The first presidential debate of 2020 was defined by President Donald Trump’s bullying, cajoling and constant interruptions as he faced former Vice President Joe Biden on Tuesday night.
The president’s abhorrent behavior made the debate confusing and difficult to follow. And while people across the political spectrum are decrying Trump’s unwillingness to condemn white supremacists and hate groups, there was actually a moment that I found more frightening — and isn’t getting anywhere near the same amount of attention.
Asked by debate moderator Chris Wallace whether he will tell his voters not to engage in any sort of violence or “civil unrest” while the votes are being counted on and beyond November 3, Trump not only refused to do so but also reiterated his call to his supporters to go to polling places and “watch” people casting votes.
Asked whether he is “going to tell your people to take to the streets” if the election results is either not decided on November 3 or not decided in his favor, Trump responded this way: “It means you have a fraudulent election. You’re sending out 80 million ballots.”
Here’s it is in an exchange between Wallace and Trump:
Wallace: Will you urge your supporters to stay calm during this extended period, not to engage in any civil unrest? And will you pledge tonight that you will not declare victory until the election has been independently certified? President Trump, you go first.
Trump: I’m urging my supporters to go into the polls and watch very carefully. Because that’s what has to happen. I am urging them to do it. As you know, today, there was a big problem. In Philadelphia they went in to watch. They were called poll watchers — a very safe, very nice thing. They were thrown out. They weren’t allowed to watch. You know why? Because bad things happen in Philadelphia, bad things. And I — I am urging — I am urging my people. I hope it’s going to be a fair election. If it’s a fair election…
Wallace: You’re urging them what?
Trump: … I am 100% on board. But if I see tens of thousands of ballots being manipulated, I can’t go along with that. And I’ll tell you what. From a common-sense…
Wallace: What does that mean, you can’t go along? Does that mean you’re going to tell your people to take to the streets?
Trump: I’ll tell you what it means. It means you have a fraudulent election. You’re sending out 80 million ballots.
It’s impossible to overstate how dangerous what Trump said above actually is. But before we get into the big-picture impact, let’s look at the facts (or, better put, lack thereof) in the claims Trump made.
Trump said there was a “big problem” in Philadelphia on Tuesday because some of his supporters went to watch people vote and “they were thrown out.” That’s not what happened. What did happen is this: Trump backers tried to get into so-called “satellite centers” in Philadelphia that operate not at polling locations bur rather as voter-service centers. So, you can submit a mail-in ballot there, but you can’t actually, you know, vote there.
“The satellite offices are Board of Elections Offices that provide voter services to the residents of Philadelphia for mail-in ballots,” Philadelphia City Commissioner Al Schmidt told a local TV station. “Satellite offices are not polling places and poll watcher certificates have not been issued for any individuals for anything other than poll-watching activities on Election Day at Polling Places. So individuals seeking to receive services from a satellite office are not permitted to be there for other purposes.”
Watch the exchange between Trump and Wallace in the video below: