Trump's post-election marching orders: Dispute ballots, contest results

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A flurry of tweets falsely claiming votes were disappearing. A conference call to insist the president has “the math” to not only clinch the remaining swing states, but to reverse a state that has already gone to Biden.

Trumpworld started unveiling its post-Election Day strategy Wednesday morning as President Donald Trump and his aides awoke following a late night of inconclusive presidential election results. Trump himself did not tweet until after 10 a.m., a rarity for the always-on president, and donors and surrogates did not receive talking points or direction from the campaign until midday, while officials tried to settle on a plan.

But once things got rolling, the marching orders quickly became clear. Cast doubt on the integrity of the hundreds of thousands of ballots yet to be counted. Contest the results in places like Arizona, which was called on election night for Joe Biden, Trump’s Democratic rival for president. Lay the groundwork to legally challenge results elsewhere. And always express public confidence, even if some in the president’s orbit were privately conceding wariness.

“If we count all legally cast ballots, we believe the president will win,” Trump campaign manager Bill Stepien proclaimed on the conference call, organized for reporters.

Senior Trump campaign officials spent Wednesday morning insisting the president has "the math” to clinch states in the industrial Midwest, like Wisconsin, Michigan and Pennsylvania, where hundreds of thousands of ballots are still being processed.

And, they added, their data shows Trump could still be competitive in Arizona, despite most analysts saying the state is squarely in Biden’s column. Stepien estimated that 500,000 ballots still need to be counted in Arizona and claimed the final tabulation meant the state "will come the president’s way at day’s end."

"We are confident in our pathway,” he added. “We are confident in our math. We are viewing these races as math equations where we need to get to a certain number and when we look at the states left on the board, we project confidence.”

He similarly cited internal numbers suggesting Trump could eke out a victory in Pennsylvania, where there are over a million mail-in ballots left to be counted. While Trump held a nearly 700,000-vote lead in the state as of 5 a.m. on Wednesday, Biden could make up that gap with the state’s remaining absentee ballots, given how heavily they have favored the Democratic nominee to this point.


On Twitter, Trump was more blunt.

“How come every time they count Mail-In ballot dumps they are so devastating in their percentage and power of destruction?” he asked in one tweet.

In another, he falsely claimed the ballots still being counted were “surprise ballot dumps,” saying it was “VERY STRANGE.” Twitter flagged the tweet for sharing “disputed” information that “might be misleading.”

One Republican close to the White House said the lack of a clear victory either way gives Trump an opening — even if insiders wish Trump had not falsely declared himself a winner in the middle of the night at the White House on Wednesday.

“This election was supposed to be won hands down by the Democrats, but they did not do this,” the Republican said. “We’re at a point where both sides are positioning themselves to be the winner.”

Others in the president’s orbit were less optimistic.

One senior administration official said the states Trump still needs to add to his column — namely Georgia and North Carolina — are subject to ballot rules that could delay the outcome long past states like Wisconsin and Michigan, where votes were being tallied in rapid fashion Wednesday morning.

For example, North Carolina can count ballots received up to nine days after the Nov. 3 election as long as they were postmarked by Election Day, the Supreme Court decided last week.

"The states we need to have called for us have delays, and the states Biden needs called for him, I would expect will have results by the end of Wednesday,” the official said. "If we’re able to win either Nevada or put Arizona back in the undecided column, then we’re still in play.”

As of Wednesday morning, Biden retained a narrow lead in Nevada with 86 percent of the votes reported.

The president’s reelection team has already hinted at robust legal challenges if the ultimate vote counts don’t match what they claim to see in their internal numbers, or if Biden wins Wisconsin with a margin of victory at or below 1 percent.

Stepien said the president is prepared to enter “recount territory" in Wisconsin and wants to ensure "that illegally cast ballots are not counted."

“We are in for a long ride. They will fight this thing until the death,” said a second Republican close to the White House. “The question now is: How many lawyers do they deploy? Are they in the right areas?”

Should the Trump campaign find itself waging a legal battle over the election outcome or statewide results, several allies said it will have to beef up its team of attorneys in the next few days. One former Trump campaign official said the president’s aides "have worked aggressively" to assemble a legal infrastructure in the last month or two, but still has work to do.

"They will have to build up the legal infrastructure significantly," added the senior administration official.

Gabby Orr contributed to this report.

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