Meanwhile, in the battleground states of the upper Midwest, an early lead for Trump on Tuesday melted away, at least in Wisconsin and Michigan, as heavily Democratic mail ballots were slowly opened and registered. This widely predicted “blue shift” in turn produced the reaction that Mr. Trump threatened all through the campaign: wild and groundless claims that an election he had won was being stolen. The president railed against the extended vote count, tweeted conspiracy theories and vowed to appeal to the Supreme Court.
Mr. Trump’s ugly rhetoric is a direct attack on American democracy. It could leave a poisonous legacy of bitterness among his supporters and erode the legitimacy of the U.S. political system. But, by late Wednesday, his antics had yet to prevent an orderly, peaceful and lawful conclusion of the presidential election. State officials diligently proceeded with their counts. Though Trump campaign suits to stop the process in Michigan and Pennsylvania were pending, local courts — much less the Supreme Court — had not intervened. Mr. Trump requested a recount in Wisconsin, and it remained possible that he could pull off late victories in other states. But Mr. Biden appeared closer to obtaining a majority in the electoral college, and predicted Wednesday he would win when all the votes were counted.
Snags may still develop in the counting process — hundreds of thousands of votes remained uncounted in Pennsylvania on Wednesday — and, if they do, Mr. Trump will likely seize on them in a further attempt to create confusion and chaos. But his complaints have taken on an almost pathetic tone. “They are finding Biden votes all over the place — in Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, and Michigan. So bad for our Country!,” he tweeted. Yes, that is what happens when absentee votes are counted in an election in which Mr. Trump discouraged his own supporters from mailing in ballots. That they were being “found” in those states only after Election Day is due in large part to Republican legislators who, goaded by the Trump campaign, refused to allow the early processing of millions of mail votes.
How much further mischief Mr. Trump stirs will depend on the degree to which he is abetted by fellow Republicans — especially elected officials. Earlier this week, the president predicted that a disputed vote count could “induce violence in the streets.” That’s hardly in the interest of a GOP that, overall, obtained better-than-expected results in Tuesday’s election: The party appears to have retained control of the U.S. Senate, added seats in the House and gained ground in a number of state legislatures. Its leaders will not benefit by tying themselves to vile maneuvers to reverse legitimate election results. Some appeared to recognize this Wednesday by calling to “count every legally cast ballot.” To that they might add: And respect the results.