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Biden Underperforms and Trump Stokes Chaos by Claiming False Victory

Trump has declared victory and falsely accused Democrats of fraud even as millions of ballots continue to be counted.

President Trump has prematurely declared victory and falsely accused Democrats of “major fraud,” even as millions of ballots continue to be counted across the United States amid an unprecedented wave of mail-in ballots widely believed to favor Democratic challenger Joe Biden. The two campaigns appear neck and neck in several battleground states key to winning the White House, but early results suggest Democrats performed worse than they had hoped, setting up a potential legal fight over uncounted ballots reminiscent of the 2000 election. We spend the hour discussing the results and what comes next, with Ben Jealous, president of People for the American Way and former head of the NAACP; Briahna Joy Gray, formerly the national press secretary for the 2020 Bernie Sanders campaign, and co-host of the “Bad Faith” podcast; and The Nation’s John Nichols in the battleground state of Wisconsin. “The tragedy of this election, regardless of what the outcome ends up being, is that it was ever this close at all,” says Gray. “The crime here is that the vote is this close.”


This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: This is Democracy Now!,, The Quarantine Report. I’m Amy Goodman in New York. My co-host Juan González at his home in New Brunswick, New Jersey.

The presidential race between Donald Trump and Joe Biden remains too close to call, with millions of ballots still to be counted in Michigan, Wisconsin, Pennsylvania, North Carolina, Georgia, Nevada and other states. Earlier this morning, at around 2:20 a.m. Eastern, President Trump prematurely and falsely claimed victory.

PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: This is a major fraud on our nation. We want the law to be used in a proper manner. So we’ll be going to the U.S. Supreme Court. We want all voting to stop. We don’t want them to find any ballots at 4:00 in the morning and add them to the list, OK? It’s a very sad — it’s a very sad moment. To me, this is a very sad moment. And we will win this. And as far as I’m concerned, we already have won it.

AMY GOODMAN: Despite the president’s charge, no evidence of fraud has emerged in any state. Earlier in the evening, about two hours before, Joe Biden said all votes should be counted.

JOE BIDEN: I’m here to tell you tonight we believe we’re on track to win this election. We knew, because of the unprecedented early vote and the mail-in vote, that it’s going to take a while. We’re going to have to be patient, until the hard work of tallying the votes is finished. And it ain’t over ’til every vote is counted, every ballot is counted.

AMY GOODMAN: Across the country, over 101 million people cast early votes, either in person or by mail, shattering all previous records. Many of those votes have not yet been counted in some states.

At the time of broadcast, Biden is leading by small margins in Wisconsin and Nevada. In Michigan, Trump is leading by just 13,000 votes. Trump has a large lead in Pennsylvania, but many votes from Philadelphia have not yet been counted, as well as surrounding areas throughout the state. Trump is also leading in Georgia and North Carolina, but both states remain too close to call.

We begin our show with Ben Jealous, president of People for the American Way, former president of the NAACP. His op-ed was published in USA Today. It’s headlined “Election chaos: keep calm, keep counting, and get to work.”

And we’re joined by Briahna Joy Gray, former national press secretary for Bernie Sanders 2020. She’s the co-host of the Bad Faith podcast and contributing editor to Current Affairs. She tweeted through the night, so we were fortunate to be able to talk to her today, because she tweeted right through this morning.

Ben Jealous, we’re beginning with you. “Election chaos: keep calm, keep counting, and get to work.” Respond to what President Trump says. He declared victory and called the elections a “fraud.”

BEN JEALOUS: I mean, Trump is a fraud. Let’s be clear here: We have reason to be very, very hopeful. Joe has won every single state that was won in 2016 by Ms. Clinton. He has also won Nebraska. He’s won Arizona. And there’s huge buckets of votes to be counted in urban areas — Pittsburgh, Philly, Milwaukee, Detroit, Atlanta. It’s not just that there’s votes that are left to be counted in these states. A lot of the little areas have come in, but the big urban areas, there’s huge buckets of votes to be counted.

