Trump Moves Into the Burn-It-Down Phase

Trump Moves Into the Burn-It-Down Phase

The president’s White House press conference showed that he knows his reelection prospects are fading, and he’ll try anything to keep power.

President donald trump tonight raised the threat of a constitutional crisis to a new level. He issued an extraordinary series of baseless charges about the election he is on the verge of losing—that Democrats were stealing the vote, that the media had deliberately released “phony polls” to suppress Republican turnout, that “corrupt” officials in Detroit and Philadelphia were finding Democratic ballots to whittle away his supposed lead.

They were shocking things for a sitting president to say. He promised “a lot of litigation” and held out hope that the Supreme Court, now with a 6–3 conservative majority thanks to his appointments, would save him. But despite his fighting words, his body language betrayed a far different tone. He read from a prepared statement on his lectern, barely looking up at the cameras, his voice a flat monotone devoid of the verve he deploys to whip thousands of people into a frenzy at his rallies. The president’s most devout loyalists respond best to his energy, to the high-decibel passion, and occasionally indignant anger, that he brings to the stump. This speech contained none of that. Trump is a showman who prizes presentation above everything else, who watches his interviews with the sound off, who critiques appearances with precision, who famously mocks his opponents as “sleepy” and “low energy.” When Trump goes back to watch his performance tonight, he’ll see a salesman who wasn’t selling.

What matters, of course, is not what Trump says, or how he says it, but what he does—and what his supporters do at his behest.