In the early hours of Nov. 4, 2020, U.S. President Donald Trump, surrounded by his family and closest advisers, delivered an extraordinary and unprecedented speech from the East Room of the White House, in which he prematurely claimed he had won the 2020 presidential election, describing the continued counting of millions of outstanding ballots in several key states as "a major fraud on our nation."
Along the way, Trump made several factually inaccurate or grossly misleading claims in support of his argument that vote counting should stop, and that he should be certified as the winner.
The following is a transcript of that speech, broken into its constituent parts, and fact-checked by Snopes. Readers can watch the speech in full, available below, as they read our analysis:
"Trying to disenfranchise"
This is without question the latest news conference I've ever had... I want to thank the American people for their tremendous support. Millions and millions of people voted for us tonight and a very sad group of people is trying to disenfranchise that group of people. And we won't stand for it. We will not stand for it.
This is wildly false. The process Trump railed against in his speech (the continued counting of ballots in several states) would ensure that every voter's choice was taken into account in the 2020 election result. By opposing that, it was therefore Trump himself who was advocating the disenfranchisement of millions of voters. The logical inference from what Trump said here is that he was deeply concerned about the disenfranchisement of voters — but only if they happened to vote for him. That's not how election integrity works.
I want to thank the First Lady, my entire family and Vice President Pence and Mrs. Pence for being with us all through this. And we were getting ready for a big celebration. We were winning everything, and all of a sudden it was just called off. The results tonight have been phenomenal and we are getting ready — I mean literally, we were just all set to get outside and just celebrate something that was so beautiful, so good, such a vote, such a success. The citizens of this country have come out in record numbers — this is a record, there's never been anything like it — to support our incredible movement.
It is not true that Trump was "winning everything" when he gave his speech shortly before 2:30 a.m. Eastern Standard Time (EST). Several states had already been declared for Biden, and in some states, where Trump was ahead, the number of outstanding ballots and their likely makeup meant that news media outlets had not yet added them to the president's "column," because there was at that time a non-trivial possibility that Biden could overtake the president in those states. In one case — Michigan — his lead had been overturned by the time this article was published.
Trump was right to say that Americans had voted in record numbers, though he ignored the likely fact that Biden had garnered a greater overall number than he had, just as former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton won the popular vote in 2016. According to projections published by the Election Project, which is run by University of Florida political science professor Michael McDonald, some 159,817,000 Americans were estimated to have cast their votes in the election — a turnout rate of nearly 67%, and the highest in 120 years. NBC News projected that 65.9 million voters had chosen Trump, but 68.6 million had voted for Biden. Ultimately, though, the result of the election would be determined by the outcome in several key states, and the resulting makeup of the electoral college, and that crucial metric could not be determined without counting the remaining ballots, against which Trump argued in his speech.
Florida, Ohio, Texas, Georgia, North Carolina
We won states that we weren't expected to win. Florida, we didn't win it, we won it by a lot. And we won the great state of Ohio. We won Texas, we won Texas. We won Texas by 700,000 votes and they don't even include it in the tabulations. It's also clear that we have won Georgia. We're up by 2.5%, or 117,000 votes with only 7% left — they're never going to catch us, they can't catch us. Likewise, we've clearly won North Carolina where we're up 1.4%, or 77,000 votes with only approximately 5% left — they can't catch us.
In brief, at the time Trump gave his speech:
- Several major news outlets had declared Trump the winner in Florida and Ohio, and it's true that some prominent outlets had, before Election Day, predicted a narrow victory for Biden in Florida. There was no dispute over those facts, and Trump was accurate in those descriptions.
- Several major news outlets (including The Associated Press and Fox News, for example) had declared Trump the winner in Texas, contrary to his claim that "they don't even include it in the tabulations". They did.
- It was not clear that Trump had won Georgia, though that was arguably the most likely outcome. Shortly after Trump's speech, at 2:44 a.m. EST, Fox News' results map gave Trump a lead of 2.6% or 118,210 votes (very similar to the lead claimed by Trump), with 7% of votes outstanding. However, technical delays in counting ballots in some parts of the state, especially the populous Fulton County, where Democratic candidates typically fare disproportionately well, meant news outlets held off on declaring a winner. With 7% of the estimated 5,130,000 votes cast in Georgia remaining, Biden would be required to win a heavy majority of those remaining votes in order to overturn Trump's advantage. Although unlikely, such an overhaul was a sufficiently plausible possibility that news outlets were probably wise to remain cautious regarding the result of the election in Georgia.
- It was not clear that Trump had won North Carolina, though that was again arguably the most likely outcome. Shortly after Trump's speech, at 2:44 a.m. EST, Fox News' results map gave Trump a lead of 1.4% or 76,712 votes (pretty much exactly the lead claimed by Trump), with 6% of votes outstanding. However, as Five Thirty Eight's Perry Bacon Jr. noted later in the morning, the remaining ballots were to be drawn heavily from the very populous and Democratic-leaning Wake and Mecklenburg counties, and a U.S. Supreme Court decision meant absentee ballots could be counted in North Carolina, until Nov. 12 — both good reasons for caution.