So, Trump did what we expected him to do, which was to try to perpetrate this fraud on the people of our country that he had won when he has not. And I would say to my fellow Dems and folks who voted against Trump, folks who voted for Biden, just keep calm. We’ve got this. We’ve always known that we would have to wait for every vote to be counted. We’re just going to have to keep calm and count every vote.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, let’s talk about one of the first states that was called last night, and that was Florida. Now, we know that many thousands, if not over a million, votes — this is before the election, well before, when you talk about voter suppression, who got to vote and who didn’t initially. If you can talk about what you see happened in Florida, and particularly talk about the Latinx vote? It definitely didn’t come out for Biden and Harris in the way the Democrats had predicted.

BEN JEALOUS: When you dig into what’s going on with the Latinx vote in Florida, you’ve got to acknowledge a couple of things. One is that Donald Trump heavily outspent Joe Biden in advertising on Spanish-language media targeting Latinx swing voters all across the country. Last time I checked, it was 10 to one. At People For, one of the things that we tried to do was to make up for that gap. And we found ourselves scrambling, trying to get dollars for, for instance, even statewide radio in Florida. So there was just a failure over the summer to really court Latinx voters, especially those who speak Spanish as their main language.

The second problem was, frankly, one of relationship. If you talk to folks in the Venezuelan community, which is critical to winning South Florida, where Joe did not perform as well as he did throughout the state, it’s kind of insane, because Trump and Pence, from a policy perspective, have great antipathy for what that community wants, and yet the leaders will say, “But we know them. You know, Pence made dozens of trips down here. Democrats just made a few at that point.” And so, you know, you’ve got to kind of give it to Trump that, from a marketing perspective, they’ve done a very good job of marketing themselves to Latinx voters in southern Florida, despite the fact that they have Latinx children in cages on the border and, quite frankly, their policy interests are not in line even with folks like in the Venezuelan community, you know, whose leaders were very supportive of them because they felt like they had a relationship.

AMY GOODMAN: I wanted to bring Briahna Joy Gray into this conversation, again, former national press secretary for Bernie Sanders. Talk about your response as you saw the way things were unfolding, what you predicted, what you’re seeing now. In a moment, we’re going to be speaking with Erika Andiola in Arizona. It may well be this Republican state was flipped. Fascinatingly, it was Fox that first called it, to the ire of President Trump. CNN has yet to call it. But you have Arizona, that looks like it has been won by Biden, but you have the very close races in Georgia, in North Carolina, in Michigan, in Florida, in Pennsylvania. I mean, could you imagine what would happen if there wasn’t a pandemic?

BRIAHNA JOY GRAY: Yeah, the tragedy of this election, regardless of what the outcome ends up being, is that it was ever this close at all. For months, for years, Democrats have accurately described Trump as a pox on the country, as someone who has undermined every norm, who has caused a great deal of hardship on specifically, historically marginalized communities, and someone who has done little, little at all, to stem off the worst effects of this global health pandemic, from a health perspective and from an economic perspective. And yet here we are.

And I think when you start to dig a little deeper, you see what’s going on. This was an election in which the Democratic Party was very clear to put neoliberalism on the ballot. Donald Trump — you know, Joe Biden was a candidate who bragged to his donors that nothing would fundamentally change. He ran, clearly, with the plan to marginalize the left and to be very clear about the fact that he didn’t feel like he needed to reach out and do that kind of outreach.

And specifically, he failed in the ways that Bernie Sanders really excelled when it came to Latino voters. And what you saw in Florida is not just that they were outspent, but that Donald Trump was up on the airwaves with Spanish-language ads a full month before Joe Biden got into the state. Choices were made about when to invest and to what degree. And those choices ignored, perhaps fatally ignored, the extent to which the Latino vote is not guaranteed, and it has to absolutely be earned by building a relationship of trust over time.

And when you look at Nevada, one of the reasons why Joe Biden has done much better in terms of the Latino vote there is because he got there earlier and spent more money in the state. And also, there’s some reporting out of The Intercept that he was helped there by the fact that marijuana legalization was on the ballot, and that might have turned out more voters.

So we’re seeing some arguable correlation between pushing progressive policies and, of course, investing in communities in states going toward Democrats. And I think that we need to really think critically about how successful this “nothing will fundamentally change” message ultimately will be for the Democratic Party in the long run.

AMY GOODMAN: Ben Jealous, your response?

