Jul 14, 2022
Leaked audio of Steve Bannon published earlier this week by Mother Jones confirms that days before the 2020 presidential election, Republican incumbent Donald Trump planned to prematurely declare victory on the night of November 3 regardless of whether it was true.
"What Trump's gonna do is just declare victory. Right? He's gonna declare victory. But that doesn't mean he's a winner," a chuckling Bannon told a group of associates on October 31, 2020. "He's just gonna say he's a winner."
"At 10 or 11 o'clock, Trump's gonna walk in the Oval, tweet out, 'I'm the winner. Game over. Suck on that,'" the former White House strategist said later in the conversation.
The infamous press conference where Trump falsely stated, "Frankly, we did win this election," started a little later than Bannon predicted, coming on November 4 around 2:00 am ET--at the behest of Trump attorney Rudy Giuliani, the House January 6 committee showed last month--but other than that, the outgoing president stuck to the script that Bannon outlined.
Because Republicans were more likely to vote in-person and have their ballots counted quickly while Democratic voters' ballots, disproportionately cast by mail, would take days to tally, Trump was "going to take advantage of" initial public perceptions about who was winning, said Bannon. "That's our strategy. He's gonna declare himself a winner."
After lying on election night that he had already won--rejecting the legitimacy of millions of yet-to-be-tallied absentee votes that he vowed to invalidate through GOP-friendly courts--Trump's early lead in key swing states like Michigan, Wisconsin, and others was negated as the counting of mail-in ballots shifted the race in Democratic nominee Joe Biden's favor.
But the seeds of the "Big Lie" that culminated in a deadly insurrection on January 6, 2021, and continues to wreak havoc on the republic had been sown. As of this week, 61% of Republican voters still believe that Trump--not President Biden--won in 2020.
While the recording of Bannon's October 31 meeting confirms the premeditated nature of Trump's scheme, the broad outlines of his plan to swiftly declare victory and then characterize a come-from-behind win by Biden as illegitimate were widely recognized--and condemned--weeks earlier.
Late-night show host Jimmy Fallon's October 23 interview with Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) went viral on November 5 when the aftermath of the 2020 presidential election unfolded almost exactly as the Vermont progressive warned it would.
After jumping out to a temporary lead thanks to a higher rate of in-person voting among Republicans, Trump would try to claim an election night victory, Sanders told Fallon eight days before Bannon's conversation. As election officials counted millions of mail-in ballots, more likely to be cast by Democrats, Biden would gain ground and overtake Trump in key battleground states, he continued.
"At which point Trump says: 'See? I told you the whole thing was fraudulent. I told you those mail-in ballots were crooked and we're not going to leave office,'" Sanders said.
As prescient as Sanders was in that clip, he and many others had been working tirelessly, well before late October 2020, to warn Americans that Trump posed an existential threat to U.S. democracy.
Many analysts were especially concerned that the president would provoke post-election chaos by accusing the Democratic Party of rigging the election when the delayed counting of absentee votes eroded his early lead.
In early September of that year, Sanders sounded the alarm about the authoritarian nature of Trump's frequent, baseless attacks on the legitimacy of mail-in ballots and preemptive claims that if he were to fall short in his bid for reelection, it could be attributed solely to electoral fraud.
Trump, Sanders warned--correctly, it turned out--was laying the groundwork for a "nightmarish scenario" in which he would bombard the public with "lies and misinformation to sow confusion and chaos in the election process and undermine American democracy."
Fears of an impending coup attempt grew increasingly intense toward the end of that month, when Trump refused to commit to a peaceful transition of power, saying that he would "have to see what happens."
According toMother Jones: "The new recording stands out for the striking candor and detail with which Bannon described a scheme to use lies to subvert democracy. Bannon also predicted that Trump's false declaration of victory would lead to widespread political violence, along with 'crazy' efforts by Trump to stay in office. Bannon and his associates laughed about those scenarios at various points in the recording."
"It's not clear how much influence Bannon, who had previously been Trump's top White House strategist before being ousted, really wielded over Trump at this time," the outlet reported. "But Bannon has suggested that he was a key architect of Trump's efforts to overturn the election results and has reportedly asserted that he convinced Trump to make January 6 a moment of reckoning in that bid."
Trump apparently liked the strategy. Two months ago, he took to his Truth Social platform to encourage far-right U.S. Senate candidate Mehmet Oz to "declare victory" in Pennsylvania's Republican primary even though the race between Oz and ex-hedge fund manager David McCormick was too close to call at the time.
Prematurely declaring victory "makes it much harder for them to cheat with the ballots that they 'just happened to find,'" Trump said at the time, repeating his thoroughly disproven lie that Biden stole the White House.
Hold Trump Accountable, a campaign of progressive advocacy group Free Speech for People, responded by tweeting: "This is why we keep saying Trump is a clear and present danger to democracy."
The release of the Bannon audio comes as the erstwhile Trump adviser prepares to go to trial on Monday over criminal contempt charges stemming from his refusal to respond to a subpoena last year from the House January 6 panel.
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