We also — if you look and you see — Arizona, we have a lot of life in that. And somebody said, somebody declared it was a victory for — and maybe it will be, I mean that's possible. But certainly there were a lot of votes out there that we could get because we're now just coming into what they call Trump territory, I don't know what you call it, but these were friendly Trump voters. And that could be overturned. The gentleman that called it, I watched tonight, he said "Well we think it's fairly unlikely that he could catch" — well fairly unlikely. And we don't even need it, we don't need that, that was just a state that if we would've gotten [sic] it it would have been nice. Arizona. But there's a possibility, maybe even a good possibility — in fact since I saw that originally it's been changed and the numbers have substantially come down just in a small amount of votes. So we want that, obviously, to stay in play.
At the time Trump gave his speech, Fox News was the only major news outlet to have declared a winner in Arizona, a source of considerable controversy on election night. (The Associated Press also called Arizona for Biden at 2:51 a.m. EST, shortly after the president's speech ended). At 2:45 a.m., Fox News' results map gave Biden a lead of 4.9%, or 130,665 votes, with 20% of ballots outstanding.
At that time, Trump would have needed to win around 70% of the remaining ballots in order to overhaul Biden's lead. Based on the sheer numbers involved, that's arguably not a trivial possibility, especially when you take into account the caution of major news outlets regarding Georgia and North Carolina, and its likely the reason most outlets did not call Arizona on election night.
However, the problem faced by Trump is that the remaining votes in the state were made up of in-person voting, largely from Maricopa County, where Biden was performing well, and early voting, which typically disproportionately favors Democrats. So Trump was right to say "there were a lot of votes out there," but his characterization of those votes as coming from "Trump territory" appears to have been off the mark.
"The gentleman that called it," as Trump described him, was Arnon Mishkin from Fox News' decision desk. Contrary to Trump's claim, Mishkin did not say it was merely "fairly unlikely" that Trump could overtake Biden, he said he was absolutely certain that Biden would win, and declared definitively "I'm sorry — the president is not going to be able to take over and win enough votes ..."
But most importantly, we're winning Pennsylvania by a tremendous amount of votes. We're up six hundred — think of this, think of this — we're up 690,000 votes in Pennsylvania. 690,000. These aren't even close. It's not like "Oh, it's close." With 64% of the vote in, it's going to be almost impossible to catch. And we're coming into good Pennsylvania areas where they happen to like your president. So we'll probably expand that.
At the time Trump made his speech, he did have a significant lead in Pennsylvania. At 2:43 a.m., Fox News' results map gave him a lead of 13.4%, or 701,342 votes, with 36% of ballots outstanding. At 2:45 a.m., The New York Times' results map gave Trump a lead of 12.7%, or 673,135 votes, with 26% remaining.
However, many of the remaining votes in Pennsylvania are comprised of mail-in ballots, which we already know are skewing heavily towards Biden. As The New York Times reported on the morning of Nov. 4, data released by the Pennsylvania Secretary of State show that Biden is winning absentee ballots by a ratio of nearly 4-to-1:
"President Trump leads by nearly 700,000 votes in Pennsylvania as of 5 a.m. on Wednesday, and Mr. Biden’s chances depend on whether he can win a large percentage of the more than 1.4 million absentee ballots that remain to be counted. So far, Mr. Biden has won absentee voters in Pennsylvania, 78% to 21%, according to the Secretary of State’s office... If Mr. Biden won the more than 1.4 million absentee votes by such a large margin, he would net around 800,000 votes — enough to overcome his deficit statewide."
So while Trump was right, in the early hours of the morning, to say that he had a commanding lead in Pennsylvania, a significant portion of votes were not yet counted at that time, and specific reasons exist to think that Biden will win most of them. Whether he'll win enough to overturn Trump's election night lead remains to be seen.
We're winning Michigan by — I'll tell you, I looked at the numbers, I said "Whoa," I said "Wow, that's a lot" — by almost 300,000 votes. And 65% of the vote is in. And we're winning Wisconsin. We don't need all of them, we need, because when you add Texas in, which wasn't added — I spoke with the really wonderful governor of Texas just a little while ago and, Greg Abbott, he said "Congratulations", he called me to congratulate me on winning Texas, I mean we won Texas, I don't think they finished quite the tabulation but there's no way, and it was almost complete, but he congratulated me. Then he said "By the way, what's going on? I've never seen anything like this." Can I tell you what? Nobody has. So we won by 107,000 votes with 81% of the vote, that's Michigan.
Shortly after Trump's speech, Fox News' elections map gave him a lead of 8.2% over Biden, or 317,269 votes, with 28% of votes remaining. Similarly, The New York Times gave Trump a lead of 7.2%, or 299,133 votes with 32% remaining. It's not clear to what Trump was referring when he appeared to contradict himself by saying he had "won by 107,000 votes with 81% of the vote" in Michigan.
