Nov 19, 2020 - Politics & Policy

Trump challenges cement Biden triumph

Photo illustration of President trump building a wall of ballots

Photo Illustration: Sarah Grillo. Photo: Alex Wong/Getty Images

President Trump's frantic post-election challenges are having the opposite effect of what he intended: He's documenting his demise through a series of court fights and recounts showing Joe Biden's victory to be all the more obvious and unassailable.

Why it matters: The president’s push to overturn the election results is dispelling the cloud of corruption he alleged by forcing states to create a verified — and legally binding — accounting of his election loss.

  • "Each loss further cements Biden's win," says election law expert Richard Hasen.
  • "History shows that any leader who constructs a major myth, that is later shown to be false, will eventually fall," says Harvard science historian and "Merchants of Doubt" author Naomi Oreskes. "The risk is that he takes his country down with him."

Reality check: In Georgia, the largest hand recount in U.S. history is underway, with some counties finding exactly the same vote tallies they reported two weeks ago.

  • In Michigan, the Wayne County Board of Canvassers certified Detroit's election results on the last day possible, after initially deadlocking in a party-line vote.
  • In Wisconsin, the Trump campaign paid $3 million this week for recounts in two counties. State law required it to pick up the tab because Biden’s overall winning margin was greater than one-quarter of a percentage point.
  • The Pennsylvania Supreme Court ruled Tuesday that Philadelphia did not violate the law by restricting poll observers’ proximity to ballots.
  • Last week, the law firm Porter Wright announced it was dropping representation of the president in Pennsylvania after his team had heralded its hiring.
  • In Arizona last week, the campaign's lead lawyer acknowledged the vote count was not affected by fraud but "good-faith" errors, and the tally did not approach Biden's 11,000-vote margin of victory.

The big picture: Defeats have been so clear that none of the cases is on a path to reach the president's preferred venue, the Supreme Court.

  • The smooth election has also prompted praise for the work of local election officials amid the pandemic — and for those state officials and national figures who have protected election integrity and placed public service above partisan pressure.

Be smart: Al Gore’s magnanimity is still cited today, 20 years after he conceded to George W. Bush when the Supreme Court let stand a Florida recount showing the Texas governor ahead by 537 votes.

  • A private recount later found Gore had lost by an even larger margin than it appeared on Election Day, but that's not what many people remember most when they think back to 2000.
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