Two things have been true since about 24 hours after polls closed on Nov. 3, 2020. First, that there was no evidence that any significant fraud had occurred. Second, that Trump was going to say that it had and nothing was going to deter him.
By now, you either recognize the accuracy of those two statements or you choose not to. There’s no middle ground, no “let’s wait and see”; it’s been 320-odd days since the election and literally every claim made by Trump — and there have been scores — has come to naught. I exhausted my supply of doubt-benefit in late November, humbly asking the president to simply present whatever unseen evidence he had, evidence that then as now was always just over the horizon. Proof of fraud is to Trump what the Supreme Court overturning the election is to MyPillow CEO Mike Lindell: always coming and never arriving. That Trump continues to say the proof is imminent sort of gives the game away, doesn’t it? By now, Biden has been president longer than Stephen K. Bannon worked in the White House; it seems pretty safe to assume that all of the smoking guns Trump and his guys have identified were just smoldering matches once used to light Rudolph W. Giuliani’s cigars.
On Tuesday, the New York Times isolated a good example of the divide between reality and rhetoric in Trump’s post-election efforts. A lawsuit filed by an employee of a voting-machine company turned up a memo including rebuttals of various assertions that were popular with Trump’s team last November. It was not the case, it turns out, that Dominion Voting Systems was linked to the Venezuelan government or that its leadership team was tied to left-wing activists.
What’s important about that is the timing. The memo was prepared on Nov. 14, a few days before an infamous news conference at the Republican Party’s Washington headquarters in which Trump’s attorneys, including Giuliani and Sidney Powell, made precisely the claims that were rejected in the memo. Powell’s section of the event, which was unquestionably the wildest, began with this assertion: “What we are really dealing with here and uncovering more by the day is the massive influence of communist money through Venezuela, Cuba and likely China in the interference with our elections here in the United States.” This was based on just sheer nonsense, utterly ridiculous claims that have since trickled out elsewhere, including to Lindell.
To take Powell seriously that day was to simply abandon reason. At another point, someone asked her about a facially ridiculous theory promoted by One America News that a server in Germany had been seized by the army and found to contain proof that Trump actually won more than 400 electoral votes.
“That is true,” Powell said of the report. “It is somehow related to this, but I do not know whether good guys got it or bad guys got it.”
Oh, sure. Makes sense. Makes sense that the “real” results would be on a server somehow and that maybe the bad guys got the server. Understood.
Powell’s claims were so ridiculous that no less esteemed a journalist than Tucker Carlson eventually found her so noncredible that he disparaged her claims during his show. In short order, Powell got bounced from Trump’s legal team.
Which should not be considered evidence that Trump was eager to present accurate information. After all, even before the news conference at the GOP headquarters, he was still elevating the idea that Dominion was owned by the “Radical Left,” a term so unconnected to any tangible meaning in Trump’s usage that disproving it would be like disproving the existence of Santa Claus for a 4-year-old: you’re going to need to book a charter flight to cruise over the North Pole. That said, though, this claim had already been debunked when Trump tweeted that claim — by that memo his team prepared.
It’s not clear if he’d seen it at that point but we should not pretend it would have mattered if he did. After all, Trump balanced claims of fraud against proof of them so strongly in favor of the former that in mid-December he tried to have Powell appointed as special counsel to prove that fraud occurred. She wasn’t, which is probably for the best — not because she would have uncovered some grand scheme of fraud but because she had already demonstrated zero ability or inclination to actually evaluate the legitimacy of fraud-related claims.
Trump did not then and does not now care about the validity of the claims he makes about fraud, only the outcome those claims might generate. He would not have cared about a memo refuting his claims any more if Donald Trump Jr. presented it to him than if his campaign staff had. Trump was no more worried about presenting an honest assessment of the election results than he was with making any of the tens of thousands of other untrue claims he offered during his career in politics.