Either way, Trump's lead subsquently evaporated in Michigan, and several sources, as of around 2 p.m. Eastern time on Nov. 4, gave Biden a narrow lead there, with between 4% and 7% of votes remaining. Later on Nov. 4, several news outlets declared Biden the projected winner in the state of Michigan.
"Let's go to court"
So when you take those three states in particular, and you take all of the others — I mean we have, we had so many, we had such a big night. You just take a look at all of these states that we've won tonight, and then you take a look at the kind of margins that we've won them by, and all of a sudden — it's not like we're up by 12 votes and we have 60% left. We won states, and all of a sudden — I said "What happened to the election? It's off."
And we have all these announcers saying "What happened?" and then they said "Oh." Because you know what happened? They knew they couldn't win, so they said "Let's go to court." And did I predict this, Newt? Did I say this? I've been saying this from the day I heard they were going to send out tens of millions of ballots, and I said exactly — because either they were going to win, or if they didn't win, they'll take us to court.
At the time Trump made his speech, the Biden campaign had not signaled any intention to file a lawsuit in any state, most likely because the counting of votes had not yet been completed.
In fact, on the morning of Nov. 4, it was the Trump campaign, not Biden's, that first raised the prospect of potential future court battles, with campaign manager Bill Stepien saying in a statement that the president's campaign would "immediately" request a recount in Wisconsin, where Biden overhauled Trump's election night advantage, and led by the slender margin of 20,000 votes, after the first completed count of ballots there.
On the afternoon of Nov. 4, Stepien said the campaign had filed a lawsuit in the Michigan Court of Claims, requesting a halt to the counting of votes in Michigan until the president's campaign could gain physical access to the opening and counting of ballots in the state. In Pennsylvania, the Trump campaign said it had intervened in a Supreme Court case over the counting of mail-in ballots, and in Chatham County, Georgia, the campaign sued on an issue relating to absentee ballots.
So Florida was a tremendous victory. 377,000. Texas, as we said. Ohio. Think of this, Ohio a tremendous state, a big state, I love Ohio, we won by 8.1%, 461,000, think of it, almost 500,000 votes. North Carolina, big victory with North Carolina. And so we won there. We lead by 76,000 votes with almost nothing left. And all of a sudden everything just stopped.
Ohio was declared for Trump relatively early on election night. According to unofficial data published by Ohio's Secretary of State, and consulted by Snopes at around 2 p.m. EST on Nov. 4, Trump won the state by 8.1%, or 470,737 votes — just as Trump had claimed in his speech. Likewise, the president won Florida handily. As of 2:30 p.m. EST on Nov. 4, The Associated Press gave him a lead of 3.4%, or 375,039 votes (very close to the total Trump claimed in his speech), with just four% of votes remaining.
As we have already made clear, Trump had not won the state of North Carolina at the time he said "we won there."
"A major fraud on our nation"
This is a fraud on the American public. This is an embarrassment to our country. We were getting ready to win this election. Frankly, we did win this election. So our goal now is to ensure the integrity — for the good of this nation, this is a very big moment. This is a major fraud on our nation. We want the law to be used in a proper manner. So we'll be going to the U.S. Supreme Court. We want all voting to stop. We don't want them to find any ballots at four o'clock in the morning and add them to the list. Okay? It's a very sad, it's a very sad moment, to me this is a very sad moment. And we will win this and, as far as I'm concerned, we already have won it. So I just want to thank all, I want to thank all of our support, I want to thank all of the people that worked with us and, Mr. Vice President, say a few words, please. Please.
This was without doubt the most outrageously dishonest section of the president's speech, and a set of claims that will likely enter the history books. Trump's repeated claim that he had already won the election was without factual basis, and an unprecedented and potentially dangerous departure from American democratic norms. At the time he made those remarks, he had not won the election, and had not won it by the time this article was published, either.
The 2020 presidential election will not have an official winner until each state and territory formally certifies its results, and no credible winner will be announced until the pattern of tallies mean one candidate has, in effect, a realistically unassailable lead in the electoral college. Trump was nowhere near such a position when he said "frankly, we did win this election," in the early hours of Nov. 4.
In Michigan, for example, a state where Trump touted his lead by saying, "Wow, that's a lot," Biden had already overtaken the president by the following day, and news outlets ultimately declared the Democrat the winner there, and in the potentially crucial state of Pennsylvania, millions of votes remained to be counted.
The president's pledge to go to the Supreme Court made little sense, since the counting of votes had not been completed, so there were no actual results to dispute or contest at that time. It's possible that Trump intended to ask the Supreme Court to order a halt to the initial counting of votes, which would be an unprecedented request that the court would be sure to laugh off as unconstitutional.
Trump's exhortations that "We want all voting to stop" and "We don't want them to find any ballots at four o'clock in the morning" also made no sense, but continued the narrative of what appeared to be his broader misunderstanding of the rudiments of the electoral process: Votes are cast, valid votes are counted, and each state declares and certifies a winner. Whether a ballot is counted immediately after the polls close, or "at 4 o'clock in the morning," or in the days that follow, once it is cast and counted in accordance with the law, it must be counted.