President Donald Trump was charging ahead Thursday with a strategy to force an election victory, or at least forestall a loss, through legal maneuvers and demands for recounts, a final-ditch effort to prevent states from tallying ballots that could decide the next president.
And despite campaign assurances that the numbers will break their way, reality appeared to be setting in for several of Trump’s aides in the White House and campaign that the President is facing an ever-narrowing path to victory. Some privately acknowledged the chances of Trump winning are now slim and were contemplating their next career steps.
But that reality hasn’t appeared to have set in for the candidate himself. Trump continued to make a series of phone calls overnight, stung that his lead in some states had vanished and convinced Biden is stealing the presidency. Trump does retain a chance of winning, though has fewer roads to 270 electoral votes than his rival Joe Biden.
Entrenched at the White House with no public events on his schedule, Trump has personally dispatched advisers to battlegrounds across the country hoping to wage legal battle in places where the margins remain tight. Despite skepticism about the efficacy of his strategy, Trump has remained intent on waging a prolonged fight, viewing it as his only option.
It was an onslaught the President had previewed ahead of time, vowing to unleash his team of lawyers in states where he was losing.
But it was nonetheless a scattershot effort that seemed designed more to undermine confidence in the election results and provide legal backing to Trump’s unfounded claims of fraud than to actually surface more votes.
In a morning tweet, Trump laid bare his intentions, even as his advisers insisted they weren’t attempting to suppress the vote.
“STOP THE COUNT!” he wrote around 9 a.m. ET, at which time vote totals in key states actually showed him behind Biden, meaning a halt in counting would render him a one-term president.
Trump’s all-caps tweets from the White House residence were bolstered by his campaign’s public relations attempts and by his surrogates, who have voiced baseless claims that the election was rife with fraud.
There has been no credible evidence of widespread voter fraud in this year’s contest. But Trump’s rallying cry did prompt some of his loyal supporters to congregate at tabulation centers to demand the counting be halted.
In public, Trump’s team remains insistent his path to victory is possible and even likely.
“Donald Trump is alive and well,” campaign manager Bill Stepien told reporters on a morning conference call.
Meanwhile Trump has pushed aides to pursue more lawsuits, legal standing be damned, and has personally instructed his adult children to go out and defend him by casting doubt on the validity of the vote counts, multiple people familiar with the matter said.
The President has also been eager to speak publicly. While aides considered having him make an address on Wednesday, it was ultimately decided against because there wasn’t a clear message for him to offer. Some advisers had been working to plan events for the President to show him going about his job, but so far none have been announced.
For Trump, Wednesday was a frustrating stretch. Two key battlegrounds, Michigan and Wisconsin, were called in Biden’s favor. The race tightened dramatically in Georgia and Pennsylvania, while in Arizona the President is narrowing his margin against Biden.
While Biden spoke to cameras from near his home in Delaware, encouraging patience while still voicing optimism, Trump remained out of sight. Instead, he spent the day angrily phoning Republican governors to demand updates and question why more wasn’t being done to assist his efforts, people familiar with the calls said. Trump spoke Wednesday to the governors of Georgia, Arizona and Florida.
At the same time, he has sounded resigned at moments in conversations with some of his allies, questioning whether his legal strategy would work and whether his team was up to the challenge of fighting in the courts, according to a person who spoke to him. In those conversations, Trump sounded tired and down, people who spoke to him said. Despite his skepticism, the President has suggested he has no other option than to continue fighting.
Trump’s top lieutenants, including Vice President Mike Pence, chief of staff Mark Meadows and senior adviser Jared Kushner, all huddled at his campaign headquarters in suburban Virginia on Wednesday to plot a path forward.
Others on his team, including his son Eric Trump and his personal attorney Rudy Giuliani, mobilized to Pennsylvania, which appears to be ground zero in the campaign’s legal efforts. Another team, including the former US ambassador to Germany Ric Grennell, was in Nevada.
Trump’s team has filed lawsuits in Pennsylvania and Michigan demanding vote counting be halted until their observers are allowed access to the process. The campaign also filed suit in Georgia alleging improper vote counting in a single county and has sued the Clark County, Nevada, registrar challenging its process for observing ballot processing.
Trump’s campaign also said it was asking the US Supreme Court to intervene in a pending case challenging a Pennsylvania state court decision that allowed ballots to be counted after Election Day. And it has demanded a recount in Wisconsin, though can’t formally request one until the canvas is completed, which could come as late as November 17.
The various filings and requests amount to long-shot legal arguments, several legal analysts said, focusing on such thin claims or affecting such a small portion of votes that they won’t decide the presidential election.
“Admitting defeat is not a plausible reaction so soon after the election, so they throw a lot of Hail Mary lawsuits at the wall and hope something sticks,” longtime Republican elections lawyer and CNN contributor Ben Ginsberg said. He said the types of suits filed by Trump’s team aren’t indicative of a campaign that’s feeling optimistic.