Donald Trump refused to formally concede the US election on Saturday, even as senior Republicans began to distance themselves from him, and as recriminations were reported among aides to a man doomed to go down as an impeached, one-term president.
Before the race was called, Trump continued to tweet his defiance and to attract censure for making baseless claims about voter fraud and his supposed victory. He also went to his course in Virginia to play golf. While he played, a defiant statement was issued in his name.
“The simple fact is this election is far from over,” Trump insisted. “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.”
The statement was of a piece with previous tweets and statements since the election on Tuesday – angry, refusing to admit defeat and alleging improprieties by his opponent without providing evidence.
“The American people are entitled to an honest election,” Trump said. “That means counting all legal ballots, and not counting any illegal ballots. This is the only way to ensure the public has full confidence in our election.
“It remains shocking that the Biden campaign refuses to agree with this basic principle and wants ballots counted even if they are fraudulent, manufactured or cast by ineligible or deceased voters. Only a party engaged in wrongdoing would unlawfully keep observers out of the count room – and then fight in court to block their access.”
None of what Trump alleged has been proved to be true. Nonetheless, Republican legal challenges in key states are set to continue. Leading the effort to marshal a legal force like that which led the party to victory in the 2000 Florida recount were Jared Kushner, Donald Trump Jr and his younger brother Eric Trump, and Rudy Giuliani, the former New York mayor recently seen apparently trying to seduce a young actor posing as a reporter in Sacha Baron Cohen’s second Borat movie.
“Beginning Monday,” Trump added, “our campaign will start prosecuting our case in court to ensure election laws are fully upheld and the rightful winner is seated. So what is Biden hiding? I will not rest until the American people have the honest vote count they deserve and that Democracy demands.”
Trump’s daughter, Ivanka, has largely stayed quiet. Nowhere to be seen is an army of lawyers of the size – and skill – Trump will need. The failure to assemble a coherent legal team, and to raise as much as $60m to fund attempts to stop vote counts in some swing states and continue them in others, was in many ways a reflection of previous failures among the small circle of mostly family advisers Trump has kept around him.
“What a campaign needs to do to staff one statewide recount, let alone multiple recounts, is overwhelming,” Benjamin Ginsberg, a top Republican lawyer who was national counsel to George W Bush in 2000 and 2004, told CNN.
“Bush v Gore was one state [Florida]. We put out a call and hundreds of lawyers, political operatives and many others responded. Even with that, it taxed the party to its limits to do just one state. It is at best unproven that the Trump campaign can command the sort of infrastructure they would really need to pull this off.”
The legal challenge to Biden’s victory was placed in the hands of Jay Sekulow, who defended the president during the Mueller investigation and the impeachment process, and Giuliani, who went to Philadelphia to publicly demand Republican operatives be granted greater oversight over the Pennsylvania count.
Among experts dismissing Trump’s legal moves was James Baker, who led the effort for Bush in Florida which wrested the White House from Al Gore.
It was reported this week that Kushner was placing calls from the Trump war room, in search of his own version of Baker, a former chief of staff, treasury secretary and secretary of state. Baker has backed Trump. But he told the New York Times that 20 years ago, “We never said don’t count the votes. That’s a very hard decision to defend in a democracy.”
Trump advisers have reportedly raised the prospect of defeat. According to the Washington Post, some have advocated that the president offer public remarks committing to a peaceful transfer of power. One senior aide, however, said there had been no discussion of a formal concession.
Some supporters in the media have begun to back away. Late on Friday, the Fox News host Laura Ingraham, an ardent loyalist, advised the president to “accept defeat”, should it come, with “grace and composure”. Ingraham also railed at “failed” consultants and campaign officials who “blew through hundreds of millions of dollars without the legal apparatus in place to challenge what we all knew was coming.
“Why aren’t the best lawyers in America on television night after night explaining the president’s legal claims?” she asked.
The New York Post also changed its tune. In October, the paper called Trump “an invincible hero, who … survived every dirty trick the Democrats threw at him”. But on Thursday, the Murdoch tabloid accused Trump of making an “unfounded claim that political foes were trying to steal the election”.
Support from Republicans in Congress was notably tepid. On Friday, the Senate majority leader, Mitch McConnell, said only: “Every legal vote should be counted. Any illegally submitted ballots must not. All sides must get to observe the process. And the courts are here to apply the laws and resolve disputes.”
As night drew in on Saturday, Trump returned to Twitter. Among more baseless claims of malpractice, he bragged that he had received “71,000,000 legal votes. The most EVER for a sitting president!”
That much was true – if the number was rounded up. Trump’s challenger, however, had more than 4m more.
Source – The Guardian