America had two stories to tell itself about its presidential election on Thursday night (5 November) and into the early hours of Friday morning.
The first was that Joe Biden is inching his way closer to the 270 electoral college votes he needs to win the White House. At time of writing, Biden either needs to win any two of the group that is Arizona, North Carolina, Georgia, and Nevada or just win Pennsylvania (the Associated Press news agency, on which the New Statesman bases its calls, has already declared Arizona for Biden, but, though it has not retracted that call, Trump has reduced Biden’s lead in the state).
Over the course of the day and night on Thursday, Trump’s apparent lead in Georgia melted away to less than 2,000 votes, with several thousand still to come in from Democratic-leaning counties. Pennsylvania, where it appeared at first that Trump had a lead because in-person votes were counted first and Democrat supporters tended to vote by mail-in or early voting, is now expected to be Biden’s, based on where the yet-to-be-counted votes were cast.
Increasingly, it appears that it is likely, though not certain, that it is a question of when and not if the race is called for Biden; that the Democratic candidate will be inaugurated as president this January.
But the other story of Thursday night was that of Donald Trump. Earlier in the day, his adult son, Donald Trump Jr, lashed out at prospective Republican presidential candidates, implying in a tweet that if they wanted to run in 2024 they should stand up for his father, and accused the party of being “weak”. He also called for “total war” over the election results, which many understood to be a call to violence in an already tense political climate.
The president later spoke in the White House briefing room, raving about fraud, illegal votes and electoral rigging: “If you count the legal votes, I easily win. If you count the illegal votes, they can try to steal the election from us.” He did not provide evidence for any of this, however, and in fact was preparing many of these claims before election day.
His allies, on television, also suggested that Pennsylvania should enact a “do over”, and that those electors meant to represent their state’s choice in the Electoral College vote for Trump anyway.
More troublingly still, Trump-supporting demonstrators in Arizona, who were protesting to “stop the steal”, alleged that their ballots were not properly counted. This suggests that, even if the courts don’t buy a Trump claim that he was actually re-elected, his supporters already do.