President Trump’s cries of “fraud” in the election remind us of Orson Welles’ “Citizen Kane.” The movie is based on the life of newspaper tycoon William Randolph Hearst. It contains a famous scene in which Kane’s editors, pending the vote count in an election in which Kane himself is a candidate, make up two front pages. One is headlined “KANE ELECTED” and the other “FRAUD AT POLLS!”
There’s a difference between that, though, and our current crisis. Ours isn’t Hollywood. It pits, in President Trump, a president who has just racked up the second highest popular vote count in the history of America. And, in Vice President Biden, a challenger who has just won the highest popular count ever. That is, both candidates speak for huge numbers and their claims deserve a calm, full, and honest hearing.
No wonder Vice President Biden shrank last night from claiming the presidency outright. We don’t yet know who has actually been elected president. There is no doubt that Mr. Biden is in the stronger position. He has, ostensibly, 253 of the 270 electoral votes he needs and leads, ostensibly, in four of the five states yet to be called — Georgia, Pennsylvania, Arizona, and Nevada. The President is ahead at North Carolina.
Mr. Trump or various Republican entities, or both, are in court in most of those states as they race to prevent results being certified before their legal challenges can be heard. The key state, at least in our view, is Pennsylvania, where Mr. Biden has come from nearly a million votes behind to more than, according to one late dispatch, 28,000 votes in front. If Mr. Biden wins Pennsylvania, the race could be over.
That’s why on Friday the Pennsylvania GOP filed for in the American Supreme Court — and Justice Alito promptly granted — an emergency application for an injunction. It orders Quaker State counties, “pending further order of the Court,” to securely segregate all ballots received by mail after the state’s statutory deadline of 8 p.m. on election day and to count the votes, if they’re counted at all, separately.
The aim is to enforce a law — Act 77 — passed in Pennsylvania last year that a) allowed everyone to use mail-in ballots but b) said they must be received by 8 p.m. on election day. The legislature itself declined to relax that deadline. The state supreme court waived the statutory deadline anyhow. It bills itself as the oldest appeals court in America and is currently controlled by Democrats.
This newspaper is not a lawyer, but to our ear, the most important words in Justice Alito’s order are “pending further order of the Court.” Justice Alito, backed by Justices Thomas and Gorsuch, had already warned that the Supreme Court in failing to act on the shenanigans in Pennsylvania’s Supreme Court, was courting post-election trouble. The Nine may decide not to hear the case, but for now Pennsylvania is in traces.
Call it a battle of inches, but there it is. The New York Times tallies the lawsuits the President’s side has launched as something like a dozen, in four key states alone (Nevada, Pennsylvania, Michigan, and Georgia). The Times suggests the campaign “has been abetted by a robust pro-Trump media ecosystem.” The idea that there’s a pro-Trump media ecosystem has got to be the biggest fantasy since Godzilla.
Meantime, there are stirrings of concern in at least two state legislatures, which are the sole bodies to which the Constitution grants the power to direct the manner in which electors are chosen. Wisconsin’s assembly speaker has tasked a committee to begin a review “immediately.” GOP leaders in Pennsylvania are seeking a legislative audit. They could yet prove to be harbingers of a revolt of the state legislatures.
Which brings us back to “Citizen Kane.” Or is it Citizen Trump? It might turn out that all this sturm und drang turns up evidence sufficient to affect the outcome of the election. It’s a long shot for sure, but Donald Trump was born a long shot. Or it could turn out that Mr. Trump will return to private life and pursue the creation of a vast new press empire that seems to be his own personal Rosebud.