In a speech remarkable for its twisting of reality more than a month after the November 3 election, the outgoing president launched into another litany of allegations that the polls won handily by Democrat Joe Biden were rigged.
The crowd in Valdosta, Georgia for what was nominally a rally in support of two Republican Senate candidates facing a hugely consequential runoff election roared in support, at one point chanting “fight for Trump.”
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) 1607222554000
Even with Covid-19 cases surging nationwide, there were few masks in the crowd and many ignored social-distancing rules.
In a nearly two-hour speech Trump, 74, declared he would not concede, at times sticking to his script but regularly going off-the-cuff for his more incendiary claims.
“We’re winning this election,” Trump told the rally, which was similar to his many gatherings prior to the election, down to the soaring country song “God Bless the USA” played as he took the stage with First Lady Melania Trump.
“It’s rigged. It’s a fixed deal.”
It was yet another example of Trump breaking democratic norms, engaging in conspiracy-mongering and presenting falsehoods in ways unprecedented in US history.
His stance has raised the question of how he will react when Biden’s January 20 swearing-in date arrives.
“The swing states that we’re all fighting over now, I won them all by a lot,” Trump said, falsely.
“And I have to say, if I lost, I’d be a very gracious loser. If I lost, I would say, I lost, and I’d go to Florida and I’d take it easy and I’d go around and I’d say I did a good job. But you can’t ever accept when they steal and rig and rob.”
Trump has barely left the White House since Biden was projected winner of the election on November 7, though he has made a number of trips to his nearby golf course.
There had been concerns from some Republicans over whether Trump’s continuing claims of fraud would drive down voter turnout among Republicans in the upcoming election, making his appearance in Georgia somewhat of a gamble.
The runoff election will decide which party controls the US Senate, and Trump in his speech continued his fear-mongering about rival Democrats.
“The voters of Georgia will determine which party runs every committee, writes every piece of legislation, controls every single taxpayer dollar,” he said.
“Very simply, you will decide whether your children will grow up in a socialist country or whether they will grow up in a free country.”
If Democratic challengers Raphael Warnock and Jon Ossoff defeat Republican senators Kelly Loeffler and David Perdue, the Senate will be evenly divided at 50-50, meaning Democratic Vice President Kamala Harris would cast any deciding votes, as the Constitution dictates.
The race has drawn enormous attention. One measure of the intense interest: With donations pouring in from across the country, the candidates have already spent more than $315 million, the AdImpact website reported, an astounding figure for senatorial races.
And figures as prominent as ex-president Barack Obama, Vice President Mike Pence and now Trump himself have scrambled to boost voter turnout.
But while Trump offered words of praise for the two Republicans and invited them on stage for brief comments on Saturday, he spent much of the time arguing that he had won the election.
Despite an overwhelming series of setbacks in the courts, the president and his lawyers have advanced wild conspiracy theories (one involving the late Venezuelan president Hugo Chavez) to explain Biden’s victory.
Biden won Georgia by just under 12,000 votes.
That result, while narrow, has been confirmed by subsequent recounts, making all the more surprising a phone call Saturday from Trump to Georgia Governor Brian Kemp reportedly urging him to press state legislators to overturn the result.
The Washington Post said Kemp, once a devoted Trump ally, refused the entreaty.
Loeffler and Perdue have moved cautiously, urging Georgians to vote without directly challenging Trump’s complaints.
But Trump has not made things easier for Georgia Republicans, angrily attacking officials in his own party over his loss there, starting with Kemp.
He has denounced Republican secretary of state Brad Raffensperger as an “enemy of the people.”
But on Saturday night, there were flashes where it seemed Trump may be beginning to accept what lies ahead.
At one point, he said half-jokingly: “A friend of mine said, ‘Oh don’t worry about it sir, you’re way up in the polls, you’ll win in 2024.’ I said, ‘I don’t want to wait until 2024. I want to go back three weeks.'”