Election night chaos awaiting the US
During the invasion of Iraq in 2003, Saddam Hussein's spokesman "Baghdad Bob" appeared on TV to declare US troops were "committing suicide by the hundreds", even as the gunfire of the advancing Coalition forces could be heard in the background.
On election night in November, America faces the very real prospect of its own Baghdad Bob moment.
What happens if Donald Trump wins in a landslide, but presenter Wolf Blitzer declares on CNN that in fact, he lost?
It's not a crazy scenario.
Top Democrats, including 2016 nominee Hillary Clinton, have been planting the seeds for months.
This week they came out and said it.
In an interview with news site Axios, Democrats laid out their plan in what was effectively a signal flare, a warning to fellow travellers in the media: "Whatever you do, do not call the election on election night."
Hawkfish, a data analytics firm funded by former Democratic candidate Michael Bloomberg, has coined a phrase for Mr Trump's victory-but-not-really - "red mirage".
Mr Trump will appear to have won "potentially in a landslide", Axios writes, with massive electoral college and even popular vote leads on election night.
But as mail-in votes are counted over the following days, the vote tally will swing "wildly" towards Joe Biden, with the Democrat ultimately winning a "massive victory" in one scenario modelled by Hawkfish.
"We are sounding an alarm and saying that this is a very real possibility, that the data is going to show on election night an incredible victory for Donald Trump," Hawkfish chief executive Josh Mendelsohn told Axios.
"When every legitimate vote is tallied and we get to that final day, which will be some day after election day, it will in fact show that what happened on election night was exactly that, a mirage. It looked like Donald Trump was in the lead and he fundamentally was not when every ballot gets counted."
In response, Mr Trump simply tweeted, "Rigged Election?"
The reason mail-in votes will overwhelmingly go to Democrats, the story goes, is that Democrats are much more scared of catching the coronavirus than Republicans.
Photos of thousands of protesters packed together at the Lincoln Memorial last week illustrate the absurdity of that claim.
Commenting on the Axios article, conservative radio host Dan O'Donnell summed it up. "'Trump will appear to win in a landslide but eventually lose' is about the clearest admission yet that Democrats are planning to cheat," he tweeted.
Just last week Mrs Clinton was publicly warning Mr Biden not to concede "under any circumstances".
That was a fairly astonishing statement from someone who in 2016 said Mr Trump refusing to commit to accepting the election results represented a "direct threat to our democracy".
"Joe Biden should not concede under any circumstances because I think this is going to drag out," Mrs Clinton said in an interview with her former aide Jennifer Palmieri on Showtime.
"And eventually, I do believe he will win if we don't give an inch and if we are as focused and relentless as the other side is."
Hillary Clinton has some advice for Joe Biden: Don’t concede in a close race.— The Recount (@therecount) August 24, 2020
The 2016 nominee sits down with @jmpalmieri and @sho_thecircus to urge Dems to pay close attention to GOP strategy. pic.twitter.com/REwfLf1QjS
The former Secretary of State claimed Republicans "have a couple of scenarios that they are looking toward".
"One is messing up absentee balloting," she said.
"They believe that helps them so that they then get maybe a narrow advantage in the electoral college on election day. So we've got to have a massive legal operation, and I know the Biden campaign is working on that."
That massive legal operation consists of no fewer than 600 lawyers, who will attempt to drag the process out through the courts for weeks.
Stacey Abrams, a Democrat who lost the 2018 Georgia governor's race to Republican Brian Kemp but became something of a punchline for obsessively maintaining she actually won - blaming "racially motivated voter suppression" - has also been laying the groundwork.
Appearing at a virtual Reuters event last month, Ms Abrams - now described by the media as a "voting rights advocate" - said voters should expect a flurry of legal challenges related to mail-in ballots.
She hammered the message that the real winner may not be known on November 3.
"The sheer volume of people who will be voting by mail is going to preclude the ability to count those ballots and adjudicate the outcome of the election by 11pm on election night," she said.
"And so my admonition is that we have to approach November 3 with patience."
So where's the evidence the mail-in votes could be rigged?
Unfortunately it's not surprising that, almost in unison, the media and Democrats claim voter fraud is a myth - simply impossible.
But there are countless examples.
The Heritage Foundation currently cites 1296 proven instances of voter fraud, 1119 criminal convictions and 48 civil penalties in an interactive map, which it describes as only a "sampling" of recent cases in the US.
"This database is not an exhaustive or comprehensive list," the website says.
"It does not capture all cases and certainly does not capture reported instances that are not investigated or prosecuted. It is intended to demonstrate the vulnerabilities in the election system and the many ways in which fraud is committed."
Really the US cable news channels have been practising their Baghdad Bob routine for years already, going to herculean lengths to pretend not to notice almost cartoonishly obvious Democrat election fraud.