BEN JEALOUS: Well, I think all of that was spot on. I think all of that was spot on. You know, our party has to, frankly, learn from the Trump campaign as far as we have to market to every single voter. The way that they went after young Black men, just trying to pull off 3, 4%, we should have gone after with the intention of getting 95%. The way that they went after the Latinx community, trying to get to 40%, we should have gone after, trying to get to 80%. We’ve got to stop taking this kind of machine boss approach where you’re just asking, “Are you winning a particular community?” And you’ve got to start seeing the people of this country as individuals, and you have to fight for every single one of their votes.

And so, I do believe that we’re going to win. It should not be this close. Right now we just got to keep calm, count every vote, push hard. And we have to push against the disinformation that is coming straight out of the White House and the mouth of the president of United States, who took to the television at 2 a.m. to lie to the American people.

AMY GOODMAN: And, Briahna, your response to what Trump said? I mean, secretaries of state, both Republican and Democrat, have repeatedly warned — they’re the ones in charge of state elections — have repeatedly warned that they have to be able to have time to vote — to count that vote. And yet President Trump, while he wants every vote counted in Arizona — right? — because right now Biden is ahead — Fox called it, CNN didn’t call it. Mark Kelly, the Democrat, has beaten the sitting senator, Martha McSally, in a special election. She had — that’s in Arizona. He wants every vote counted there, but in Pennsylvania, where he has repeatedly gone after absentee ballots, calling them fraudulent, he wants the voting stopped. And interestingly, he said this is going to go to the Supreme Court. Like, forget the other courts that lead up to the Supreme Court. He’s taking this — his suggestion was — to his court.

BRIAHNA JOY GRAY: Yeah. I mean, look, this was the game plan that a lot of very sensible folks warned about, right? Bernie Sanders predicted this almost word for word on the Late Night show earlier this week, right? And that’s part of why it’s so frustrating that this race was close to begin with, because as I also predicted on Bad Faith podcast, I said if this is a landslide, if Biden clearly wins and can declare victory and can claim victory on Tuesday or Wednesday morning, then we are in good shape. But if there’s any ambiguity here, we’re at real risk that Donald Trump will try to railroad through a result of his liking, because the reality is — and I think that Trump and the Republicans recognize — that they are a lot better at these kind of strategic fights. It’s not that they’re fair. It’s not that they’re legal. But Republicans are willing to scrape and fight for every advantage in a way that, as we just saw in the Amy Coney Barrett debacle, Democrats simply are not. And in a situation like this where there is an ability to create ambiguity, even if there isn’t in fact ambiguity, it’s hard for me to imagine the steps that Democrats will take to prevent this from, yes, going to a favorable court for Donald Trump and for this being a redux of the year 2000 and the 2000 election, after which, I would like to point out, electoral reforms were not put into place.

AMY GOODMAN: So, let’s talk, Ben Jealous, about the position of Biden. And as you said, this race is way too early to call. And I want to talk about the kind of organizing that you have been doing. If President Trump refuses to accept the counting of the ballots — it’s been amazing over the last few days to see that wall go up around the White House. First it was — you know, first it was wire, and then it was a wall, preparing, not clear exactly, for what. And I should say yesterday he had hundreds of people in the White House starting at 7:00 in the evening, again, the issue of the White House becoming a super hot spot, a superspreading event in itself. And they stayed until well after 2:00 in the morning, when he gave his speech to cheers as he talked about his victory and the fraudulent election.

But I wanted to go to the issues of Joe Biden — you also — you ran for governor of Maryland — and the kinds of issues that you represented and the kind of issues that Biden really stayed away from. That’s the issue of Medicare for All. Joe Biden said he would veto it if it came to his desk, if he was president. I mean, if it came to his desk, that would mean that Republicans and Democrats would have had to have endorsed it. The issue of a Green New Deal, clear that he was not endorsing a Green New Deal, and also that whole issue of fracking, that he once said he was against and then said — once said he was against and then said he was for. But do you think, rather than adopting a progressive position that would mobilize voters — it’s not that progressives don’t have somewhere else to go, especially when it comes to Trump. They can just decide not to vote.

