Trump’s election attacks sow distrust and pose US security threat, experts warn

Refusal to accept Biden’s win and meritless lawsuits undermine trust in voting and pose immediate threat to safety of the US

Donald Trump’s campaign has unleashed a stream of lawsuits, none of which are expected to affect the outcome of the election.
Donald Trump’s campaign has unleashed a stream of lawsuits, none of which are expected to affect the outcome of the election. Photograph: Brendan Smialowski/AFP/Getty Images
Donald Trump’s campaign has unleashed a stream of lawsuits, none of which are expected to affect the outcome of the election. Photograph: Brendan Smialowski/AFP/Getty Images
in New York

Last modified on Thu 12 Nov 2020 16.50 EST

Donald Trump’s attacks on the credibility of Joe Biden’s election win through meritless lawsuits could undermine Americans’ trust in voting and could pose an immediate threat to the security and safety of the country, experts have warned.

Trump’s campaign has unleashed a stream of lawsuits in states key to Biden’s electoral college win, none of which are expected to affect the outcome of the election.

The US attorney general, William Barr, has authorized the Department of Justice to investigate voting irregularities, in a highly unorthodox move, and Republican state representatives in Pennsylvania are calling for an audit of the election, though they have no evidence of fraud.

University of Southern California (USC) law professor Franita Tolson said she was concerned that these actions, which would not change the trajectory of the election, were meant to call into question the legitimacy of the result.

“What does that do to our democracy as we play out this process? What does it do to the belief in the system when 70 million people think the election was stolen,” Tolson said, referring to the popular vote total for Trump. “To me that’s the danger of this narrative, that’s the danger of this litigation.”

Top election officials in every state, representing both political parties, told the New York Times there was no evidence that fraud or other irregularities played a role in the outcome of the race. A coalition of hundreds of journalists from more than 150 newsrooms also found no major problems, in ProPublica’s collaborative election monitoring project Electionland.

“Legal people can say this litigation has no merit, but what do everyday Americans think?” Tolson said. “And they may actually think the president is being treated poorly and he won this election and the system is trying to take it from him.”

Only a few Republicans have publicly acknowledged Biden’s win, but behind the scenes, many Republicans have reportedly accepted the results. Some White House aides have told reporters anonymously that the president’s refusal to concede the election is an embarrassment.

Peter Feaver, who worked on national security in Republican George W Bush and Democrat Bill Clinton’s administrations, said that while the president is within his rights to ask for recounts and investigate reasonable allegations of misbehavior, leveling false charges of fraud without evidence has serious consequences.

“The messaging coming from the campaign, and particularly from the president himself, is far more extreme than that and it’s more reckless messaging and I think it does complicate America’s standing in the world,” said Feaver, a professor of political science and public policy at Duke University.

Feaver said it was also a risk for the president and his team to be focused on fighting a losing legal battle instead of responding to issues such as Covid-19 and the recession.

“Instead they’re distracting the president’s attention and the remaining energy of the administration in another direction,” Feaver said. “That’s what’s hurting the average American family.”

But the Trump campaign continues to bring new challenges.

In Michigan on Wednesday, the Trump campaign sought to block the election results from being certified in the state, where Biden is ahead of Trump by about 148,000 votes.

The campaign also has eyes on Georgia, where young, Black voters appear to have helped flip the state for the Democrats, though the race has not been called. Georgia’s top election official announced on Wednesday there would be a hand recount of the 5 million ballots cast.

Brad Raffensperger, the Republican secretary of state, made the announcement after Trump’s campaign demanded the recount, but insisted he was not bowing to pressure.

“This will help build confidence. It will be an audit, a recount and a recanvass, all at once,” Raffensperger said on Wednesday. “It will be a heavy lift. But we will work with the counties to get this done in time for our state certification.”

Recounts rarely change the outcome and Trump has a large margin to overcome – Biden leads by 14,000 votes in the state.

Tensions are especially high in the state because it has two runoff elections on 5 January which will determine which party controls the Senate. Republican senators Kelly Loeffler and David Perdue, who are facing runoff votes, called for Raffensperger’s resignation on Tuesday.

In a press briefing with Feaver, Bruce Jentleson, who worked on Barack Obama and Al Gore’s presidential campaigns, blamed the disquiet on the Senate majority leader, Mitch McConnell.

“Part of their strategy, what’s going on right now is positioning for 2024, who might inherit the Trump constituency, and positioning for the two Georgia runoffs,” said Jentleson, a professor of public policy and political science at Duke.

Jentleson said: “It is politics but there’s a point at which it’s deeply irresponsible for Mitch McConnell to be doing what he’s doing and setting a tone for the other Republican senators.”