President Donald Trump is testing how far he can go in using the trappings of presidential power to undermine confidence in this week’s election against Joe Biden, as the Democrat gained ground in tight contests in some key battleground states.
With his pathway to re-election appearing to shrink, Trump on Thursday advanced unsupported accusations of voter fraud to falsely argue that his rival was trying to seize power. It amounted to an extraordinary effort by a sitting American president to sow doubt about the democratic process.
“This is a case when they are trying to steal an election, they are trying to rig an election,” Trump said from the podium of the White House briefing room.
The president’s remarks deepened a sense of anxiety in the U.S. as Americans enter their third full day after the election without knowing who would serve as president for the next four years. His statements also prompted a rebuke from some Republicans, particularly those looking to steer the party in a different direction in a post-Trump era.
Neither candidate has reached the 270 Electoral College votes needed to win the White House. But Biden eclipsed Trump in Wisconsin and Michigan, two crucial Midwestern battleground states, overtook the president in Georgia and was inching closer to doing the same in Pennsylvania, where votes were still be counted.
It was unclear when a national winner would be determined after a long, bitter campaign dominated by the coronavirus and its effects on Americans and the national economy. The U.S. on Wednesday set another record for daily confirmed cases as several states posted all-time highs. The pandemic has killed more than 233,000 people in the United States.
Biden spent Thursday trying to ease tensions and project a more traditional image of presidential leadership. After participating in a coronavirus briefing, he declared that “each ballot must be counted.”
“I ask everyone to stay calm. The process is working,” Biden said. “It is the will of the voters. No one, not anyone else who chooses the president of the United States of America.”
Biden’s victories in the upper Midwest put him in a strong position, but Trump showed no sign of giving up. He was back on Twitter around 2:30 a.m. Friday, insisting the “U.S. Supreme Court should decide!”
It could take several more days for the vote count to conclude and a clear winner to emerge. With millions of ballots yet to be tabulated, Biden already had received more than 73 million votes, the most in history.
Trump’s erroneous claims about the integrity of the election challenged Republicans now faced with the choice of whether to break with a president who, though his grip on his office grew tenuous, commanded sky-high approval ratings from rank-and-file members of the GOP.