Trump goes for broke as legal effort sputtersNovember 19, 2020
Donald Trump’s legal team efforts to overturn the election results are falling flat. So the president himself is now personally intervening, inserting the White House into the Michigan certification process and redoubling his assault on the cities that buried his reelection hopes.
In Michigan, where the president called a Republican official on the Wayne County board of canvassers earlier this week, top GOP state lawmakers were preparing to travel to the White House to meet with Trump on Friday. In Wisconsin, Trump’s campaign is seeking a recount in the two heavily Democratic counties — Dane and Milwaukee — that cost him the election in that state. Similarly, the baseless claims of widespread voter fraud that Trump is advancing in Pennsylvania and Nevada hinge on the urban centers that doomed him in those key states — Philadelphia and Las Vegas’ Clark County, respectively.
The likelihood of overturning the result in any state — let alone in enough states to prevent Joe Biden from taking office — is exceedingly small. But Trump’s escalation amounts to a more focused endgame, one that seeks to shift the locus of action from the legal arena to a political one.
As he ratchets up his defiance of the election’s outcome, Trump is leveraging the urban-rural divide that has defined his politics for four years.
“Other guys would have conceded already and waved the white flag and gone home,” said Bill McCoshen, a Republican strategist based in Madison, Wis. “Trump’s not like that, and that’s why he won the first time … He’s got a base out there that expects him to fight and wants him to fight. So, he’s going to go down swinging.”
Looking over a spreadsheet of county results in Wisconsin — where Dane and Milwaukee counties combined to give Biden a 364,000-vote margin — McCoshen said, “Helps you see why [they] chose the counties they did.”
Nowhere was Trump’s focus on Democratic-heavy cities more apparent than in Michigan, where the four-member board of canvassers in Detroit’s Wayne County certified the presidential election results this week. After two Republican members sought to pull back their approval the Trump campaign withdrew a lawsuit challenging results in the state on Thursday, claiming the certification had been stopped.
It wasn’t, according to state officials, who said there was no procedure for the Republicans to rescind their vote.
“It absolutely means nothing,” Jonathan Kinloch, a Democratic member of the Wayne County Board of Canvassers, said of the attempt by Republicans to pull back their approval. “This certification is secure from yellow-belly politics, which are trying to reverse Donald Trump’s misfortune in Michigan.”
He said, “It is final. This goose is cooked.”
Yet with certification deadlines approaching in the states, Trump is intensifying his efforts to gum up the mechanics used to finalize the election. Georgia is expected to certify results Friday, followed by Pennsylvania and Michigan on Monday. And Trump could continue to protest at least through Dec. 14, when electors meet in their states to cast votes.
“I don’t see the embers dying off until then,” said Matt Moore, a former chairman of the South Carolina Republican Party who was a Trump elector in 2016.
Moore said that while “it’s hard to see the result changing … there’s not much incentive politically to concede. The fundraising’s ongoing, the president’s looking to remain engaged next year regardless. There’s not much incentive to disengage.”
So far, Trump’s baseless accusations of widespread voter fraud and numerous legal claims have failed on a big scale, and his other options to manipulate the Electoral College are extremely limited.
But his outreach to legislative Republicans in Michigan raised alarms about the possibility of Republican lawmakers overriding the popular vote in their states and appointing pro-Trump electors in the event of a stalemate over certification of election results.
It is unclear how effective Trump’s appeals to state legislative leaders may be. One of the Republicans set to meet with Trump on Friday, Michigan’s Senate majority leader, Mike Shirkey, told Bridge Michigan this week that the legislature would not go against the popular vote.
Yet Republican lawmakers in the states are under pressure from a base that remains convinced the election was not conducted fairly — and from a Republican Party apparatus that remains behind the president.
“We are going to clean this mess up now. President Trump won by a landslide. We are going to prove it. And we are going to reclaim the United States of America for the people who vote for freedom," said Sidney Powell, a Trump campaign lawyer whose comment was tweeted out Thursday by the Republican National Committee.
Trump’s fiercest allies on Capitol Hill have begun mounting a desperate, last-ditch campaign to undermine the results of the election — or, at the very least, publicly sow doubts about the outcome.
Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) kicked up a firestorm earlier this week when he confirmed that he contacted election officials in a trio of states that Trump lost to Biden — Arizona, Nevada and Georgia — to inquire about their mail-in voting process. But Graham denied a claim, made on the record by GOP Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger, that he tried to pressure officials to toss out legally-cast ballots.
Rep. Paul Gosar (R-Ariz.), meanwhile, told POLITICO he has been encouraging officials in his home state of Arizona to block the certification of the presidential election results until an audit is conducted. He also discussed the quixotic idea of states overriding the will of voters and sending Trump delegates to the Electoral College, though Gosar acknowledged that the Arizona governor is unlikely to pull the trigger on such an unprecedented move.
Hard-line members of the conservative House Freedom Caucus are discussing another potential Hail Mary: objecting to the vote-counting process on the floor when Congress certifies the Electoral College votes during a joint session in January.
“Everyone’s just talking about it,” said Rep. Warren Davidson (R-Ohio.), noting that members are “studying” up on the idea.
But objecting to the vote count wouldn’t stop the process all together: it would only create a delay — and some mischief — on the floor. And one lawmaker from each chamber would need to be on board with the plan for it to work. So far, no one has committed to following through with the idea.
Rep. Jim Jordan (R-Ohio), the ranking member on the House Judiciary Committee, and Rep. James Comer (R-Ky.), the ranking member on the House Oversight Committee, are calling for an investigation into the 2020 election and hearings into “troubling reports of irregularities and improprieties.”
Their demands will go nowhere in the Democrat-led House, however.
Outside of Washington, Trump is focusing his challenges to the election on the metropolitan areas Biden won by large margins in battleground states, reconstituting a campaign in which he pitted small towns and rural swaths of the country against Democratic-run cities he depicted as lawless, corrupt and unsafe.
In a news conference on Thursday, Trump’s lawyer Rudy Giuliani laced into “big cities controlled by Democrats” that he said “have a long history of corruption,” including Philadelphia and Detroit.
In addition to those cities, Republicans in Nevada filed litigation this week objecting to ballot processing and signature scanning machines used in Clark County. Biden carried the Democratic stronghold, which includes Las Vegas, by more than 90,000 votes.
Legal experts say the Trump campaign’s remaining legal challenges have little chance of success. And despite his forceful outbursts, Trump at times has appeared to recognize how dim his prospects are. Earlier this week, when the coronavirus vaccine developer Moderna announced a second vaccine that was more than 90 percent effective in trials, Trump addressed his legacy directly: “For those great ‘historians’, please remember that these great discoveries, which will end the China Plague, all took place on my watch!”
Bradley Blakeman, a Republican strategist who played a prominent role in the Florida recount in 2000, said Trump has done a service by shining light on irregularities in the process, including the discovery of several thousand votes in Georgia that were not initially included in the election results.
“Even though it won’t change the outcome, that’s an outrage,” Blakeman said.
Still, he said Trump has a political imperative to concede before the electors meet next month.
“You don’t want to make your concession be forced by the electors on Dec. 14,” Blakeman said. “It makes you look weak and it makes it look forced and desperate … If he lives to fight another day, so be it. But as far as this day is concerned, this cycle, it’s over.”
Nancy Cook contributed to this report.