Friday, 4 Dec 2020

US presidential election: Denial from Trump and resignation from a handful of his aides

WASHINGTON (NYTIMES) – President Donald Trump’s motorcade was just pulling into his private golf club in suburban Virginia on Saturday (Nov 7) morning when news organisations ended days of waiting and declared that he had lost the presidency to former vice-president Joe Biden.

Aides called Mr Trump to let him know that their predictions over the past several days had come true: Every major news outlet had projected Mr Biden to be the winner. But the president, who an hour earlier had said on Twitter that “I WON THIS ELECTION, BY A LOT!”, was not surprised, they said. And he did not change his plans to go ahead with legal challenges to the election results that several of his own advisers warned him were long shots at best, or to play golf.

The aides said Mr Trump had no plans to immediately deliver the kind of concession speech that has become traditional in past presidential elections, and his campaign vowed to continue waging the legal battle across the country. In a statement issued while he was still on the course at Trump National Golf Club, Mr Trump said Mr Biden was trying to “falsely pose” as the winner.

“The simple fact is this election is far from over,” the president said. “Beginning Monday, our campaign will start prosecuting our case in court to ensure election laws are fully upheld and the rightful winner is seated.”

Mr Trump’s advisers said he refused to acknowledge yet that the race was over, maintaining his baseless accusation that Democrats had stolen victory from him.

They do not believe he will try in any way to block Mr Biden from taking his place, but they said that if the president has not delivered a formal concession speech by the time he departs, pressure may mount on his Republican allies, family members and friends to convince Mr Trump that he must give in to the inevitable and let the American people know that he accepts their judgement of his four years in office.

Even some of Mr Trump’s oldest advisers, like former governor Chris Christie of New Jersey, have said publicly that he needed to have actual evidence to make the claims he has been making about the election.

“This kind of thing, all it does is inflame without informing. And we cannot permit inflammation without information,” Mr Christie said on ABC News on Thursday night.

Now that Mr Biden has been declared the winner, White House advisers must confront the reality that Mr Trump will be a lame-duck president for the next 2.5 months.

Since early Wednesday morning, when Mr Trump angrily declared the election to be a “fraud” on the public, he has been mostly ensconced in the Oval Office or the presidential residence, watching television coverage and brooding.

Besides his children, he has spoken by phone and at the White House with a coterie of advisers, including former White House counsellor Kellyanne Conway, his campaign manager Bill Stepien, his deputy campaign manager Justin Clark, his adviser Hope Hicks, and Ms Ronna McDaniel, chairman of the Republican National Committee.

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Vice-President Mike Pence spent part of Friday in the Oval Office with Mr Trump, but the president’s Chief of Staff Mark Meadows, who tested positive for the coronavirus the day after the election, has been working remotely on the campaign’s current legal challenges.

Mr Trump’s advisers had succeeded in persuading his personal lawyer Rudy Giuliani to stand down from some of his public allegations about fraud. But Mr Giuliani called Mr Trump directly to appeal to him, and the president signed off on a news conference outside a landscaping company in Philadelphia that started Saturday morning just after news outlets called the presidential race for Mr Biden.

Some aides were candid with Mr Trump that there was not much of a path forward, even though they said they would continue on. Only a few had seemed resistant to the idea that Mr Biden was likely to win, including the president’s son-in-law Jared Kushner, people who spoke with Mr Trump said.

As he played golf on Saturday, aides said, Mr Trump was surprisingly calm, given the news he had received upon his arrival at the club.

But he had not yet begun to watch television news coverage of Mr Biden’s victory. Nearly two hours after an uneventful return to the White House, Mr Trump began posting angry, and false, tweets insisting that he had won the election and complaining that “MILLIONS OF MAIL-IN BALLOTS WERE SENT TO PEOPLE WHO NEVER ASKED FOR THEM!”

Aides began to focus on data points they believed Mr Trump could cite as accomplishments even in defeat, including receiving the second-most votes in American history and drawing a new batch of voters into the Republican Party.

Still, several Trump advisers said that while they now wanted to give the president space to process the loss, they were exhausted after four years of tumult, and were eager for clarity about what would come next.

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“President Trump should go against his nature and call off the legal dogs,” said Mr Dan Eberhart, a Trump supporter and donor, who called Mr Biden’s victory “unfortunate”.

As Mr Trump’s motorcade arrived back at the White House Saturday afternoon, passing crowds of Biden supporters applauding the president’s ouster, Mr Trump’s aides were still in varying degrees of shock about the outcome of a race that many had believed he would win.

Some of those aides had already started to leave in anticipation of a loss.

Mr Ja’Ron Smith, the most senior Black official in the West Wing and a deputy assistant to the president, sent an e-mail to colleagues on Friday saying that he was departing. One of his colleagues said it had been long planned, but others saw it as the beginning of a slow exodus as Inauguration Day draws closer.

Mr Trump, for his part, showed no sign of ending his hunt for allegations of fraud that could lend credence to lawsuits he wants filed in a number of states. A campaign official said that Mr Stepien and Mr Kushner had Mr David Bossie, the head of the conservative group Citizens United and a longtime Trump ally, to lead efforts to contest vote counts in several states.

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Some of the president’s allies in the Senate said they understood why he felt entrenched.

“I don’t blame him one bit for fighting for every single vote,” said Republican Senator Kevin Cramer for North Dakota.

Even before he leaves the White House, one of Mr Trump’s most powerful forms of communication has been diminished. Twitter has grown increasingly aggressive about flagging Mr Trump’s false statements even as the president, in the days after the election, has spread false stories about “illegal ballots” and has demanded that local officials in several states stop counting ballots prematurely.

A spokesman for Twitter, Mr Nick Pacilio, said in a statement that the company had flagged the president’s tweets “for making potentially misleading claims about an election”.

The statement added: “This action is in line with our civic integrity policy and as is standard with this warning, we will significantly restrict engagements on these tweets.”

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