President Donald Trump is coming to grips with his re-election defeat, according to aides and advisers, even as he continues to publicly discredit the outcome and delay the start of the official transition to President-elect Joe Biden’s administration.
Trump began a tweet Sunday morning with the phrase “He won,” interpreted by even fellow Republicans as a possible concession. “I think that’s a start of an acknowledgment,” Arkansas Governor Asa Hutchinson, a Republican, said on “Meet the Press.”
After news organizations published stories saying Trump had acknowledged defeat for the first time, the president followed up with a tweet proclaiming, “I concede NOTHING!” But pressure is growing both from Biden’s team and from within Trump’s party for the government to begin the formal transition process, delayed by the president’s refusal to concede.
Privately, people around him say the president is increasingly aware he cannot overturn the result of the election. The people asked not to be identified discussing the matter because of Trump’s public statements.
Nonetheless, the president has made a show of fighting on. Over the weekend, he appointed his confidant Rudy Giuliani to lead his legal battles, which endured a string of setbacks last week. The former New York mayor, whose activities in Ukraine contributed to Trump’s impeachment and who led a discredited effort to tar Biden as corrupt ahead of the election, said in a statement that “my team is vigorously fighting on behalf of the president to restore legitimacy and trust in the results of this election and future ones.”
He made a series of allegations about irregularities and fraud in Michigan and Pennsylvania’s elections. Election lawyers who have reviewed affidavits Trump’s team have filed in a federal suit seeking to stop Michigan from certifying its election results say they do not constitute evidence of fraud and shouldn’t be grounds to overturn the outcome.
Biden’s incoming chief of staff, Ron Klain, said on “Meet the Press” on Sunday that it’s time for the president to accept the election outcome and begin the transition. The Trump appointee who leads the General Services Administration, Emily Murphy, has not yet acted to officially recognize Biden as the incoming president, allowing his transition teams access to federal agencies.
“It’s time for leaders in both parties to get to business of this transition, to get to business of working together to start to plan out a legislative agenda for next year,” Klain said.
Trump on Sunday tweeted “Great job, Emily!” in response to a tweet she posted about awarding federal contracts to disabled veterans.
Biden and Vice President-elect Kamala Harris have begun forming an administration-in-waiting, and they will deliver remarks on Monday outlining their plans for a post-pandemic economic recovery, their transition team announced Sunday.
Read more: Biden, Harris to Make Remarks on Economic Recovery Monday
Republicans outside Trump’s inner-most circle are increasingly showing their frustration with the president’s rejection of his defeat, which risks cementing suspicion and doubt about the U.S. electoral system among the more than 73 million Americans who voted for him. The GOP will need those voters to participate enthusiastically in future elections, starting Jan. 5 when Georgia holds runoffs for two Senate seats that will decide control of the chamber.
“It is important that we accept the outcome of the election,” Hutchinson said, while nodding at Trump’s “constitutional assertions” in Pennsylvania and a hand recount of ballots in Georgia’s presidential election, which Trump also lost.
“Our Department of Homeland Security indicated this week that there’s not any evidence of rampant fraud in the election that would undermine the result,” he said. “We need to accept the result once that process is completed, come together and recognize we’ve got new leadership, and we need to pull together as a nation.”
In the three battleground states where he is most seriously contesting the results — Wisconsin, Michigan and Pennsylvania — Trump trails Biden by more than 233,000 votes, or more than three times the margin by which he defeated Hillary Clinton in 2016.
Neil Newhouse, a Republican strategist, said that by continuing to deny he lost the election and contesting the results, Trump keeps his supporters fired up. The president may believe that will help Republicans in Georgia — or he may be considering running for the presidency himself for a third time in 2024.
Trump has mentioned the possibility of a 2024 run, according to one person close to him. But there are doubts Republican donors would financially back him again, the person said.
“He has potentially one eye on a path in 2024, a second one on keeping his base and also looking at the Georgia senate race,” Newhouse said.
Terry Sullivan, a Republican strategist who worked on Florida Senator Marco Rubio’s 2016 presidential run, said he isn’t certain that Trump’s goal is to further his future political aspirations.
“I think this is 100% a branding exercise for Donald Trump,” Sullivan said. “He doesn’t care about Georgia. He doesn’t care about 2024.”
Former President Barack Obama encouraged Trump to concede in an interview with “60 Minutes” on Sunday. “My advice to President Trump is, if you want at this late stage in the game to be remembered as somebody who put country first, it’s time for you to do the same thing,” he said.
Trump’s tweets on Sunday first acknowledging Biden’s win and then denying it followed overnight clashes between his supporters and counter-protesters in Washington, D.C., after thousands of Trump fans held a so-called “Million MAGA March” in the city.
The president didn’t intend to give the impression that he was conceding in his tweets, according to one person familiar with his thinking. The White House didn’t immediately respond to a message left for comment about whether the tweet signaled that a more formal concession was in the offing.
Nevertheless, it was an extension of the resigned tone that Trump demonstrated in a Rose Garden event Friday, where he first publicly hinted that he might have lost the election. Addressing the country on efforts to develop a vaccine for the coronavirus pandemic — his handling of which helped cost him the White House — Trump said that he wouldn’t order another nationwide lockdown, but another administration might.
Trump’s team is eyeing a Tuesday court hearing on Pennsylvania’s motion to dismiss a lawsuit the campaign filed to prevent the state from certifying Biden as the winner of its 20 electoral votes.
Trump’s lawyers narrowed their case on Sunday, abandoning an argument to throw out hundreds of thousands of votes in Philadelphia and Pittsburgh. They instead argue there’s evidence voters in a half-dozen counties were improperly allowed to fix errors with their ballots.
Read more: Trump Campaign Narrows Focus of Pennsylvania Election Suit
Asked whether Trump would concede if the Pennsylvania lawsuit is dismissed, his campaign only referred to “the president’s tweets.”
So far the legal fights that Trump has mounted have proved unsuccessful. On Friday, the campaign walked away from a lawsuit over voting machines in Arizona, after state evidence showed that the number of ballots in question wouldn’t be enough to alter the results there.
Later that day, Trump made the decision to appoint Giuliani to lead his legal efforts.
Separately, lawyers with Porter Wright Morris & Arthur LLP, submitted a filing late Thursday stating that they were withdrawing as counsel in the Pennsylvania case. Trump’s campaign blamed “cancel culture” for the move.
In a Sunday evening tweet, Trump suggested more legal action could be ahead, saying that “many” of the current cases are independent of his campaign. “Our big cases showing the unconstitutionality of the 2020 Election, & the outrage of things that were done to change the outcome, will soon be filed!” he said.
He subsequently issued a series of tweets complaining that Joe Biden had been recognized as the president-elect before his campaign could mount its legal challenges, once again making false claims about irregularities and fraud in the election.
— With assistance by Jennifer Jacobs, Saleha Mohsin, Jordan Fabian, and Ros Krasny
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