Donald Trump’s increasingly outrageous attempts to contest the results of the US presidential election were given their absurd symbol early on with what one commentator called The Four Seasons Total Landscaping fiasco.
A week ago, with the decisive votes being counted in the last, critical states in the election, with Trump making a forlorn attempt to persuade Americans he had been cheated out of victory, someone on the campaign blundered. They were supposed to book the Four Seasons in Philadelphia for a press conference by the president’s personal lawyer, Rudy Giuliani. Instead, they booked Four Seasons Total Landscaping, a gardening company in an industrial area of north-east Philly, somewhere out near I-95. Giuliani’s press conference was held in the parking lot. Nearby was a cheque cashing place, an empty warehouse for rent, a crematorium and an adult bookstore: ‘DVDs, lotions, viewing booths. A small, family owned business for 40 years. FREE batteries with your purchase ALWAYS!’ The porn shop was called Fantasy Island.
Total Landscaping says that all of its clients, big or small, are given ‘the same precision and attention to detail’. Precision and attention to detail are words never used to describe Donald Trump, or his campaign. Otherwise, they would have had teams of lawyers ready with injunctions in the contested states the day after the election. For months, Trump had been using a bullhorn to let everyone know his strategy would be to challenge the election itself.
But on 4 November, according to the New York Times, the president’s son-in-law, Jared Kushner, was phoning around looking for their own James Baker, the elder statesman who fixed the Florida mess for George W. Bush in the 2000 election.
When the networks finally called the race for Joe Biden, Giuliani was still at the podium in the carpark of Four Seasons Total Landscaping. He raised both arms and looked up to heaven. ‘Oh my goodness, all the networks? Wow. All the networks. We have to forget about the law. Judges don’t count…All the networks thought Biden was going to win by 10 per cent. Gee, what happened? Come on. Don’t be ridiculous. Networks don’t get to decide elections. Courts do.’ What, then, is the evidence the Trump campaign has shown the courts, or might eventually show them?
So far, not much. On election night, president Trump retweeted that Michigan’s count had just jumped 138,339 for Biden, with 0 new votes for Trump. But this was a typo in figures sent to a media company and was corrected minutes later. It would have never made it into the final, official result. It was the same for the early figures in Antrim County, Michigan, traditionally deepest red, but where Biden was shown up 3,000 votes. This was an error caused by old software and it was corrected while the count was still going on – but not quickly enough to stop a conspiracy theory from taking hold on the internet. Another internet meme: more votes were cast in Wisconsin than there were registered voters. As a matter of simple, checkable fact, this wasn’t true. The number of registered voters was 388,000 more than the number of votes in Wisconsin.
But the videos! What about the videos? In one phone video that went viral, two poll workers were seen writing on ballots in Delaware County in Pennsylvania. This was not evidence of fraud. Torn or crumpled ballots are copied out by hand so they can be read by machine. This is usually done by two poll workers, one Democrat, one Republican, and it’s a normal part of the count.
In Detroit meanwhile, a member of Lawyers for Trump released a video showing a man suspiciously closing the back of a white van and using a small, red cart to pull what could have been a box of illegal ballots into a counting centre. WXYZ Detroit settled that one. It was their cameraman, taking in his gear.
Some cases have already reached the courts. There was Sharpiegate in Arizona. A woman said that a poll worker in Maricopa County tried to make her use a Sharpie felt-tipped pen to fill out her ballot – because the ink could not be read by machine. This claim was backed by the Trump campaign and the Republican National Committee but the case was quietly dropped when the court heard that a Sharpie® does have, as the company’s website boasts, ‘quick-drying, fade-resistant ink for bold colours that won’t bleed through paper’.
In Pennsylvania, the Trump campaign sued for observers to be allowed into the count but, once the case reached court, the lawyers had to admit that the observers were inside. ‘I’m sorry, then what’s your problem?’ said the judge, a Republican appointed by George W. Bush. The judge did rule they could have the same number of observers as Democrats and that they could stand 6ft from the count, not 20ft away. These are important, procedural issues, but I asked the Trump campaign if they had any proof of ballot fraud, anywhere in the US. They had none. Instead, they sent me a new court petition in Pennsylvania. There were more claims of observers unable to see what was going on – but no evidence that if they had, they would have witnessed votes being stolen.
The man Trump calls ‘the best pollster in Britain,’ Patrick Basham, is ‘extremely suspicious’ of a result that gave Biden more votes than Obama at his peak. He believes that his poll predicting a Trump victory ‘nailed it’ and was probably wrong only to the extent there was fraud. He tells me that if the Trump campaign is correct about ‘malfeasance’ in the election, it is so widespread ‘it's hard to imagine that it could be hidden’. Basham is right about that. For Biden to have cheated his way to this win would have required theft on a huge scale — his margin of victory was not small, in either the electoral college or the popular vote. Some fraud may eventually be discovered – with 142,000,000 votes cast, this is inevitable – but the stolen election remains a product of Donald Trump’s fevered imagination.
The president has constructed an alternative reality to avoid an outcome he is psychologically incapable of accepting: being branded with the scarlet L-for-loser. Others have joined him there. His former chief strategist, Steve Bannon, long-haired, unshaven, broadcasting from his basement, promotes the theory that a Deep State supercomputer called ‘THE HAMMER’ and a hacking programme called ‘SCORECARD’ were used to alter votes. (They gave Obama his victory in 2012, too.)
If Trump can believe he really won, he will be happy enough. New MAGA rallies are planned where he will brandish lists of dead voters. The rallies always seemed like the most important part of the presidency to Trump, and those will continue after he leaves office. This, perhaps, is the key to an orderly — or somewhat orderly – handover of power. As long as there is an audience – and as long as he can stay out of jail – he will go on: 88m Twitter followers, Trump TV, a permanent campaign. Trump 2024!