It's crazy to think that this dude has been openly looting the country for years, botched a pandemic worse than any leader on earth, and has barely shown up for work since 2017, and yet seemingly only lost his bid for re-election because of this. https://t.co/PFlogboTZ0 pic.twitter.com/j8xpm1wkmk— David Roth (@david_j_roth) November 29, 2020
The facts were indisputable: President Trump had lost.However cleareyed Trump's aides may have been about his loss to President-elect Joe Biden, many of them nonetheless indulged their boss and encouraged him to keep fighting with legal appeals. They were "happy to scratch his itch," this adviser said. "If he thinks he won, it's like, 'Shh . . . we won't tell him.' "Trump campaign pollster John McLaughlin, for instance, discussed with Trump a poll he had conducted after the election that showed Trump with a positive approval rating, a plurality of the country who thought the media had been "unfair and biased against him" and a majority of voters who believed their lives were better than four years earlier . . . As expected, Trump lapped it up.The result was an election aftermath without precedent in U.S. history. With his denial of the outcome, despite a string of courtroom defeats, Trump endangered America's democracy, threatened to undermine national security and public health, and duped millions of his supporters into believing, perhaps permanently, that Biden was elected illegitimately. . . .All the while, Trump largely abdicated the responsibilities of the job he was fighting so hard to keep, chief among them managing the coronavirus pandemic as the numbers of infections and deaths soared across the country. . . .Only on Nov. 23 did Trump reluctantly agree to initiate a peaceful transfer of power by permitting the federal government to officially begin Biden's transition — yet still he protested that he was the true victor.The 20 days between the election on Nov. 3 and the greenlighting of Biden's transition exemplified some of the hallmarks of life in Trump's White House: a government paralyzed by the president's fragile emotional state; advisers nourishing his fables; expletive-laden feuds between factions of aides and advisers; and a pernicious blurring of truth and fantasy. . . .This account of one of the final chapters in Trump's presidency is based on interviews with 32 senior administration officials, campaign aides and other advisers to the president, as well as other key figures in his legal fight, many of whom spoke on the condition of anonymity to share details about private discussions and to candidly assess the situation.In the days after the election, as Trump scrambled for an escape hatch from reality, the president largely ignored his campaign staff and the professional lawyers who had guided him through the Russia investigation and the impeachment trial, as well as the army of attorneys who stood ready to file legitimate court challenges.Instead, Trump empowered loyalists who were willing to tell him what he wanted to hear — that he would have won in a landslide had the election not been rigged and stolen — and then to sacrifice their reputations by waging a campaign in courtrooms and in the media to convince the public of that delusion.The effort culminated Nov. 19, when lawyers Rudolph W. Giuliani, Jenna Ellis and Sidney Powell spoke on the president's behalf at the headquarters of the Republican National Committee to allege a far-reaching and coordinated plot to steal the election for Biden. They argued that Democratic leaders rigged the vote in a number of majority-Black cities, and that voting machines were tampered with by communist forces in Venezuela at the direction of Hugo Chávez, the Venezuelan leader who died seven years ago.There was no evidence to support any of these claims.The Venezuelan tale was too fantastical even for Trump, a man predisposed to conspiracy theories who for years has feverishly spread fiction. Advisers described the president as unsure about the latest gambit — made worse by the fact that what looked like black hair dye mixed with sweat had formed a trail dripping down both sides of Giuliani's face during the news conference. Trump thought the presentation made him "look like a joke," according to one campaign official who discussed it with him. . . .Trump went on to falsely claim that he "won," that the election was "a total scam" and that his legal challenges would continue "full speed ahead." He spent part of Thanksgiving calling advisers to ask if they believed he really had lost the election, according to a person familiar with the calls. "Do you think it was stolen?" the person said Trump asked on the holiday. . . .Trump's devolution into disbelief of the results began on election night in the White House, where he joined campaign manager Bill Stepien, senior advisers Jared Kushner and Jason Miller, and other top aides in a makeshift war room to monitor returns.In the run-up to the election, Trump was aware of the fact — or likelihood, according to polls — that he could lose. He commented a number of times to aides, "Oh, wouldn't it be embarrassing to lose to this guy?"But in the final stretch of the campaign, nearly everyone — including the president — believed he was going to win. And early on election night, Trump and his team thought