How Trump's election lawsuits became his worst nightmare

By one count, Donald TrumpDonald TrumpClinton, Bush, Obama reflect on peaceful transition of power on Biden's Inauguration Day Arizona Republican's brothers say he is 'at least partially to blame' for Capitol violence Biden reverses Trump's freeze on .4 billion in funds MORE has made more than 20,000 false or misleading claims as president. And from his point of view, why not lie since it makes everything so easy?

Instead of working his way up the political ladder by first running for lesser offices, Trump catapulted himself into the 2016 presidential primaries by participating in friendly forums like “Fox & Friends” and promoting the false “birther” claim about President Obama. A disappointing Inauguration Day turnout? No problem, just make up “alternative facts” that it was the biggest inauguration crowd in world history. An annoying cable news host like MSNBC’s Joe ScarboroughCharles (Joe) Joseph ScarboroughScarborough says he's considering legal action against Trump over conspiracy tweets Sacking the Capitol proves free speech is in trouble Scarborough calls for arrest of Trump, Giuliani and Trump Jr. for insurrection against US MORE? Easy, just baselessly accuse him of murder.  

By and large, the lying worked well for Trump because it allowed him to dominate as his victims retreated or futilely raged. Republicans averted their eyes, and Democrats looked helpless to stop him. He ran into problems when he downplayed the threat of the coronavirus, but his Waterloo has been to file lawsuits that, at their core, allege he, and not Joe BidenJoe BidenKaty Perry and her 'Firework' close out inauguration TV special Arizona Republican's brothers say he is 'at least partially to blame' for Capitol violence Tom Hanks: After years of 'troubling rancor,' Inauguration Day 'is about witnessing the permanence of our American ideal' MORE, won the 2020 election. 


Perhaps he was persuaded to go to court by his attorney Rudy GiulianiRudy GiulianiTrump grants clemency to more than 100 people, including Bannon Sore loser politics: A Mexican lesson about Trump Pardon talk intensifies as Trump approaches final 24 hours in office MORE, even though Giuliani hasn’t seen the inside of a courtroom in decades. Perhaps Trump persuaded himself that he was untouchable even in a courtroom; after all, hadn’t he gotten away with tens of thousands of lies?  

Whatever the motivation, the litigation strategy has been a predictable disaster because it meant submitting unsupported claims about the 2020 election to courts with zero tolerance for unsupported claims. And no courts have a greater intolerance for such claims than federal courts, where the Trump campaign and its allies filed some of their most sweeping election challenges.  

A federal district court should never be confused with “Fox & Friends.” Federal judges as a group may be among the most focused, purposeful and substantive public servants in America. They are tough, they have zero tolerance for nonsense and they sometimes sanction lawyers who file lawsuits without a good faith basis.    

The sanction risk alone forced Trump’s lawyers to cull the fraud claims from their election lawsuits. But the remaining nickel-and-dime allegations of election violations hardly fooled the federal judges (or the state ones). The federal judges demonstrated that, as Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts once said, there are no “Obama judges or Trump judges” but rather an “extraordinary group of dedicated judges doing their level best to do equal right to those appearing before them.” 

Take U.S. District Court Judge Matthew Brann in Pennsylvania, an Obama-appointed judge who is a life-long conservative Republican and a member of the Federalist Society. In a fair, reasoned and firm opinion, Judge Brann rejected a Trump lawsuit. He wrote that, “in the United States,” the Trump campaign’s “speculative accusations” did not come close to justifying the disenfranchisement of even a “single voter, let alone all the voters of its sixth most populated state.” His ruling was affirmed on appeal in an opinion written by a Trump-appointed judge. (“Voters, not lawyers, choose the president.”)  


The Trump campaign or its allies have lost nearly 40 lawsuits; the most relief they obtained was to position poll observers four feet closer to the ballot counting tables. The coup de grâce may have been the disclosure by Attorney General William BarrBill BarrBudowsky: Democracy won, Trump lost, President Biden inaugurated Two-thirds say the election was fair: poll The Hill's Morning Report - An inauguration like no other MORE, a Trump loyalist, that the DOJ had found no evidence of fraud that would affect the election outcome. 

Federal judges are one of the reasons we are a democracy and not Vladimir PutinVladimir Vladimirovich PutinBiden's first foreign leader call to be with Canada's Trudeau on Friday Gorbachev says Biden should work to 'normalize relations' with Russia A vision for Russia MORE’s Russia or Alexander Lukashenko’s Belarus or name any other country ruled by an authoritarian leader or dictator. But Trump seemed not to understand that when he asked federal judges to, in effect, endorse his baseless election claims, which they emphatically refused to do in the name of preserving American democracy.  

“At what point does this get ridiculous?” asked one federal judge in Nevada of the Trump lawyers, before ruling against the Trump campaign. The election lawsuits must be Trump’s worst nightmare. They have turned him into a two-time sore loser, once at the polls and then in the courts, and made him look ridiculous. 

Gregory J. Wallance, a writer in New York City, was a federal prosecutor during the Carter and Reagan administrations. He is the author of “America’s Soul in the Balance: The Holocaust, FDR’s State Department, and The Moral Disgrace of an American Aristocracy.”  Follow him on Twitter at @gregorywallance.