The 2020 presidential election is coming down to the wire, and both candidates have potential paths to victory. But President Donald Trump’s campaign is already looking ahead to the legal battles it’s pledged to wage against states that it baselessly accused of “stealing” the election for Biden. And it’s building up a war chest to finance the effort.
Trump’s 2020 campaign was hamstrung by cash shortages and allegations of financial mismanagement. The team there already took steps in the days before the election to keep contributions rolling through mid-December. Its post-election day cash blitz could provide additional funding to continue litigating the election in court.
From midnight on Tuesday to about 9:30 a.m. on Wednesday, the Trump campaign and its Republican National Committee joint fundraising account have blasted out nine emails to their supporters asking them to chip in additional funds. “The results are rolling in and we’re well on our way to WINNING BIG,” declared one email sent under Vice President Mike Pence’s name on Wednesday morning. “But, it’s only a matter of time before the Democrats try to steal the Election and manipulate the results... We need your help to ensure we have the proper resources to protect the results.”
On Wednesday morning, the campaign sent out text message appeals as well claiming “Dems & Fake News want to STEAL this Election!” and promising a “1000%” match for donations.
The claims of a stolen election are entirely divorced from reality, and far from being on their way to “winning big,” the Trump campaign’s best outcome would be a very narrow victory over former Vice President Joe Biden.
But the Trump campaign appears to be looking ahead to potential legal battles over mail-in votes in key swing states. And it’s asking supporters to finance those efforts with the same sort of language that Trump himself has used all year to try to preemptively cast doubt on the legitimacy of the election.
“Just like I predicted from the start,” Trump declared in a fundraising email sent on Wednesday morning, “mail-in ballots are leading to CHAOS like you've never seen, plain and simple! The Radical Left is going to do whatever it takes to try and rip a TRUMP-PENCE VICTORY away from you, and that’s why I’m coming to you now.”
In reality, voting on Tuesday was largely orderly. And even with the combination of record-high voter participation, an unprecedented volume of mail-in ballots, restrictions in many states on how quickly those ballots could be counted, and, lurking behind it all, the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, most states have reported election results at a pace that is on par with prior elections.
Trump has nonetheless threatened to go to court to combat what he claims are widespread voting irregularities, and his top campaign aides signaled on Wednesday that they plan to pursue those allegations in a more formal way.
“Our legal teams are in place,” senior campaign adviser Jason Miller told reporters in a call on Wednesday. He and campaign manager Bill Stepien expressed confidence in Trump’s chances in the few remaining states—and even in Arizona, where the Associated Press has predicted a Biden win. But they also used language that appeared to portend their legal strategy.
“If we count all legally cast ballots, we believe that the president will win,” Stepien said. He and Miller repeatedly used that phrasing—"legally cast ballots”—suggesting the campaign will attempt to invalidate mail-in ballots received after polls closed (the Supreme Court ruled that Pennsylvania was required to accept and count such votes).
The Biden campaign, in a conference call around the same time, called the legal threats “laughably without merit.” The election, they said, was a “foregone conclusion” as they predicted that the former vice president was on a clear trajectory to win 270 Electoral College votes.
"We're going to win the election. We've won the election. And we're going to defend that election," said Biden campaign adviser Bob Bauer.
Miller also signaled that the campaign will seek to portray the election in Nevada, a close state where Biden is narrowly favored, as potentially tainted by fraud. “Nevada’s a state that is very rife with corruption,” he told reporters. “We’re very concerned with some of the efforts, the moves that were made there.”
Both Miller and Stepien indicated that, as expected, the Trump campaign will pursue a recount in Wisconsin if the margin there remains as narrow as it is. Under state law, candidates can force recounts if elections are decided by less than 1 percent of the vote.
On Tuesday evening, as it became evident that Wisconsin would be one of a few states that could potentially decide the election, former Gov. Scott Walker indicated that Republicans are already eyeing the possibility. He tweeted out a link to the state’s recount law. By Wednesday morning, however, Walker was throwing cold water on the notion that a recount would be able to flip Trump’s deficit.