WASHINGTON (Reuters) – As former Vice President Joe Biden moved closer to winning the White House, President Donald Trump adopted a fighting posture on Thursday, making false claims to undermine a vote that was not going his way.
While Biden, a Democrat, called for calm and patience, Republican Trump, without offering evidence, said his opponents were engaging in fraud and election theft, accusations he has been making long before Election Day.
“If you count the legal votes I easily win,” Trump said during remarks the White House, his first public appearance since Wednesday morning. “This is a case where they’re trying to steal an election. They’re trying to rig an election, and we can’t let that happen.”
Trump suggested he had won states that have been called in favor of Biden and sharply criticized polling before the election that he said was designed to suppress the vote because it favored the Democrat.
Polls this year, similar to the 2016 election that he won, predicted a much weaker electoral performance by Trump than he achieved.
The president, a former reality TV star who regularly plays to cameras and crowds, took no questions from reporters in his first appearance since early Wednesday morning.
The president’s comments came as the election results continued to swing toward his Democratic rival.
A somber mood prevailed at the White House. Aides to the president said they remained cautiously optimistic that he still had a path to re-election, while conceding that he may lose.
Trump worked from the Oval Office on Thursday in what was otherwise largely an empty West Wing. Many of his senior staff were huddled at the campaign’s headquarters in nearby Virginia.
“He’s very engaged, he’s monitoring, talking to all the states. It doesn’t look good, but this guy wants to keep fighting,” said one Trump confidante, speaking on the condition of anonymity. “He’s in a fighting mood right now. He’s not melancholy or dejected. But the path is getting harder and harder.”
The president’s campaign has launched multiple legal challenges in the states where votes are still being counted.
One White House official said he was confident the strategy of legal challenges would prevail, even if television networks call the race for Biden once final vote counts in states such as Georgia, Arizona and Pennsylvania come in.
Another lamented the loss of support among suburban women that helped doom Trump’s chances in Wisconsin, while lauding the president for changing the Republican Party for decades to come by attracting more Latino and African-American votes.
Reporting by Jeff Mason and Steve Holland; Editing by Lincoln Feast.