A disinformation push to subvert the election is well underway, and it is coming straight from President Trump and his allies. The goal: to somehow stop a victory by former Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr., or, failing that, undermine his legitimacy before he can take office.
Mr. Trump’s false declaration of victory in the small hours of Wednesday morning quickly united hyperpartisan conservative activists and the standard-bearers of the right-wing media, such as Breitbart, with internet trolls and QAnon supporters behind a singular viral message: #StopTheSteal.
But its impact has become apparent far beyond the internet, with the theme dominating conservative talk radio and the prime-time lineup on Fox News. There, Trump-aligned hosts pressed the false notion that the vote counting in the crucial, still-undecided states was illegitimate — the sort of message that was drawing flags on Twitter and Facebook but flourishing elsewhere.
“How big of a mistake is it for the Democrats to have kind of a burn-it-all-down approach,” Laura Ingraham asked on her program Wednesday night, “to destroy the integrity of our election process with this mail-in, day-of-registration efforts, counting after the election’s over — dumping batches of votes a day, two days, maybe even three days after the election?”
The messaging was far blunter from the president himself, who used a Thursday evening briefing at the White House to reel off a series of baseless attacks on an election system he described as “rigged” by Democrats trying to “steal an election.” It was the continuation of a diatribe he had started earlier in the day with a tweet reading “STOP THE FRAUD!” that Twitter quickly flagged as containing information that “might be misleading.”
Mr. Trump and his campaign aides had long indicated that they would challenge any unwelcome result with charges that the election was being stolen through “voter fraud,” which is in fact exceedingly rare.
On Thursday, senior aides to Mr. Biden portrayed the disinformation push as part of a desperate, coordinated campaign that, in tandem with the president’s legal strategy to press lawsuits against election officials across the country, was intended to halt a count that seemed likely to end Mr. Trump’s presidency.
“This is part of a broader misinformation campaign that involves some political theater,” Bob Bauer, a senior adviser to Mr. Biden, told reporters. “All of this is intended to create a large cloud that it is the hope of the Trump campaign that nobody can see through. But it is not a very thick cloud, it’s not hard to see what they’re doing — we see through it; so will the courts, and so will election officials.”