Like similar episodes in Las Vegas, Milwaukee, Philadelphia and Pittsburgh, the scene in Detroit was the culmination of a yearslong strategy by Mr. Trump to use the power of the executive branch, an army of lawyers, the echo chamber of conservative news media and the obedience of fellow Republicans to try out his most audacious exercise in bending reality: to turn losing into winning.
Obscured by the postelection noise over the president’s efforts to falsely portray the election system as “rigged” against him has been how much Mr. Trump and his allies did ahead of time to promote a baseless conspiracy devised to appeal to his most passionate supporters, providing him with the opportunity to make his historically anomalous bid to cling to power in the face of defeat.
That bid is now in its last throes. Judges are dismissing the president’s lawsuits, as various bits of supposed evidence — an alleged box of illegal ballots that was in fact a case containing camera equipment and “dead voters” who are alive — unravel. And yet Mr. Trump has still not given up on seeding doubt about the election’s integrity as he seeks to stain Mr. Biden’s clear victory — by more than 5.5 million votes and also in the Electoral College — with false insinuations of illegitimacy. On Sunday alone, he posted more than two dozen election-related tweets, seeming to briefly acknowledge Mr. Biden’s victory before declaring, “I concede NOTHING!”
The roots of Mr. Trump’s approach date to before his election in 2016, and he advanced his plans throughout his term. But his strategy for casting doubt on the outcome of the 2020 campaign took shape in earnest when the coronavirus pandemic upended normal life and led states to promote voting by mail.
From the start, the president saw mail-in ballots as a political threat that would appeal more to Democrats than to his followers. And so he and his allies sought to block moves to make absentee voting easier and to slow the counting of mail ballots. This allowed Mr. Trump to do two things: claim an early victory on election night and paint ballots that were counted later for his opponent as fraudulent.