The 3 storylines driving the election Friday

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Donald Trump will wake up Friday on the brink of defeat, still lagging in Arizona and Nevada and with Joe Biden steadily gaining on him in Pennsylvania and Georgia.

His legal challenges are making little headway. Nor are his conspiracy theories stopping the counting of the vote. Biden is hovering within striking distance of 270 electoral votes, and thus the presidency.

The president still has a very narrow path to a second term. But three days after the election, it has nearly vanished, and Friday could be the day the race gets called.

Here are the three storylines that will dominate the day:

Trump’s almost out of time

The president can say whatever he wants at the White House. But his unfounded claims of fraud are becoming so wild — and corrosive — that ABC, NBC, CBS and MSNBC all cut away from their live coverage of his address Thursday. His chances of staying there have never looked worse.

Trump’s lead was rapidly evaporating overnight in Pennsylvania, a trove of 20 Electoral College votes that will make Biden the president-elect if he carries that state and wins nothing else.

By early Friday morning, Biden had cut Trump’s lead in the state to a little more than 18,200 votes, with the movement rapidly going Biden’s way. If Biden is declared the winner in Pennsylvania, it won’t matter what happens in Arizona, Georgia or Nevada. But it’s looking good for Biden in those states, too.

In Nevada, Biden was ahead by about 11,400 votes. The secretary of state’s office estimated Thursday that 190,000 ballots were left to be counted, with 90 percent of them coming from Democratic Clark County. Early Friday, Biden overtook Trump by 917 votes in Georgia, a state that — just like Pennsylvania — has been moving Biden’s way. This shift was expected, as Democrats were more likely than Republicans to cast the mail ballots elections officials are counting now.

The Associated Press and Fox News have both already called Arizona for Biden, giving him 264 Electoral College votes. If either AP or Fox calls Nevada for Biden on Friday, its six Electoral College votes alone — according to their counts — will put Biden at 270 electoral votes, just enough to win the presidency.

Bottom line: Trump badly needs a turnaround in Arizona, which is why Republicans are in an all-out messaging war against AP and Fox to pull back the call there. Meanwhile, pro-Trump protests in Maricopa County, the state’s population hub, are continuing. The dissonance between Republicans calling for more ballots to be counted in one state — and fewer in others — will continue for at least another day.

On Thursday, the AP explained its reasoning for the call and said it is still monitoring the vote count. Sally Buzbee, AP’s executive editor, said: “We will follow the facts in all cases.”

But even if Trump does pull ahead in the state, it won’t matter if Pennsylvania goes the way it’s heading — or if Georgia and Nevada do.

The sounds of GOP silence

Trump’s latest airing of grievances at the White House on Thursday failed to shake loose a body of prominent Republicans willing to call him out for his attacks on the integrity of the election or baseless claims of victory. And that silence is beginning to serve as the functional equivalent of encouragement to fight on.

Yes, there were some critical statements, including sharp ones from Gov. Larry Hogan of Maryland, former Sen. Jeff Flake of Arizona and Reps. Will Hurd of Texas, Denver Riggleman of Virginia and Adam Kinzinger of Illinois.

“STOP Spreading debunked misinformation,” Kinzinger wrote on Twitter. “This is getting insane.“

But the criticism is coming from the most distant reaches of the balcony. Hogan hails from one of the bluest of states. Hurd and Riggleman are leaving Congress at the end of their terms. Kinzinger is a lone voice in the House wilderness on the topic.

Former Gov. Chris Christie of New Jersey, a Trump ally, rebuked the president‘s claims of fraud, but delivered only a light slap on the wrist.

Trump was within his rights to say what he wanted from the White House lectern, Christie said on ABC News Thursday night, but “we heard nothing today about any evidence.“

“This kind of thing, all it does is inflame without informing,” Christie said. “And we cannot permit inflammation without information.”

Party leadership is silent, and aside from Hogan, there’s a reason there isn’t a likely 2024 Republican primary contender in the bunch. Even as Trump‘s hopes of a second term fade, the GOP right still belongs to him, and the big shots aren’t searching for distance.

Take Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas, who appeared on Fox News’ “Hannity” to prop up the president.

“We may well see the state legislatures get involved,” Cruz said. “We’ve seen the state courts, we may see the federal courts, we may ultimately see the U.S. Supreme Court.”

He’s preaching to the Republican Party base. This might be different if Biden had swept Trump out in a landslide. But as it stands, nearly 70 million people have cast ballots for Trump, and they aren’t going anywhere regardless of how this election ends.

Trump knows this equation well, and his son Donald Trump Jr. was public about it — framing fidelity for Trump’s cause as a litmus test for 2024.

With few exceptions, he wrote on Twitter, “The total lack of action from virtually all of the ‘2024 GOP hopefuls’ is pretty amazing. They have a perfect platform to show that they’re willing & able to fight but they will cower to the media mob instead. Don’t worry @realDonaldTrump will fight & they can watch as usual!”

The right-wing echo chamber amplifying Trump

There are senators like Cruz and Tom Cotton of Arkansas who are proving to be steadfast allies, and then there are the true dead-enders who are amplifying the president’s claims.

Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina put a foot in both camps by announcing on “Hannity” that he is going to donate $500,000 to Trump’s legal fund (“I’m here tonight to stand with President Trump,” Graham said. “He stood with me. He’s the reason we’re going to have a Senate majority.”)

Fox Business Network’s Lou Dobbs wondered aloud in an interview with the Trump campaign’s Ric Grenell, "Why isn’t the Republican Party en masse demanding the Department of Justice move in here?"

But that rhetoric paled compared to Newt Gingrich, the former House speaker, who called for officials to “lock up” elections workers in big cities whom he said are part of an effort “to steal the presidency of the United States.”

“I am sick and tired of corrupt left-wing Democrats who believe that we are too timid and too easy to intimidate,” Gingrich said.

And then there’s Sean Hannity himself, who on Twitter teased his show with an air of possibility: “IT’S NOT OVER: There’s one thing we know about this election is that it is far from over.”

That’s all fuel for Trump’s fire. And as long as they’re keeping the faith, there’s cause for Trump to as well.

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