“STOP THE COUNT!” the president shouted at Twitter this morning.
People are listening. Crowds are threatening places where votes are still being counted in swing states, and an eager group of supporters is backing him. But among the people who matter, no one is heeding the call. Not for the first time in his presidency, although perhaps never more decisively, Donald Trump has run up against something he cannot control.
As a matter of tactics, Trump is lucky to be ignored. If the vote counts were frozen where they are right now, former Vice President Joe Biden would win Arizona and Nevada, giving him enough electoral votes to win the presidency even without Pennsylvania and Georgia, where he is gaining on Trump.
As a matter of strategy, Trump is reaching a possible end of his presidency that echoes the preceding four years. He is a paper tiger who is at his most fearsome when he is ordering subordinates around, but has never managed to figure out how to work within the system of government.
The U.S. election system is a highly disjointed, federalized kludge, with rules varying from state to state and county to county. The federal government sets some parameters, but has very little direct involvement. This system has serious disadvantages, such as rules that disenfranchise voters in many places, and the uneven application of practices and rules means that a vote that’s valid in one state would be trashed in another. But it also means that the system as a whole is very hard to bully—especially for the president.