In a Wednesday White House meeting, President Trump had something he wanted to discuss with his advisers, many of whom have told him his chances of successfully changing the 2020 election results are slim as a reed .
He then insisted on whether Republican legislatures could pick pro-Trump voters in a handful of key states and deliver him the electoral votes he needed to change the math and give him a second term, people knowledgeable about. the discussion.
“He knows it’s over,” said an adviser. But instead of conceding, they said, he throws one unlikely scenario after another to stay in power as he contemplates his uncertain future after the presidency.
There is no grand strategy involved, according to interviews with half a dozen advisers and those close to the president. Mr. Trump is simply trying to survive from one news cycle to the next, seeing how far he can push his case against defeat and ensure the continued support of his Republican base.
By dominating the story of his exit from the White House, he hopes to keep his millions of supporters energized and engaged for what is to come.
The president has insisted to his aides that he actually beat Joseph R. Biden Jr. on November 3, but it is not known if he actually believed him. And instead of quietly calling for a recount, Mr. Trump has made a series of spurious allegations, seizing on plots stoked on the internet.
The last one was Thursday, when he falsely claimed on Twitter that Dominion voting machines transferred hundreds of thousands of votes to Mr Biden, citing a report he saw on the fringe OANN network, something even his supporters have called ridiculous and a federal agency charged with cybersecurity disowned in a statement.
Advisors said her efforts were in line with one of her favorite hobbies: creating controversy and watching how it plays out.
In a next step, Mr. Trump is seriously talking about announcing that he plans to run again in 2024, knowing that whether he does or not, it will freeze an already crowded field of potential Republican candidates. And, say Republicans, he will retain the broad support he has shown even when defeated and could secure a lucrative book deal or speaking fees.
In the meantime, Mr. Trump has spent his days switching between his White House residence and the Oval Office, watching television coverage of the final weeks of his presidency. His mood is often gloomy, advisers say, although he doesn’t raise his voice in anger, despite the impression left by his tweets, often in all caps.
But the government’s job has been reduced to a sort of side spectacle for the president. He has made no public appearances other than a visit to Arlington National Cemetery on Veterans Day since an angry statement a week ago.
And he has not spoken about or mentioned the coronavirus pandemic on Twitter despite the skyrocketing growth of positive cases and the number of West Wing aides and outside advisers who have been diagnosed with the virus at the moment. last week.
Several advisers have told Mr Trump bluntly that the chances of changing the outcome of the election are almost non-existent, including in a meeting with him on Saturday at the White House at which the president’s son-in-law Jared Kushner said dispatched assistants, even though he generally supported Mr. Trump’s desire to continue fighting.
While most Republicans have refused to publicly oppose the president, others have been vocal that the time has come, amid the growing pandemic, to allow a transition.
“Listen, I’m worried about this virus. I’m not looking at the merits of the case, ”Ohio Republican Gov. Mike DeWine said of Mr. Trump’s lawsuits in an appearance Thursday on CNN. “It looks like Joe Biden will be the next president of the United States.”
Karl Rove, the architect of President George W. Bush’s presidency and Mr. Trump’s informal adviser, wrote in the Wall Street Journal on Wednesday that “the closure of this election will be a difficult but necessary step towards restoring a unity and political balance. “
He added that after the “days of Mr. Trump’s court hearing are over, the president should do his part to unite the country by leading a peaceful transition and letting go of grievances.”
A peaceful transition is not as much on Mr. Trump’s mind right now as settling scores both inside and outside the administration.
White House advisers have sent warnings to all government employees who may seek other jobs, have placed loyalists in senior Pentagon ranks, and have been open to calls for intelligence officials to declassify documents related to the investigation into a possible conspiracy between the Trump campaign in 2016 and Russian officials.
And the president is considering firing CIA director Gina Haspel, although some administration officials have said he may not do so.
The president fueled searing anger at Fox News for calling Arizona for Mr. Biden on election night, and received suggestions from allies to start some sort of competing, conservative-leaning news network, be it trying to partner with an existing property like OANN or Newsmax, or forming its own digital network, as Axios reported. (The New York Times called Arizona for Mr. Biden on Thursday night.)
In a tweet Thursday, Mr. Trump continued his attacks on his once-loyal supporters, stating that “Fox News’ day ratings have completely collapsed.”
“On weekends, even WORSE,” he added. “Very sad to see this happening, but they forgot what made them succeed, what got them there. They forgot about the Golden Goose. The biggest difference between the 2016 and 2020 election was @Fox News! “
Several Republicans expressed doubts Thursday that Mr. Trump would ever be able to muster anything that could overtake Fox.
And the allies recognize that he couldn’t have both a presidential campaign and create a news network at the same time, and they wondered if he would keep his animosity towards Fox if he offered him a contributor contract. lucrative once he was out of office. .
Some advisers had hoped Mr Trump would accept the state of the race by the end of this week, but an impending recount in Georgia could delay that. The president told some advisers that if the race is certified for Mr Biden, he will announce a 2024 campaign soon after.
The president’s goal for now is to delay certification of election results, a process that has started in some states. But his approach to prosecutions to delay certification has been as scattered as his own thinking about the future.
Advisers say more lawsuits could be brought, but it’s not entirely clear when. It is also unclear who is leading the legal efforts.
Rudolph W. Giuliani, Mr. Trump’s personal lawyer, has been a source of enormous frustration for Trump’s advisers. Advisers have tried to tell Mr Trump that the fraud Mr Giuliani offers hope to prove simply does not exist.
Mr. Trump is also receiving suggestions from a range of other lawyers. Among them was Sidney Powell, the lawyer for his former national security adviser, Lt. Gen. Michael T. Flynn, who was at the Trump campaign headquarters this weekend.
Advisers urged the president to stop talking about “fraud” because it has legal implications that his team were unable to support. Mr. Trump has therefore decided to declare the election “rigged,” one of his favorite words but with dangerous implications in terms of how his own supporters view the end result of the election.