Who could forget the antics of Florida's rogue Democrat Broward County in 2018 - so incompetent and corrupted by one-party rule the phenomenon is known as "Browardised" - where boxes of ballots were mysteriously being discovered and counted nearly two full days after polls closed?
During the same mid-terms, Republican candidates in California appeared have won in six competitive races on election night, but as absentee and provisional ballots flowed in over the following weeks, they saw their leads slowly evaporate.
The stunning turnaround, which then House Speaker Paul Ryan said "defies logic", was largely blamed on the controversial practice of "ballot harvesting" - where Democrat operatives effectively go door-to-door "trick-or-treating" for votes and mail them in, hundreds at a time.
Commenting on the similarly tight Arizona Senate race, which saw Republican Martha McSally eventually lose to Democrat Kyrsten Sinema, Mr Trump said at the time it was "interesting" that extended vote-counting "always seems to go the way of the Democrats".
"All of a sudden, out of the wilderness, they find a lot of votes," he said.
Specifically on the issue of mail-in ballots, Attorney-General Bill Barr was asked in testimony before the House Judiciary Committee in July whether he had any evidence a mail-in election could be rigged.
"No, but I have common sense," he replied.
AG Barr drops the hammer on universal mail-in voting.— Elizabeth Harrington (@LizRNC) September 2, 2020
"You think that's the way to run a vote?!" pic.twitter.com/YaUJ5iRHkM
And it doesn't take much common sense to see how states like California and Nevada mailing out hundreds of thousands of unsolicited ballots like Big W catalogues - often to recipients no longer at that address, or dead - is a recipe for fraud on an unprecedented scale.
Just last week, the NY Post published a bombshell interview with a top Democratic operative, who claimed to be a master at fixing mail-in ballots.
"An election that is swayed by 500 votes, 1000 votes - it can make a difference," said the anonymous whistleblower, who claimed to have helped fix local legislative, mayoral and congressional races across New Jersey.
"It could be enough to flip states."
In hindsight, it almost feels as if the past four-plus years of sharply diverging realities between the left and right - where people on opposite sides of the political spectrum can no longer even agree on basic facts - have been building up to this: the ultimate Baghdad Bob moment.
Whichever way election night goes, neither side will accept the results.
Last month, The New York Times revealed details of secret "war-gaming" by Democrats which toyed with various election scenarios, including one in which several states, alleging "voter suppression", threatened to secede if Mr Trump took office.
Which sounds dangerously close to civil war.
And America's cold civil war has already grown noticeably warmer in recent weeks.
First, with the shooting of three protesters, two fatally, by 17-year-old Trump supporter Kyle Rittenhouse in Kenosha.
That was followed by the alleged murder in Portland of "Patriot Prayer" member Jay Bishop at the hands of 48-year-old Michael Forest Reinoehl, self-described as "100 per cent Antifa".
Reinoehl was shot and killed by law enforcement officers as they moved to arrest him on Thursday southwest of Seattle.
The former Democrat officials involved in the war-gaming, calling themselves the "Transition Integrity Project", penned a report explicitly pushing for continued street violence from Antifa and Black Lives Matter to tip the scales after election day.
Here's something. The Transition Integrity Project (Podesta "war game") explicitly guided the Biden campaign to rely on Antifa and BLM as street rabble around election time. https://t.co/5jNLbb2OBG pic.twitter.com/Og53u4ZYPS— David Reaboi (@davereaboi) September 2, 2020
"A show of numbers in the streets - and actions in the streets - may be decisive factors in determining what the public perceives as a just and legitimate outcome," the report said.
"During TIP's exercises, Team Biden almost always called for and relied on mass protests to demonstrate the public's commitment to a 'legitimate' outcome, with the objective of hardening the resolve of Democratic elected officials to fight and take action, and to dramatise the stakes."
But the report warned that "racial justice activists and others will likely act independently of the Biden campaign", which may not be able to "control these actors once mobilised".
In short, this all feels like a slow-motion, two-month-long car accident leading to November 3.
Jay DeLancy, executive director of North Carolina's Voter Integrity Project - which has called for mandatory ID checks for people to vote, a suggestion challenged by Democrats who say it could disenfranchise some of the electorate - told news.com.au the Hawkfish scenario will only work under two conditions.
One, if states use COVID-19 as an excuse to force vote-by-mail and send out millions of unrequested absentee ballots, and two, if late ballots are allowed to be counted even if they do not have postmarks on them.
"If condition one is implemented, Democrat activists go on a harvesting spree for weeks after the election in any state that lost to Trump by a slim margin," Mr DeLancy says.
"The test bed for this type of theft was in 2018, Orange County, California, where 250,000 late absentee ballots flipped six GOP (Republican) congressional wins."
Condition two "comes into play if the postal service (USPS) continues operating under their current regulations, meaning they don't bother postmarking metered mail".
"An executive order to the USPS could prevent much of this mischief from happening," he said.
Originally published as Election night chaos awaiting the US