President Donald Trump's re-election campaign should have reached the beginning of the end on Saturday in the parking lot of Four Seasons Total Landscaping next to the Fantasy Island adult bookstore and a crematorium in north Philadelphia. Now several days, dozens of all-caps tweets and a couple rounds of golf later, America is stuck in a hellish limbo apropos of 2020.
Trump, newly obsessed with windows after suggesting during the second debate that they would shrink during a Joe Biden presidency, had complained about access to election "count rooms." Paper and "thick cardboard" had been used to cover windows of all sizes, while "tractors" had been parked to block doors, presumably leading to the "count rooms."
After some understandable confusion about the Four Seasons — reporters initially thought the event was being held at the downtown hotel of the same name — the news media gathered at the landscaping company, where Team Trump had dispatched Rudy Giuliani to allege, without evidence, widespread voter fraud.
Told midway through his rant that news networks had called the election for former Vice President Joe Biden — just as they had for Trump in 2016 — an agitated Giuliani spread his arms wide and looked to the heavens above. "Wow! All the networks," he shouted. "We have to forget about the law. Judges don't count."
Back in the "count rooms," Biden's vote totals kept climbing in most battleground states. As of this writing, he's on track to win 306 electoral votes — the same number Trump recorded in 2016. He's winning the popular vote by more than 5 million, or 50.8% — the greatest percentage for a challenger to an incumbent since Ronald Reagan in 1980.
Proving that judges do indeed count, one after another has tossed out lawsuits filed by the Trump campaign. And on Monday and Tuesday, the New York Times contacted officials in all 50 states — a mix of Democrats and Republicans — and none reported significant voting issues.
"There's a great human capacity for inventing things that aren't true about elections," Frank LaRose, a Republican who serves as Ohio's secretary of state, told the Times. "The conspiracy theories and rumors and all those things run rampant. For some reason, elections breed that type of mythology."
They certainly do. Conspiracy theories gained momentum this week, aided by Republicans too frightened to cross Trump as he fired Pentagon officials and set up fundraising arms for his 2024 campaign, or whatever comes next.
A new poll by YouGov and the Economist found that 86% of Trump voters said that Biden "did not legitimately win the election," while 73% said we'll "never know the real outcome" of the process.
Blame frayed postelection nerves for those numbers if you would like. Blame the distrusted mainstream media or the propaganda from Fox News and Breitbart. Blame the echo chamber created by social media. Or blame Trump and those who continue to enable him. But let's agree that none of this is normal, none of it is entertaining — even if Four Seasons Total Landscaping T-shirts become hot Christmas gifts — and all of it could prove dangerous.
George W. Bush's transition was delayed until a 5-to-4 U.S. Supreme Court decision in Bush v. Gore on Dec. 12, 2000 — a delay that the 9/11 Commission cited in explaining that administration's unpreparedness for terrorist attacks that followed.
National security is a critical concern once again — and Biden should already be receiving full intelligence briefings — but so is the damage being done to our democracy. Trump took advantage of a divided nation in 2016, and now he's ensuring that the divisions grow wider and that more norms are shattered as he reluctantly packs his bags.
The president has every right to pursue recounts and legal challenges. He can skip the traditional concession call if he chooses. But history will judge his conduct over the next 70 days, and selfishness in a crisis never ages well.
While Trump plots and stews, the coronavirus pandemic is worsening, no thanks to the bungled response of his administration and his own political efforts to minimize the threat and mock measures as sensible as wearing masks.
Americans, by a sizable margin, rejected that nonsense and made Trump a rarity among presidents — a one-termer who lost a re-election bid. He'll need to come to terms with losing at some point, whether he makes a traditional concession call or just splits town for Mar-a-Lago or Manhattan.
It did not have to end this way. For the good of the country, the administration could have started to wind down after the Saturday debacle in that dreary parking lot in Philadelphia. Instead, the Trump campaign may just be ramping up for 2024.
Scott Gillespie is editorial page editor of the Star Tribune. He can be reached at email@example.com.