All along the question has been how seriously to take anything President Donald Trump says. His more outlandish statements tend to be disconnected from any action his government is taking.
Trump has issued a constant stream of loud distress signals about balloting in the upcoming election. They appear unfounded. On Thursday, he tweeted his latest "crying wolf": "RIGGED ELECTION in waiting!" — specifically regarding mail-in ballots in North Carolina.
Trump trails the milder Joe Biden in key states, polls suggest. It seems unlikely a president with incumbent advantages would be trying to subvert the nation's trust in election results if he thought he was about to win in a landslide.
Then again, screaming that he's the victim of a "fix" may be a good-luck charm. He did it before he won the 2016 GOP nomination, again before he won the election, again before the Mueller probe fell short of charging him, and again before his impeachment acquittal.
The fixes were all fictional.
Every day, plain facts emerge that mar Trump's tales, alibis and denials. On Thursday, FBI Director Christopher Wray warned that Russia is issuing a steady stream of false propaganda against Biden. This has been reported for some time, as it was regarding the election four years ago when Moscow sided with Trump.
Repeatedly since 2017, the White House peddles one story, and its appointees tell quite another under oath on Capitol Hill. If the nefarious "deep state" were undermining Trump, surely we'd have heard documented details by now.
Regarding China, Wray said the FBI is so active in monitoring that nation's efforts to acquire U.S. technology and sensitive data that the bureau opens a new counterintelligence probe "every 10 hours." Trade talks that the administration suggested would curb the Beijing problems have failed.
The president who says he doesn't want to panic anyone over the pandemic keeps raising the specter of an "American nightmare" for anyone who likes keeping the U.S. a stable democracy.
Attorney General William Barr has spoken of "sedition" and left-wing insurrections. Responding Wednesday, Trump said: "The question was asked to me if you have violent demonstrations. Yes. We will put it down very, very quickly if there is. Absolutely.
"And I think the American public wants to see that."
Presidential talk of hypothetical anti-GOP violence aside, Wray offered members of Congress a very different picture of actual incidents and threats.
For one thing, he said the FBI views left-wing "anti-fascists," or Antifa, as "more of an ideology than an organization."
For another, Wray said that in recent years, racially and ethnically motivated violent extremists were to blame for the most lethal attacks, with white supremacists making up the largest portion of the slayings.
Trump seemed more focused on his "fix" narrative.
Given that the two major parties in each state jointly control the means of balloting and vote counting and reporting across the country, however, there remains no reason to predict results will be rigged either way.
Real issues concern turnout amid the pandemic, how long the counts might take and how close votes in some states will break.