Three days before the 2020 election, Steve Bannon explained that Donald Trump could not lose. Because if he did lose, Trump intended to declare victory anyway. Then Trump would use the power of his position to simply overturn the election results.
Mother Jones has laid their hands on more than an hour of audio recordings between Bannon and supporters of exiled Chinese oligarch and Mar-a-Lago member Guo Wengui. The recording was made on the evening of Oct. 31, 2020, at a point when the polls showed President Joe Biden about to easily defeat Trump.
In that recording, Bannon lays everything—everything—out neatly for the group of mostly Chinese immigrants. After explaining the electoral process and how Trump had worked to ensure that Republicans would use mail-in ballots less than Democrats, Bannon rolled straight into how that could be turned into a means of stealing the election.
“What Trump’s gonna do, is just declare victory,“ said Bannon. “Right? He’s gonna declare victory. But that doesn’t mean he’s a winner. He’s just gonna say he’s a winner.”
Counting mail-in ballots, said Bannon, put Democrats at “a natural disadvantage. And Trump’s going to take advantage of it. That’s our strategy. He’s gonna declare himself a winner.”
In the incredible conversation reported by Mother Jones, Bannon makes no claim at all that Trump will actually win. Instead, Bannon explains that using momentary advantage Trump enjoys because early returns favor Republicans, he will simply claim victory at a point when he holds an advantage in key states.
“As it sits here today,” said Bannon, “at 10 or 11 o’clock Trump’s gonna walk in the Oval, tweet out, ‘I’m the winner. Game over. Suck on that.'”
That’s exactly what happened. Though the speed with which his edge disappeared seemed to throw Trump off the track and alter the timing. After tweeting claims of fraud and insisting “don’t believe the polls—Trump is winning,” he angrily stumbled onto the nation’s TV screens after 2 AM to declare that “frankly, we did win this election.” Except by that time it was clear that Biden was well ahead.
None of this plan was exactly secret. Trump spent months making it clear that he intended to attack the whole concept of mail-in ballots, even though he voted by mail-in ballot. Two months before the election, Trump was pushing stories of “Trump ballots being discarded in dumpsters” and claiming that trucks of Biden ballots were driving around the country. In fact, Trump had hit this idea so frequently that polls showed 78% of Trump supporters believed that mail-in ballots led to fraud.
The claims about mail-in ballots were directly tied to Trump’s increasing disdain for all things COVID-19. The idea was to convince his voters to not have any concern about standing in long lines in the midst of a pandemic, no matter their health or age. Trump wanted his people out in person, not voting by mail. That result was an actual decrease in requests for Republican mail-in ballots even as Democratic requests were reaching an all-time high.
That’s exactly as Trump wanted it. Get his people to the polls. Claim victory based on the early numbers. Declare the mail-in votes invalid.
The night after Bannon’s talk to the Chinese group, Axios reported that Trump had told his “confidants” that he would declare victory if there was a point in the evening when it looked like he was ahead “even if the Electoral College outcome still hinges on large numbers of uncounted votes in key states like Pennsylvania.” Specifically:
Trump's team is preparing to claim baselessly that if that process changes the outcome in Pennsylvania from the picture on election night, then Democrats would have "stolen" the election.
Bannon didn’t just explain to the group that Trump intended to steal the election, he explained how the work he, Trump, and Rudy Giuliani had done to raise doubts about Biden and to release salacious claims about Hunter Biden had undercut the ability of the electoral process to result in a peaceful transfer of power, saying that any chance “for a peaceful resolution of this is probably gone.”
Instead, Bannon listed three possibilities: Trump won, which Bannon insisted would cause riots, or “either Biden’s up slightly and Trump says he stole it, right, and he’s not leaving. Or it’s undefined and we can’t figure out who’s leading, and Trump’s saying he’s stealing it, and he’s not leaving.”
Trump’s secret plan to undercut the legitimacy of mail-in ballots and claim victory based on early results wasn’t exactly secret. He not only spent months doing it openly, he even did this when looking at the 2016 results. What’s important about Bannon’s statement is both the clear admission that Trump intended to steal the election, and that he had no intention of leaving the White House.
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