they were witnessing a repeat of 2016, when he defied polls and expectations to build an insurmountable lead in the electoral college.Then Fox News called Arizona for Biden."He was yelling at everyone," a senior administration official recalled of Trump's reaction. "He was like, 'What the hell? We were supposed to be winning Arizona. What's going on?' He told Jared to call [News Corp. Executive Chairman Rupert] Murdoch." . . .Trump and his advisers were furious, in part because calling Arizona for Biden undermined Trump's scattershot plan to declare victory on election night if it looked as though he had sizable leads in enough states. . . .Throughout the summer and fall, Trump had laid the groundwork for claiming a "rigged" election, as he often termed it, warning of widespread fraud. Former chief of staff John F. Kelly told others that Trump was "getting his excuse ready for when he loses the election," according to a person who heard his comments.In June, during an Oval Office meeting with political advisers and outside consultants, Trump raised the prospect of suing state governments for how they administer elections and said he could not believe they were allowed to change the rules. All the states, he said, should follow the same rules. Advisers told him that he did not want the federal government in charge of elections.Trump also was given several presentations by his campaign advisers about the likely surge in mail-in ballots — in part because many Americans felt safer during the pandemic voting by mail than in person — and was told they would go overwhelmingly against him, according to a former campaign official.Advisers and allies . . . argu[ed] that he would need some of his voters, primarily seniors, to vote early by mail. But Trump instead exhorted his supporters not to vote by mail, claiming they could not trust that their ballots would be counted. "It was sort of insane," the former campaign official said. . . .As Trump watched his margins shrink and then reverse, he became enraged, and he saw a conspiracy at play."You really have to understand Trump's psychology," said Anthony Scaramucci, a longtime Trump associate and former White House communications director who is now estranged from the president. "The classic symptoms of an outsider is, there has to be a conspiracy. It's not my shortcomings, but there's a cabal against me. That's why he's prone to these conspiracy theories."This fall, deputy campaign manager Justin Clark, Republican National Committee counsel Justin Riemer and others laid plans for post-election litigation, lining up law firms across the country for possible recounts and ballot challenges . . .But Trump's success rate in court would change considerably after Nov. 3. The arguments that began pouring in from Giuliani and others on Trump's post-election legal team left federal judges befuddled. . . .For example, the Trump campaign argued in federal court in Philadelphia two days after the election to stop the count because Republican observers had been barred. Under sharp questioning from Judge Paul S. Diamond, however, campaign lawyers conceded that Trump in fact had "a nonzero number of people in the room," leaving Diamond audibly exasperated."I'm sorry, then what's your problem?" Diamond asked. . . .In the days following the election, few states drew Trump's attention like Georgia, a once-reliable bastion of Republican votes that he carried in 2016 but appeared likely to lose narrowly to Biden as late-remaining votes were tallied.And few people attracted Trump's anger like Gov. Brian Kemp, the state's Republican governor, who rode the president's coattails to his own narrow victory in 2018. . . .But Kemp, who preceded Raffensperger as secretary of state, would not do Trump's bidding. "He wouldn't be governor if it wasn't for me," Trump fumed to advisers earlier this month as he plotted out a call to scream at Kemp. . . .Trump fixated on a false conspiracy theory that the machines manufactured by Dominion Voting Systems and used in Georgia and other states had been programmed to count Trump votes as Biden votes. In myriad private conversations, the president would find a way to come back to Dominion. He was obsessed."Do you think there's really something here? I'm hearing . . . " Trump would say, according to one senior official who discussed it with him.Raffensperger said Republicans were only harming themselves by questioning the integrity of the Dominion machines. . . ."People need to get a grip on reality," he said. . . . "If Republicans don't start condemning this stuff, then I think they're really complicit in it," he said. . . . "Are you going to stand for integrity? Or are you going to stand for the wild mob? You wanted to condemn the wild mob when it's on the left side. What are you going to do when it's on our side?" . . .On Nov. 7, four days after the election, every major news organization projected that Biden would win the presidency. At the same time, Giuliani stood before news cameras in the parking lot of Four Seasons Total Landscaping in Philadelphia, near an adult-video shop and a crematorium, to detail alleged examples of voter fraud. . . .Around this time, some lawyers around Trump began to suddenly disappear from the effort in what some aides characterized as an attempt to protect