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Predictions of a US general election in which President Donald Trump initially appears to be winning but loses after mail-in votes are counted burst to prominence this week in the US.

In those predictions, Trump and his allies have also spotted an opportunity to preemptively frame such a scenario as a betrayal, in which dark forces conspire to deprive him of victory.

The scenario was laid out by Josh Mendelsohn, the CEO of Hawkfish, a data firm that is funded by Michael Bloomberg and works with Democrats.

In an interview with Axios, he described what he called the “very real possibility” that data on election night from in-person voting will indicate a strong lead for Trump.

He said mail-in ballots, which take longer to count, could after several days leave the Democrat Joe Biden as the victor – a scenario dubbed the “red mirage.”

For those around Trump, the scenario reinvigorated a campaign of baseless attacks on mail-in voting, which the president has sought to portray as illegitimate.

Trump himself has voted by mail but has increasingly attacked the practice, which is expected to be used widely this year amid pandemic-related safety fears over voting in person. In July he called mail-in voting “a formula for RIGGING an Election.” He briefly suggested postponing the November election altogether, claiming that large numbers of mailed votes would make it “the most INACCURATE & FRAUDULENT Election in history.”

Voting by mail has been used in both Republican- and Democratic-leaning states in the US for decades and is actually the primary voting system in some states. Experts say cases of fraud are vanishingly rare, and any attempt would be likely to be detected.

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Foto: Trump at a coronavirus briefing on August 13. Source: REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque

After the Hawkfish prediction began to circulate, Trump’s warnings took a darker turn.

Raheem Kassam, the editor in chief of the right-wing National Pulse, took the red-mirage prediction as proof of a prior claim that Democrats and the news media were “conspiring to reject the election results.”

Trump shared a tweet by Kassam about the issue, adding the words, “Rigged Election?”

Kassam also shared video in which Nigel Farage, the UK politician who campaigned for Brexit, claimed he had seen mail-in voting abused in his home country.

“The worst scenario of all is on the morning of the fourth of November, Trump looks like the winner, and then over the course of the next 10 days, all these mail-in votes are counted and the result gets reversed,” Farage said.

Both Farage and Kassam implied that such a scenario would be illegitimate, though they did not explain why that was so.

Other Trump allies have similarly struggled to justify Trump’s assertions.

Mark Meadows, the White House chief of staff, was pushed for proof on CNN in August about whether there was any proof of widespread voter fraud, and he responded that “there’s no evidence that there’s not either.”

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Foto: A USPS mail worker in New Jersey on August 13. Source: Alexi Rosenfeld/Getty Images

As well as asserting that mail-in votes are vulnerable to manipulation, Trump has also appeared to encourage actions that would weaken the system.

In August, Trump said he wanted to block funding to the cash-strapped US Postal Service for the explicit reason of degrading its ability to handle mail-in votes. He later walked back the idea.

And on Wednesday in an interview with North Carolina’s WECT-TV channel, Trump encouraged people to vote both by mail and in person to test the system – though it would be illegal for a person to vote twice.

Trump’s warnings are extending an argument long made by parts of the Republican Party, usually at a more local level.

David Ralston, the Republican speaker of the House in Georgia, said in April that an all-mail election would be “extremely devastating to Republicans,” and Rep. Thomas Massie, a Republican in Kentucky, said universal mail-in voting would be “the end of our republic as we know it.”

Though hostility to mail-in voting from Trump and the wider GOP is nothing new, the red-mirage scenario has energized their attacks, which are priming his supporters to feel outright betrayal should they end up on the losing side.