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Trump supporters vow to “stop the steal.” But what’s their endgame?
A week ago Saturday, as the news was announced that Joe Biden had been declared President-elect of the United States, tens of thousands of his supporters streamed onto the streets of Washington, D.C. to celebrate his victory.
This Saturday, President Donald Trump’s supporters took to the same streets to reject those very same results, vowing to “stop the steal” and prove that Trump had won a second term.
Gone were the champagne bottles, Biden-Harris masks, and jubilation of a week before; in their place were MAGA hats, a sea of Trump flags, and a feeling of growing desperation.
“Those are fake results,” Vera Peterson, a barista from Michigan, told me when I pushed back on her assertion that Trump had “easily” won re-election.
Then where are the real results, I asked?
“Being discovered right now,” she promised, without elaborating further.
Many of the Trump supporters I interviewed at the “Million MAGA March” struggled to offer any concrete examples of the fraud they claimed had taken place in the election. But among those with specific allegations, a few theories — all widely disproven — did come up repeatedly.
“These Dominion machines are hacked and they switched votes,” one woman told me. (She declined to identify herself; “I don’t trust you,” she said when I asked for her name. “You don’t know what’s going on.”)
“They had dead people on voter rolls that actually voted,” said Laura Arnold of San Diego, California.
“We saw the numbers change. We saw five states stop counting at the same time. And then all of a sudden, we see all of these add-ons where Biden’s numbers went up and Trump’s didn’t move,” said Mary Beth Style, a retiree from Centerville, Virginia. “That’s suspicious.”
These claims have all been debunked: The Dominion machine did not switch any votes. There is no evidence that a wave of deceased voters cast ballots. And no states stopped counting overnight, despite what many Trump supporters insisted to me, or began awarding votes only to Biden. (Vote totals trended towards the Democrat as mail-in votes began to be counted in the morning after Election Day, as many experts had predicted they would.)
Sometimes I would point out these fact-checks when confronted with claims from the “Million MAGA” marchers that I interviewed; other times, I simply nodded quizzically and let my recorder run. The allegations themselves weren’t what I was interested in pursuing; I had heard most of them before and knew the claims, and the truth behind them, were already abundant online.
Instead, I was interested in probing into something that wasn’t as widely available: I wanted to know their endgame. It had been a full seven days since every major media organization had agreed in unison that Joe Biden had ousted Donald Trump. That, of course, would not be enough for supporters of a president who had spent years demonizing and attacking the “fake news media.” So, I wanted to know: what would be?
Were they waiting for the states to certify Biden’s victories, as they will do in the next few weeks? Were they waiting for the Electoral College to meet on December 14, when Biden’s 306 electors will cast their votes? Were they waiting for January 6, when outgoing Vice president Mike Pence will have to formally declare Biden’s election in a joint session of Congress?
As we made our way to the Supreme Court building — the procession’s final destination — you could begin to see the makings of the platform outside the Capitol where Biden will be sworn in on January 20, already being constructed. Is that when Trump’s faithful would accept that a new president had been chosen?
Most of the Trump supporters I interviewed insisted that they would be fine accepting a Biden victory if that happened, just so long as it had been a legitimate one. (“If Joe Biden wins, he’s president, and in four more years, Trump will be back for his second term,” Rob Christoffel of Fort Wayne, Indiana, told me.) But with every indication pointing to Biden emerging victorious, who would they trust to make that determination?
Speaker after speaker, from MyPillow CEO Mike Lindell to InfoWars conspiracy theorist Alex Jones, promised the marchers on Saturday that votes would be found to allow Trump to pull ahead. (Trump himself has also fanned the flames of this belief; “I WON THE ELECTION!” he falsely tweeted on Sunday.)
But it is hard to “stop the steal” without providing any evidence a “steal” has taken place. So what happens when this scenario the president and his supporters are preparing for collides with the imminent reality of Biden’s ascension, once all of Trump’s dwindling legal avenues have soon been exhausted?
