On Thursday evening Donald Trump spoke from the White House on the state of the presidential election. Nothing he said gave the impression that he is preparing to concede to Joe Biden, but his actual words were less important than the manner in which they were delivered.
I have spent goodness knows how many hundreds of hours of my life listening to Trump speak. Gone was the boisterousness and sarcasm to which I and millions are accustomed, and never more in evidence than in his address after midnight on Tuesday. On Thursday, he was dejected, world weary, and almost resigned. He has never sounded like this before. The mojo is gone.
Occasionally Trump strayed into incoherence more typical of his opponent. "I've watched a lot of elections before they decided on this big election," he said, leaving millions of us wondering about the referent of the pronoun.
In summarizing his concerns and those of his supporters — about social media, inaccurate pre-election polling, precinct-level shenanigans — he made it clear that he does not expect to win 270 electoral votes, at least not straightforwardly. Instead of narrow last-minute victories in Pennsylvania, he awaits deliverance at the hands of the Supreme Court. It is unclear exactly what legal remedy he believes is forthcoming.
For the first time in modern American history an incumbent has insisted that the apparent results of a presidential election should be discounted. He has done so on the basis of inchoate feelings rather than the sort of hard evidence that would be admissible in any court. For all that, it is hard to escape the feeling that roughly half of the country agrees with him.