President Trump concluded a bullying and bellicose debate performance by lying repeatedly about mail-in votes as he once again refused to promise to accept a possible election loss.
“I hope it’s going to be a fair election. If it's fair, I am 100% on board. But if I see tens of thousands of ballots being manipulated, I can't go along with that… it means you have a fraudulent election,” he said. “They cheat.”
There’s overwhelming evidence and widespread agreement from voting experts that widespread voting fraud is extremely rare. But Trump has spent months attacking the process — while his lawyers fight in the courts to make sure that more mail voters will be disenfranchised by fighting any rule changes that would make their votes count.
Because mail votes take longer to count, if the election is close it may be a few days or even weeks before the result of the election is clear. Trump sought to argue that it means the election results can’t be trusted.
“As far as the ballots are concerned, it’s a disaster,” Trump continued. “We might not know for months, because these ballots are going to be all over.”
The president wasn’t done with claims about isolated incidents of voting problems that ranged from minor fraud cases to honest errors by local officials.
“They’re sending millions of ballots all over the country, there’s fraud, they found them in creeks,” Trump said about mail voting.
When asked by debate moderator Chris Wallace if he’d commit to not declaring victory until the election was independently certified, “urge your supporters to stay calm” and “not engage in any civil unrest” as the votes were counted,” Trump replied, "I am urging my supporters to go into the polls and watch very carefully, because that's what has to happen.”
He argued that local Pennsylvania officials intentionally threw out military ballots marked for him, when it turns out it was likely an error by some brand-new temp workers who screwed up and opened a handful of ballots — which led Justice Department officials to swoop in, in a move legal experts decried as dangerous politicization.
“They have mailmen, did you see what’s going on? Take a look at West Virginia, mailmen selling the ballots. They’re being sold, they’re being dumped in rivers. This is a horrible thing for the country. This is not going to end well,” he said.
That West Virginia case featured a grand total of eight ballots, and a mailman who was seemingly trying to help the GOP. Importantly, he was caught, charged and pled guilty.
“Bad things happen in Philadelphia,” he later claimed, rehashing another lie he’s repeatedly made about poll watchers and corruption in the Democratic city.
Biden pushed back, dismissing Trump’s threats.
“This is all about trying to dissuade people from voting, because he's trying to scare people into thinking that it's not gonna be legitimate. Show up and vote. You will determine the outcome of this election, Vote, vote, vote,” Biden said. “He cannot stop you from being able to determine the outcome of this election.”
If Biden wins comfortably, that’s true. But a close election could lead to a nasty legal fight — one that Trump made clear he’d relish.
And Trump said he would be looking to the Supreme Court, which could have a six to three conservative balance if his nominee is confirmed before the election, to rule in his favor on which mail ballots should count.
“I think I’m counting on them to look at the ballots, definitely. I hope we don't need them in terms of the election itself, but for the ballots I think so, because what's happening is incredible,” Trump said when asked about the Supreme Court.
Trump’s baseless attacks on mail voting came after he once again refused to condemn white supremacists and far-right violent extremists — and made a statement that some of them read as a tacit call to arms. “Stand back, and stand by,” he said to the far-right Proud Boy militiamen, saying that “somebody's gotta do something about antifa and the left.”
The debate was, simply, a mess by design. Trump spent 90 minutes interrupting Biden and bullying moderator Chris Wallace, with an aim at seemingly asserting his dominance and muddying the debate into an unintelligible mess.
Biden sought to play by the rules, but he wasn’t above name-calling, at different points telling trump to “shut up” and “shush” and calling him a “clown” as he continued to interrupt. Wallace was bulldozed for much of the debate, though the end was slightly less of a total mess after he scolded both candidates then told Trump “Frankly, you've been doing more interrupting.”
And its conclusion wasn’t any more reassuring.