Bush v. Gore on Steroids: Team Trump Uses Lawyers and Protesters to Disrupt Vote Count 

Rudy Giuliani at Trump campaign press conference in Philadelphia Nov. 4, 2020.

When President Donald Trump stood at a White House microphone on election night to declare that he had won reelection while millions of votes were still uncounted, he falsely charged that states counting mail-in ballots were shifting the direction of vote totals in key states by committing “a fraud on the American public.

“We’ll be going to the U.S. Supreme Court,” he declared, apparently nursing memories of the 2000 election, in whose aftermath the high court halted the recount of ballots cast in Florida, handing victory to George W. Bush.  

Trump might be counting on a friendly audience at the nation’s highest court given that three of the sitting justices—Chief Justice John Roberts, Justice Brett Kavanaugh, and Justice Amy Coney Barrett—were part of the legal team in Bush v. Gore.  Barrett, who assumed her new role last week, demonstrated a surprising amnesia about her role in that historic case during her confirmation hearing.  

Trump was clear on election night about exactly what he wanted to happen. “We want all voting to stop,” he said. “We don’t want them to find any ballots at four o-clock in the morning and add them to the list, OK?”   

On Wednesday, the Trump campaign and RNC sent a stream of emails to supporters claiming that Democrats were intent on “stealing” an election that he claimed to have won. Meanwhile, right-wing activists took to social media to promote Trump’s narrative that votes counted after Election Day were somehow illegitimate or, in the words of Judicial Watch’s Tom Fitton, “strong evidence of malintent.”   

Other right-wing activists pushed a #StoptheSteal hashtag on social media and encouraged people to mobilize protests in states. In Michigan, Media Matters reported, Trump supporters were “swarming the vote-count rooms” to disrupt the count. Fox media personality Lou Dobbs encouraged right-wing activists to “surround” Philadelphia and exert a “demanding presence.” Pizzagate conspiracy theorist Mike Cernovich headed to Phoenix, where he addressed a protest at the state capitol Wednesday night. Video circulated online of an angry Trump supporter disrupting a press conference by shouting, “The Biden crime family is stealing this election. The media is covering it up!” 

Those scenes are reminiscent of the “Brooks Brothers riot” in 2000 in which Republican political operatives violently shut down the recount in Miami-Dade when they objected to a change in the counting process.   

A leader of that effort, Matt Schlapp, now runs the American Conservative Union, which sent supporters a message from Schlapp on Wednesday declaring:  

The real fight begins TODAY. Let’s gear up. We’ve got work to do.  

If we don’t fight, we will lose. It’s that simple. We must hold election officials’ feet to the fire, and we must do it NOW.   

We must #StopTheSteal.  

IOn Wednesday, Schlapp tweeted a photo from the Brooks Brothers riot with the #StopTheSteal hashtag.  

Under Schlapp’s leadership, the ACU has become a virtual arm of the Trump presidential campaign, where Schlapp’s wife Mercedes serves as senior adviser to the communications team.

For all the dishonest and disingenuous rhetoric about votes being suddenly “found” in the middle of the night, the fact is that the Trump campaign, the Republican Party, and any knowledgeable observer knew that the pattern was likely to be that early votes and mail-in ballots would lean toward Democratic candidate Joe Biden and Election Day voting toward Trump. Trump had encouraged his voters to vote in person, while the Democratic Party had encouraged voters to vote by mail or in person if they felt comfortable doing so. 

Election officials in states like Pennsylvania and Michigan wanted to avoid delays and begin counting this year’s unusually large number of mail-in ballots before Election Day to avoid just this kind of postelection conspiracy-promoting scenario. But Republican legislators refused to allow the change.  

Late in the afternoon on Wednesday, members of Trump’s campaign team, including Rudy Giuliani, former Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi, and campaign aide Corey Lewandowski held a press conference in Philadelphia. The campaign team simultaneously and emphatically claimed that Trump had won the state—even while hundreds of thousands of votes from heavily Democratic areas remained uncounted—while suing the state to stop counting based on what Giuliani claimed was “a concerted effort of the crooks that run the Democrat Party.”  

Giuliani claimed that the counting of mail-in ballots in Pennsylvania, Michigan, Arizona, and Nevada was illegitimate because Republican observers were not allowed to evaluate or challenge individual ballots as they were being counted. The campaign team claimed they want to ensure that every vote is counted fairly, an assertion that might be more credible if it didn’t come after months of Trump signaling that he would treat any defeat as illegitimate and fraudulent and after his election night declaration about “finding” additional ballots to count.

At the Philadelphia press conference, Lewandowski declared that he and Bondi would remain in the state “until you all realize that President Trump has won this state.”