Even for President Trump, it was an imagined version of reality, one in which he was not losing but the victim of a wide-ranging conspiracy stretching across the country in multiple cities, counties and states, involving untold numbers of people all somehow collaborating to steal the election in ways he could not actually explain.
Never mind that Mr. Trump presented not a shred of evidence during his first public appearance since late on election night or that few senior Republican officeholders endorsed his false claims of far-reaching fraud. A presidency born in a lie about Barack Obama’s birthplace appeared on the edge of ending in a lie about his own faltering bid for re-election.
“If you count the legal votes, I easily win,” Mr. Trump said Thursday night in an unusually subdued, 17-minute televised statement from the lectern in the White House briefing room, complaining that Democrats, the news media, pollsters, big technology companies and nonpartisan election workers had all corruptly sought to deny him a second term.
“This is a case where they’re trying to steal an election,” he said. “They’re trying to rig an election, and we can’t let that happen.”
He convinced few people who were not already in his corner. Most of the television networks cut away from the statement on the grounds that what Mr. Trump was saying was not true. On CNN, former Senator Rick Santorum of Pennsylvania, a Republican often put in the position of defending Mr. Trump over the years, appeared exasperated as he denounced the president’s loose talk of election thievery as “dangerous” and “shocking” and declared that “counting absentee ballots and counting mail-in ballots is not fraud.”
The New York Post, which published salacious articles on Hunter Biden planted by Mr. Trump’s associates before the election, headlined an article: “Downcast Trump Makes Baseless Election Fraud Claims in White House Address.” Even Fox News noted it had seen no “hard evidence” of widespread wrongdoing.