Bad idea, but not for the reasons that the inevitable media reaction will suppose. Axios’ Jonathan Swan usually has his finger on the pulse of this White House, and right now the beat’s telling him that Donald Trump plans to declare victory tomorrow night — if in-person vote counts in key states have him in the lead. Tens of millions of mail-in ballots will remain to be counted at that point, however:
President Trump has told confidants he’ll declare victory on Tuesday night if it looks like he’s “ahead,” according to three sources familiar with his private comments. That’s even if the Electoral College outcome still hinges on large numbers of uncounted votes in key states like Pennsylvania. …
Behind the scenes: Trump has privately talked through this scenario in some detail in the last few weeks, describing plans to walk up to a podium on election night and declare he has won.
For this to happen, his allies expect he would need to either win or have commanding leads in Ohio, Florida, North Carolina, Texas, Iowa, Arizona and Georgia.
This is a bad idea because it’s an entirely meaningless gesture. Even if Biden conceded, he could still win the race if the final certified results showed him with 270 or more Electoral College votes. Declarations of victory and concessions have no legal weight, although concessions do carry a political and moral weight.
Even that can be overstated, though. Who remembers when Al Gore conceded and then un-conceded? That didn’t have any impact on the trajectory of the race, nor on the final settlement of the vote count. Gore ended up conceding again a few weeks later after the Supreme Court decided Bush v Gore. That didn’t stop Democrats from claiming that Bush stole the election, that he should be called “resident,” and so on for the following four years.
Say, doesn’t that sound … familiar?
Why not wait until we get a final preliminary vote count? Let’s just call it shaping the battlefield:
Why it matters: Trump’s team is preparing to falsely claim that mail-in ballots counted after Nov. 3 — a legitimate count expected to favor Democrats — are evidence of election fraud.
When this happens — I think we can dispense with the if scenario — the media will call Trump’s declaration undemocratic, autocratic, and probably a lot worse. Given the meaninglessness of it, that will mainly be hysteria. Let’s not forget that the federal government has nothing to do with counting ballots in the states, and perhaps even cheer the federalism on which that rests for an important protection against all of the above. Trump isn’t trying to resist being removed from office — he’s preparing for the kind of fight Democrats launched against him in 2016. It might be a bit paranoid to plot that fight out now, but as the old gag line goes, it ain’t paranoia if they’re really out to get you.
Both sides will call out the lawyers. In fact, both sides have already called out the lawyers, as the numerous challenges in court to ballot procedures shows. Republicans learned a hard lesson in Minnesota’s 2008-9 Senate recount at the hands of Democrats, or at least Trump did — fight early and fight to win.
So why is it a bad idea to declare victory prematurely? Mainly, it makes a candidate look like an idiot when he or she turns out to be wrong. It makes their allies and defenders look like idiots too, which is something many of them won’t easily forgive. Those problems get magnified when it happens at the presidential level, but that’s still the extent of the problem. Courts will settle matters relatively quickly, and it would be better to let the lawyers make the declarations while projecting a calm confidence and no more. But then again … that wouldn’t be Trump. He’s no George W. Bush, for better or worse.