BEN JEALOUS: You know, Joe Biden played his playbook. It looks like it’s going to win the presidency for him. With that said, the playbook of the party has to shift. The party has to run towards the people of the country, has to run towards its base. Kamala, quite frankly, has much more of that in her. I’ve known her for years. And that has to be the future of the party, is to actually fight for every single vote, to be clear to working-class men of all colors that we have a vision for your economic prosperity, because right now you’re seeing Trump get more men of every color than he should. And it’s a real appeal to patriarchy. And you’ve got to replace that, frankly, with a strategy for how you’re actually going to shore up people economically, because when they’re falling for the floor, they’ll grasp for anything, including outmoded ways of being.

We have to really fight for every Latinx vote. We’ve got to fight for every Black vote. We’ve got to fight for every young person’s vote. And that means that we have to be a party that is unabashed about pushing for a vision that actually saves the planet, provides healthcare for everybody and, again, provides a pathway to economic success for everyone in the country. We’re supposed to be the party of FDR.

Now, I’m hopeful. I am hopeful that Joe Biden can be that president, even if he wasn’t that candidate. What that’s going to require is for us as a movement to push him to his better angels. And so, we’re going to count every vote. We’re going to be optimistic in this moment. Joe Biden will win. And then we will push him as hard — you know, as FDR said himself, “I agree with what you say. Go make me do it.” We’re going to have to go make Joe do a bunch of things that our children, born and yet unborn, need us to do in order to secure a better future for this country and our planet.

AMY GOODMAN: I want to bring in another guest. And I also want to say Juan González was co-hosting today, but because we are living in these pandemic times, we are socially distanced, and he’s having a problem with his computer. But I wanted to bring in John Nichols, who is currently in Madison, Wisconsin. The presidential race between Donald Trump and Joe Biden remains too close to call, as we’ve said throughout this show, where we are broadcasting this in the morning of the day after the election, ballots still being counted in Michigan, in Wisconsin, in Pennsylvania, North Carolina, Georgia and Nevada and other states. Biden is leading in Wisconsin by just over 20,000 votes, as we broadcast, with an estimated 97% of votes reported. In Michigan, Trump is leading narrowly by 24,000 votes, but the heavily Democratic city of Detroit is expected to take until, well, sometime tonight, possibly, to complete its count of absentee ballots. And then you’ve got Grand Rapids and other places. Their ballots have not fully been counted. But we’re going now to Wisconsin, where we’re joined by John Nichols. He’s The Nation magazine’s national affairs correspondent and host of the podcast Next Left. His most recent book, The Fight for the Soul of the Democratic Party.

John, talk about what’s happening in Wisconsin right now. Before we were speaking, the margin was much tighter. It’s increased a bit to 20,000, with Joe Biden ahead. But talk about what’s been counted, what hasn’t, and what your assessment is of what’s happening in Wisconsin.

JOHN NICHOLS: Well, thanks for having me on, Amy.

And what a night it has been. I can tell you that as I look around Wisconsin — and I just got off the phone with some key players around the state and party folks and local officials, who all were up through the night — it does look — and again, we’ll see what scattering may be out there — it looks like Joe Biden has a sufficient lead to win Wisconsin. I know that 21,000 votes seems like a very small margin, but you should understand that it is almost twice what John Kerry won the state by in 2004 and almost four times what Al Gore won the state by in 2000. And so, the fact of the matter is, Wisconsin is [inaudible] battleground state. And when I look around the state right now, it appears that the key places have reported. And what happened [inaudible] night was that, early on, Trump had a quite substantial lead. And in many ways, the reporting on that went to the heart of the problem with how media covers election night, because it was reporting from more rural areas and from more suburban areas. It takes longer to count a lot of votes in a big city. And so, Milwaukee took ’til around 4 a.m. When [inaudible] came in, it —

AMY GOODMAN: John, we’re losing you a little bit. Your Skype is going in and out, so if you could repeat what you just said about Milwaukee?

JOHN NICHOLS: Sure. I apologize. When Milwaukee came in, it provided —

AMY GOODMAN: We may just have to go to audio for you, but go — we’re going to go to break. We’re going to try to fix this, even if we just get you on audio, because this is absolutely critical, what’s happening in Wisconsin. John Nichols, The Nation’s national affairs correspondent, host of the podcast Next Left. We’re also talking to Ben Jealous, who’s now head of People for the American Way and has a USA Today op-ed, an editorial, “Election chaos: keep calm, keep counting, and get to work,” as well as Briahna Joy Gray, former national press secretary for Bernie Sanders 2020. Stay with us.

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