“It goes to the Supreme Court,” Sue Loyd, a 57-year-old “jill of all trades” from Buffalo, Wyoming, explained to me, adding a new institution into the mix. “If the Supreme Court doesn’t work, it goes before Congress. And each Congress member of each state votes. That means that the public vote, the electoral vote, will totally go away and it will be, at the end, Congress’ decision.”
“And thank God there are more Republicans than Democrats,” referring to state delegations in Congress.
That isn’t quite how it works: the Supreme Court only weighs in if specific lawsuits come before them, which none have so far. And the House is only able to vote if neither candidate receives 270 electoral votes, which isn’t expected to occur. But I was intrigued by the supposed endgame Loyd was laying out: so the actual goal was not for a full count of the November 3 vote, I asked, but for the popular will to be overturned entirely?
“No. I’m just hoping — I just know that this was hijacked.”
A few steps away, Arnold offered an — equally fantastical — ending of her own. “There has to be a re-vote,” she insisted, claiming that there had just been too much fraud in the first election to allow it to be accepted.
“You can’t tell me Biden brought in more votes than Obama,” she continued, flatly refusing to believe that the soon-to-be 46th president had outperformed the 44th. “If Biden wins fair and legally, then he’s our president,” Arnold assured me, but it was unclear — even to her — how she could be convinced that he had done so.
“I don’t know what’s going to satisfy us,” she said after pausing to consider it. “Because it’s all murky waters now.”
Biotechnology firm Moderna announced this morning that preliminary data showed its coronavirus vaccine to be 94.5% effective. The company is conducting a 30,000-person trial; half of the participants received two doses of the vaccine, while the other half received a placebo. Of the 95 cases of COVID-19 recorded among the participants, 90 were from the placebo group, a strong suggestion that the treatment is effective.
- Moderna is the second company to announce early success with its vaccine candidate. Pfizer said last week that its COVID-19 vaccine “was found to be more than 90% effective.” Dr. Anthony Fauci told CNN that a vaccine could be widely available to Americans by April.
- The promising vaccine news comes as coronavirus infections are spiking across the United States: more than 1 million new cases were reported in the U.S. in the past six days, as total cases in the country climbed above 11 million. Worldwide, there have been nearly 54.5 million cases of the virus and 1.3 million deaths.
— The Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program was restored on Saturday by a federal judge, who ruled that acting Homeland Security Secretary Chad Wolf’s changes to the program were invalid because Wolf wasn’t properly appointed to his position.
— Dr. Fauci and other public health officials are urging the Trump administration to allow them to begin working with Biden’s transition team.
— President Trump’s refusal to concede is creating a complicated dynamic for Georgia Sens. Kelly Loeffler and David Perdue, as they campaign in a pair of January runoffs that will determine control of the Senate.
All times Eastern.
President Donald Trump will have lunch with Vice President Mike Pence at 12:30 p.m.
- Pence will lead a video teleconference with governors on COVID-19 response at 2 p.m. He will attend a dignified transfer at Dover Air Force Base at 5:05 p.m.
President-elect Joe Biden and Vice President-elect Kamala Harris will deliver remarks on the economy at 1:45 p.m. in Wilmington, Delaware. Before the speech, they will receive a briefing from the transition team’s economic advisers.
The Senate will convene at 3 p.m. The chamber will vote at 5:30 p.m. to advance the nomination of Mississippi Solicitor General Kristi Haskins Johnson to be a U.S. District Judge for the Southern District of Mississippi.
The House will convene at 2 p.m. The chamber will vote on eight pieces of legislation:
- H.R. 1964, the Lumbee Tribe of North Carolina Recognition Act
- H.R. 6237, the Proper and Reimbursed Care for Native Veterans Act
- S. 327, the Wounded Veterans Recreation Act
- S. 1069, the Digital Coast Act
- S. 910, the National Sea Grant College Program Amendments Act
- S. 3587, the Department of Veterans Affairs Website Accessibility Act
- S. 900, an act to designate the community-based outpatient clinic of the Department of Veterans Affairs in Bozeman, Montana, as the “Travis W. Atkins Department of Veterans Affairs Clinic”
- S. 3147, the Improving Safety and Security for Veterans Act
The Supreme Court will release orders from their Friday conference at 9:30 a.m.
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