This is what a Donald Trump concession looks like: Never admit true defeat. Assert he only lost because the other side cheated. Dissemble when people press him on his lack of evidence.
It’s a Trumpian way to lose. He can leave the White House without acknowledging he actually failed at anything, and even characterize himself as a winner who was targeted by the deep state. Yet the spillover effect is that it also inherently undermines his successor’s legitimacy and sows down about the integrity of U.S. elections.
On Saturday, Democrat Joe Biden secured the 270 electoral votes needed to win the presidency. But Trump and his most fervent allies have so far shown no signs of giving in, vowing to overturn the results through recounts and lawsuits at least until next month when states are required to complete vote counts, according to three Republicans close to the campaign. They even began researching a case for a questionable and long-shot legal maneuver that would circumvent the popular vote.
“He fights until he can’t fight anymore,” said a former aide who remains close to the campaign.
True to form, Trump’s first remarks after the race was called for Biden on Saturday were defiant.
“The simple fact is this election is far from over,” Trump said in a prepared statement. “Joe Biden has not been certified as the winner of any states, let alone any of the highly contested states headed for mandatory recounts, or states where our campaign has valid and legitimate legal challenges that could determine the ultimate victor.”
Despite the pugilistic stance, legal experts say the court challenges are longshots or unfounded and officials have said the recounts are unlikely to change the overall results.
All told, it’s the opposite of what Americans have come to expect from their presidents. Even after the most hard-fought campaigns, presidential losers generally deliver gracious speeches to the nation about uniting behind the next president, incumbents assist with a transition and attend Inauguration Day ceremonies.
Not Trump. He is not expected to give that speech and aides and allies said they remain unclear about whether he will assist Biden or appear alongside him at the White House or his swearing-in ceremony.
In brief remarks late Friday, Biden didn’t address Trump’s actions directly but tried to assure Americans their votes would count, while calling for unity.
"The purpose of our politics isn’t to wage total and unrelenting war. It’s to solve problems," Biden said. "We may be opponents, but we’re not enemies. We’re Americans."
Trump has accused states of counting fraudulent ballots, including those that came in after deadlines or allegedly were cast by voters who moved out of state or are dead. He’s called cities corrupt and blamed Democratic leaders for rigging the election even though some, including Arizona and Georgia, are run by Republicans. And he’s blamed pollsters, who predicted a much larger loss, of election interference.
He has provided little to no credible evidence for these claims, and even some of his Republican allies have started to chide him for his rhetoric.
“This is a case where they’re trying to steal an election,” Trump said at the White House Thursday. “They’re trying to rig an election, and we can’t let that happen.”
The attacks are just the latest in Trump’s four-year assault on institutions — from the media, to the intelligence community, to his own government officials. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) criticized Trump for “trying to destroy the credibility of our elections, which we criticize other nations for doing.”
Trevor Potter, a former Federal Election Commission chairman and general counsel for Republican John McCain’s 2008 presidential run, said Trump’s remarks “were clearly designed to weaken confidence in our election system.”
And the bipartisan National Council on Election Integrity — a group of more than 40 former elected officials, former Cabinet secretaries, retired military officials and civic leaders — rebuked Trump over the comments.
“Politicians can say whatever they choose, but it is the American people who decide their leaders, not the other way around,” the group said. “Our constitutional process demands we count every vote.”
Less has been said about how Trump’s rhetoric could turn Americans away from Biden, just as he begins to hire staff, lay out plans to address the nation’s problems and try to earn their trust.
Some Republicans, even some Trump allies, including former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie and former Pennsylvania Rick Santorum, have criticized Trump’s language. Sen. Pat Toomey (R-Pa.), who endorsed Trump, called the language “very disturbing.”
The Biden campaign didn’t respond to requests for comment. But Bob Bauer, an attorney for the Biden campaign, has previously called the tactic part of “a broader misinformation campaign.”
“All of this is intended to create a large cloud that is the hope of the Trump campaign that nobody can see through,” he said. “But it is not a very thick cloud. It’s not hard to see what they’re doing — we see through it; so will the courts, and so will election officials.”
Trump has made discrediting his opponents a central tenet of his political life.
He spent years trying to discredit his predecessor, Barack Obama, the nation’s first Black president, by falsely declaring that he was not born in the United States.
Yet Obama adhered to presidential norms, inviting a president-elect Trump to the White House and pushing his staff in a speech to accept the results after Trump defeated Hillary Clinton.
Late Friday, Trump sought to reframe his unfounded allegations of widespread voter fraud in a less combative way and indicated he was actually trying to shore up Americans’ confidence in their government. Yet on Twitter, Trump kept tossing out baseless allegations as his aides continued to wage fights.
In court, Trump’s campaign has filed a flurry of lawsuits to allege wrongdoing in Pennsylvania, Georgia, Nevada and Michigan. It could still appeal a North Carolina decision to permit late-arriving absentee ballots that were mailed by Election Day.
But the strategy has yet to make any tangible progress in halting or slowing the counting of ballots, nor has it prevented Biden’s leads from growing in most remaining states. Trump’s team did secure some minor victories over allowing their observers closer access to the vote-counting process, but other cases have been dismissed.
As the results grew more perilous for Trump, his Republican allies started to discuss even more far-flung scenarios, like pushing state legislators to circumvent the official vote count and simply appoint electors who would support Trump.
But such a move wouldn’t stop a governor or secretary of state from appointing a separate set of electors for the state to certify the result for Biden. Additionally, election lawyers said, state legislatures could only step in if there is not a finalized count by Dec. 8, the deadline to certify what will be sent to Congress. Essentially, it’s a far-fetched option.
Still, Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) didn’t rule it out on a recent Fox News appearance. “Everything should be the table,” he said.
Republicans pushing this strategy have focused on Pennsylvania. Not only is the race close in the state, it also has a Republican legislature and Democratic governor, giving some Trump allies hope that Trump-supporting state lawmakers could go around the Democratic governor.
Yet Pennsylvania Senate Majority Leader Jake Corman has already shot down the idea. And the state’s attorney general, a Democrat, has also ruled it out.
“There is no legal mechanism for the general assembly to act alone and appoint electors. None,” said Jacklin Rhoads, a spokeswoman for Democratic Pennsylvania Attorney General Josh Shapiro.
Three other battleground states have the same setup of a Republican legislature and Democratic governor: North Carolina, Michigan and Wisconsin. At least one legislator in one of those states has been contacted on behalf of the campaign, said a Republican familiar with the discussions.
If Congress is presented with two sets of electors, it would be forced to decide which to choose. And if the two chambers of Congress are divided — likely because they are controlled by different parties, as they are now — it’s unclear what would happen, according to experts.
“We may well see the state legislatures get involved,” said Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) on Fox News. “We’ve seen the state courts, we may see the federal courts, we may ultimately see the U.S. Supreme Court.”
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