their reputations. . . ."Literally only the fringy of the fringe are willing to do pressers, and that's when it became clear there was no 'there' there," a senior administration official said.A turning point for the Trump campaign's legal efforts came on Nov. 13 . . . The U.S. Court of Appeals for the 3rd Circuit in Philadelphia delivered a stinging defeat to Trump allies in a lawsuit trying to invalidate all Pennsylvania ballots received after Election Day.The decision didn't just reject the claim; it denied the plaintiffs standing in any federal challenge under the Constitution's electors clause — an outcome that Trump's legal team recognized as a potentially fatal blow to many of the campaign's challenges in the state.That is when a gulf emerged between the outlooks of most lawyers on the team and of Giuliani, who many of the other lawyers thought seemed "deranged" and ill-prepared to litigate . . . Some of the Trump campaign and Republican Party lawyers sought to even avoid meetings with Giuliani and his team. When asked for evidence internally for their most explosive claims, Giuliani and Powell could not provide it, the other advisers said. . . .Tensions within Trump's team came to a head that weekend, when Giuliani and Ellis staged what the senior administration official called "a hostile takeover" of what remained of the Trump campaign.On the afternoon of Nov. 13, a Friday, Trump called Giuliani from the Oval Office while other advisers were present, including Vice President Pence; White House counsel Pat Cipollone; Johnny McEntee, the director of presidential personnel; and Clark.Giuliani, who was on speakerphone, told the president that he could win and that his other advisers were lying to him about his chances. Clark called Giuliani an expletive and said he was feeding the president bad information. . . .The next day, a Saturday, Trump tweeted out that Giuliani, Ellis, Powell and others were now in charge of his legal strategy. Ellis startled aides by entering the campaign's Arlington headquarters and instructing staffers that they must now listen to her and Giuliani. . . .The strategy [of the "elite strike force," as they dubbed themselves], according to a second senior administration official, was, "Anyone who is willing to go out and say, 'They stole it,' roll them out. Rudy Giuliani, Jenna Ellis, Sidney Powell. . . . Just roll everybody up who is willing to do it into a clown car, and when it's time for a press conference, roll them out." . . .As Trump's legal challenges failed in court, he employed another tactic to try to reverse the result: a public pressure campaign on state and local Republican officials to manipulate the electoral system on his behalf."As was the case throughout his business career, he viewed the rules as instruments to be manipulated to achieve his chosen ends," said Galston of the Brookings Institution. . . .On Nov. 17, Trump called a Republican member of the board of canvassers in Wayne County [Michigan] . . . [and told her] to rescind her vote to certify Biden's win . . . Then Trump invited the leaders of Michigan's Republican-controlled state Senate and House to meet him at the White House, apparently hoping to coax them to block certification of the results or perhaps even to ignore Biden's popular-vote win and seat Trump electors if the state's canvassing board deadlocked. . . .There was never a moment when the lawmakers contemplated stepping in on Trump's behalf, because Michigan law does not allow it, this person said. . . .Trump was scattered in the meeting, interrupting to talk about the coronavirus when the lawmakers were talking about the election, and then talking about the election when they were talking about the coronavirus, the person said. . . .The weekend of Nov. 21 and on Monday, Nov. 23, Trump faced mounting pressure from Republican senators and former national security officials — as well as from some of his most trusted advisers — to end his stalemate with Biden and authorize the General Services Administration to initiate the transition. . . .Trump was reluctant, believing that by authorizing the transition, he would in effect be conceding the election. . . .Late on Nov. 23, Trump announced that he had allowed the transition to move forward because it was "in the best interest of our Country," but he kept up his fight over the election results.The next day, after a conversation with Giuliani, Trump decided to visit Gettysburg, Pa., on Nov. 25, the day before Thanksgiving, for a news conference at a Wyndham Hotel to highlight alleged voter fraud. The plan caught many close to the president by surprise, including RNC Chairwoman Ronna McDaniel, three officials said. Some tried to talk Trump out of the trip, but he thought it was a good idea to appear with Giuliani.A few hours before he was scheduled to depart, the trip was scuttled. "Bullet dodged," said one campaign adviser. "It would have been a total humiliation."That afternoon, Trump called in to the meeting of GOP state senators at the Wyndham, where Giuliani and Ellis were addressing attendees. He spoke via a scratchy connection to Ellis's cellphone, which she played on speaker. At one point, the line beeped to signal another caller. . . ."This election was lost by the Democrats," [Trump] said, falsely. "They cheated."