A senior Republican Party official who was watching the press conference simply wrote a shrug emoticon after seeing it.
The result is a white house in limbo, according to interviews with over a dozen current and former administrators, election workers and allies of the president. People around Trump are caught between the president’s crusade to overthrow the election results – or perhaps just show how to fight to sow doubt about the results – and the need to deal with pressing public deals like the coronavirus pandemic and tackling the final administrative measures, not to mention finding new jobs.
Meanwhile, the president is being encouraged by a handful of die-hard loyalists and longtime aides like Giuliani, senior aide Stephen Miller and Trump social media guru Dan Scavino, suggesting that no retreat is in sight.
Trump has now canceled three trips to his Mar-a-Lago resort after several aides and allies urged him to stay in Washington to show he was serious about contesting the elections, three with the situation familiar people. The president was expected to travel to Mar-a-Lago on most weekends after the November 3rd election, but he’s now canceled each time – after blaming the weather – and will stay in DC for Thanksgiving.
“I think he’s probably crouching down to focus on this fight,” said former House spokesman Newt Gingrich, an ally of Trump.
“Just not when you are fighting,” added a former Trump aide who remains close to the campaign. “How serious is a fight when you’re partying in Mar-a-Lago?”
On Fox News, White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany made another statement, insisting that the president stay in Washington to work on the coronavirus response and plan to withdraw troops in Afghanistan and Iraq – both topics that he previously worked on at his resort.
“It’s amazing he doesn’t go down there,” said Laurence Leamer, author of “Mar-a-Lago: In the Gates of Power in Donald Trump’s Presidential Palace.” “It is his spiritual home and he has created his own reality there where nothing but people caress him – something he needs right now.”
At the White House, Trump has been following his campaign’s litigation most closely, barring his public schedule except for a no-question briefing. He filled the time with phone calls to friends and allies, in addition to occasional meetings at the Oval Office. A White House official said the presidential myopia in the election campaign was a mistake at a time when Covid cases are on the rise, arguing this is a moment to hold public health events.
Others around Trump once urged him to continue his MAGA rallies, which had become ubiquitous in the weeks leading up to the election. But the campaign is currently spending millions on its lawsuits and reporting on efforts in various states, making an expensive MAGA rally less attractive.
So Trump spent three weeks at the White House underpinning his campaign’s legal campaign to overthrow the elections with a series of tweets highlighting misleading evidence of election fraud, promoting unsubstantiated theories about a “rigged” system, and falsely claiming he was won the election.
In the past few days, however, the Trump team’s strategy has shifted with Trump’s army of lawyers filing lawsuits and gathering evidence across the country – a plan that has been in place since this summer – to simply put Giuliani on the show with Trump as his Washington hype man to direct.
The change signals a shift from an incremental approach – challenging a few votes here and there to bring the margins close enough for recounts – to one where the whole system is corrupt. The campaign filed a new iteration of its best-known Pennsylvania lawsuit, restoring the most generic allegations of electoral fraud and avoiding a more focused approach.
The revisions came after a second law firm withdrew from representing Trump and was criticized that the more than two dozen lawsuits were largely unfounded and had no effect.
And on Thursday it was clear that Giuliani had full responsibility. At a press conference, he went through a number of confusing and fact-free electoral fraud conspiracies and mentioned everyone from the dead Venezuelan dictator Hugo Chavez to the liberal billionaire George Soros.
“I think we are the lead lawyers,” said Giuliani told A full room with reporters at the headquarters of the Republican National Committee in Washington.
Giuliani’s uprising has angered numerous Republicans over Trump, and many election workers and allies privately admit that the battle is likely lost.
“You got into an impossible situation with Rudy,” said a Republican close to the campaign. “He runs everything now.”
Giuliani’s abuse has not yet won any court battles. On Thursday, for example, the Trump campaign withdrew its last remaining federal lawsuit in Michigan after failing materially in similar litigation in other swing states.
Nevertheless, the court of public opinion succeeded. According to a recent Reuters / Ipsos poll, more than half of Republicans said Trump rightly won the US election. Even when employees privately start accepting defeat, Trump has an incentive to plow forward.
Trump’s contact with state lawmakers is part of this push, according to a campaign official familiar with the situation. The official said some Trump aides and allies are encouraging Trump to invite state lawmakers from key swing states – who play a role in certifying their state results – to the White House.
There Trump can rely on them to bypass the official vote count and simply appoint voters who would give Trump the state’s electoral votes. Typically, as a formality, state lawmakers simply sign the voters elected by the winning party once the voting results are complete. States have to come to terms with their voters by December 8, before the electoral college meets to vote on December 14.
Trump will make his first foray into the company on Friday and host the two leaders of Michigan’s Republican-controlled legislature in the White House, according to a senior administrative official. Both lawmakers have previously told Local media unwilling to appoint Trump-friendly voters.
There are two more battlefield states Biden won with Republican lawmakers and Democratic governors that Trump could turn to next – Wisconsin and Pennsylvania.
Several high profile surrogate mothers mentioned the possibility of this legislature getting involved, but Pennsylvania Senate Majority Leader Jake Corman has already turned down the idea. The Attorney General, a Democrat, also ruled this out.
A former Trump adviser near the campaign said if Pennsylvania, with its 20 electoral votes, disagrees with the idea, the president cannot succeed and he knows it. The former aide said Trump just wanted the attention and stay in the news cycle.
“He’s not going to give up the A block,” said the person.
The chaotic situation has put White House and campaign staff in trouble, a former Trump aide close to the campaign said. They are increasingly realizing that their job is essentially done, but cannot find a new job for fear of being laid off.
“They should be free to make a living for their families,” said the former aide. “People are ready for their next chapter.”
“It accepts the inevitable – and the desire to move on,” added a Republican close to the campaign.
Gingrich, who supports Giuliani and Trump’s efforts to contest the election, admitted staff are in a difficult position.
“You’re in limbo,” he said. “We’re all suspended until this thing develops on its own.”
Nancy Cook contributed to this report.