What’s the real purpose of Trump’s baseless voter fraud claims?

Mike Bebernes
·Editor
·7 min read

“The 360” shows you diverse perspectives on the day’s top stories and debates.

What’s happening

All available evidence shows that the 2020 presidential election was conducted fairly. A group of international election observers found no signs of significant fraud. Top election officials from 49 states told the New York Times that there were no irregularities that affected the results. A group of top government and industry officials said the election was “the most secure in American history.”

Despite the total lack of substantive evidence that the election was illegitimate, President Trump continues to insist that he, not Joe Biden, is the winner of the race. In addition to a flurry of often provably false claims made by Trump and his allies on social media, the Trump campaign has filed a wave of lawsuits in key swing states.

This legal strategy has little chance to change the results of the election, most experts say. Some of the campaign’s claims were dismissed as frivolous. Others fell apart under scrutiny. Those that appear to merit consideration concern a small number of votes and would have little impact on the final tally. Even if every accusation made by the Trump campaign were to be proven true, which they aren’t, they wouldn’t affect nearly enough ballots to flip a single state, let alone the several states Trump needs to overcome Biden’s sizable Electoral College advantage.

A number of media reports suggest there’s significant doubt within the GOP that Trump will be able to stop Biden from becoming president, but few top Republicans have directly stated that view publicly. Some, like Sen. Lindsey Graham, have emphatically backed Trump’s false claim that the election was stolen. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and many other key GOP figures have taken a less definitive stance in which they have avoided discussing the merits of Trump’s allegations but have also declined to acknowledge Biden’s win.

If the fraud claims are untrue, and wouldn’t change the result of the election even if they were true, what do Trump and his fellow Republicans have to gain by refusing to accept that Biden will be the next president?

Why there’s debate

Trump’s actions are unsurprising, many argue, given his long history of rejecting outcomes that didn’t go his way and his frequently stated distaste for “losers.” But there could be something more strategic guiding his refusal to concede, others say. Casting doubt on Biden’s win allows Trump to position himself in a leading role in the Republican Party even after he’s left office. If Trump, or one of his children, is planning a future run for president, it makes tactical sense to give his supporters a reason to keep fighting on his behalf, some argue.

Those with a more cynical view say the legal challenges are largely an effort to inspire one last wave of fundraising while Trump is still in power. The Trump campaign has sent a flurry of emails asking supporters to donate to an “Official Election Defense Fund,” but the fine print of those messages shows that most of that money will go elsewhere.

Republicans, for their part, have every incentive to stand by Trump, political experts say. Without the backing of the millions of new voters Trump brought into the GOP fold, the party will have a hard time winning close elections — including the two upcoming Senate runoffs in Georgia that will decide who controls the Senate. Republicans also benefit from a certain swath of the public believing that Biden is an illegitimate president, since it could allow them to oppose his agenda more aggressively, some argue.

What’s next

Each state has its own timeline for resolving election disputes and certifying the results, a process that must be completed in all states by Dec. 8. The Electoral College will then vote on Dec. 14. Barring a shocking legal win from the Trump campaign, Biden will be inaugurated on Jan. 20.

Perspectives

The main goal is keeping the GOP fired up

“The target is Republican voters, and the goal is to light a fire of rage that they hope will burn for as long as Joe Biden is president.” — Paul Waldman, Washington Post

Trump and the GOP are seeking to undermine the Biden presidency

“There will likely be millions of Trump supporters who will forever believe this election was stolen. ... Biden will take office on Jan. 20. But the attempts to treat his presidency as illegitimate have already begun.” — Richard L. Hasen, Slate

Republicans can’t afford to lose the backing of Trump’s base

“The far right is far too numerous to be expelled from the Republican Party, and tearing open an irreparable rift with their base would almost never be worth it. The party’s mainstream flank has been following a strategy of quiet indulgence for decades.” — Jonathan Chait, New York

Trump’s ego won’t allow him to accept defeat

“Trump clearly does not have a legal strategy that will win him the election. The only point of him contesting the election is that his ego is too fragile to allow him to simply admit he lost.” — Philip Klein, Washington Examiner

The GOP needs Trump’s supporters to win the Georgia Senate runoffs

“There are two reasons why most Senate Republicans refuse to acknowledge Joe Biden as president-elect: Georgia and Georgia. Simply put, the party needs President Donald Trump’s help to clinch two runoff elections in Georgia on Jan. 5 that will determine the fate of the Senate GOP’s majority.” — Burgess Everett, Politico

Trump is setting the stage to run for president again in 2024

“The president and his closest allies have already begun to prepare the justification for why he ‘has’ to run again in 2024. The argument is two-fold: 1) The election is being taken from him and 2) Only Trump among prominent elected Republicans is willing to stand up and fight this tremendous injustice.” — Chris Cillizza, CNN

Refusing to accept defeat allows Trump to maintain power over his base

“For Trump ... the goal may not be to win the election so much as to cast a pall of uncertainty over the results, thereby encouraging the perception, however unfounded, that he is the victim of fraud and remains the rightful leader of his fervent base.” — Alana Abramson, Time

The fraud claims are mostly a fundraising gambit

“Normally, a losing candidate’s supporters emerge from an election despondent and highly unlikely to immediately dip back into their bank accounts for another political contribution. But dubious claims from the president and his team that they were cheated out of a victory have — Trump and his supporters hope — provided an opportunity for another financial gush before the 2020 election cycle concludes.” — Lachlan Markay, Daily Beast

Casting doubt on the results creates room for the GOP to challenge future elections

“The real goal of this flurry of lawsuits seems to be to undermine people’s faith in the integrity of the election process.” — Joshua A. Douglas, Philadelphia Inquirer

Trump has the right to exhaust every legal option, even if they’re long shots

“There’s no law or constitutional provision that requires magnanimity in the chief executive. Trump and his administration are allowed to object and deflect. If Trump never conceded, never eased the transition of power, never attended his successor’s inauguration, never said President-Elect Joe Biden was legitimately elected, he would still be within his rights.” — Chris Stirewalt, Fox News

Trump is making a sincere attempt to steal the election

“Joe Biden has won the presidency. But the current president of the United States, Donald Trump, is attempting a coup in plain sight.” — Ezra Klein, Vox

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