ignored democratic norms and threatened to reject the results of the 2020 election," said Liz Butler, vice president of organizing at Friends of the Earth Action, in a statement. "It is no surprise that a man who embraces brutal authoritarian dictators would question the legitimacy of our elections. Trump has used his position to benefit himself and his corporate cronies at the expense of our communities, and he's desperate to hold onto that power. His words are not bluster, and we must be prepared in November for this potential attack on our democracy."
Along with Trump's sabotage of the U.S. Postal Service, which millions are expected to rely on to mail in their ballots, and his baseless claims that the use of mail-in ballots will invite fraud, "This is just one more reason: we need to be ready to mobilize to protect the legitimate results of the election," said Dohl.
"He's laying the groundwork now to steal the election; we need to lay the groundwork now to fight back," she added.