They were wagering on normalcy.
Because normally, the loser of a U.S. election accepts the result, colleagues acknowledge he’s the loser and the loser helps the successor prepare for the transition of power.
Donald Trump, however, is not a normal loser.
He has not conceded, he’s not assisting president-elect Joe Biden’s transition, and most of his Republican colleagues are remaining silent or urging him to fight on.
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In fact, more foreign leaders have declared the election over than the number of U.S. Senate Republicans to do so: just a few of the 53 Republicans have conceded their former Senate colleague, Biden, has won.
The president and his allies, meanwhile, are fighting Biden’s win on four fronts: on the street, in the courts, in the bureaucracy and in state legislatures.
And, of course, on social media. They’re deluging the internet with claims about irregularities — claims either being disputed, debunked, contradicted, mocked, or which involve too small a number of ballots to affect the result.
Will any of this change the election outcome? Not a chance, according to several election-law experts, including two interviewed for this story and others who have weighed in elsewhere.
“Trump is just not going to get a majority of electoral [college] votes,” said Trey Hood, who studies election administration at the University of Georgia in Athens.
“It doesn’t matter whether Trump concedes or not.”
His colleague Michael Hanmer at the University of Maryland agrees the rules are too clear and Biden’s lead too large for Trump’s gambit to have any chance of success.
But it could be a disruptive moment for the country, as the president stokes the anger of his base on the following fronts.
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Several pro-Trump events are planned Saturday in Washington, D.C., and they’re being promoted online by Trump’s allies.
That has some locals worried about the potential for conflict, pitting residents of the capital, who overwhelmingly oppose Trump, against pro-Trump tourists.
Local authorities have expressed concern about one far-right rally and warned that guns will not be allowed to be carried openly in the city.
“We continue to follow those activities and be prepared for those activities,” Mayor Muriel Bowser said.
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The city also said this week that no permits had been requested for the events.
These events illustrate the uncommon pressure on Republican officials at the state level who play a role in the election certification process.
One conservative organizer said Trump supporters are right to be skeptical if they see irregularities. He said they expect the same of their party leaders.
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“Republicans want to fight,” said Matt Batzel, the Wisconsin-based organizer of the conservative group American Majority.
“The base does not want this election taken from them. They want leaders who want to fight.”
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The Trump campaign has launched a lawsuit challenging election results in Michigan, while the White House continues to keep president-elect Joe Biden’s transition team in limbo.
Pressure on state officials
This grassroots pressure on officials extends to legislatures in swing states, which are virtually all controlled by Republicans. A number of Trump supporters are demanding they overturn the reported result.
From the very moment Biden pulled ahead, some voices on the right demanded that state legislatures push aside governors and election boards and declare that they have the constitutional power to name electoral college slates for their state.
He referred to an event that would usually not warrant his attention: votes in the Pennsylvania legislature to decide who will hold key leadership positions. Trump said he hoped Republicans will choose fighters, and he added: “We will WIN!!”
Senior Pennsylvania Republicans have repeatedly said they won’t flip the result as state law gives the governor, a Democrat, power to name the electoral college slate.
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Hanmer called the idea of a legislature overturning a result democratically radioactive: “It would call into question our most basic assumptions about elections,” he said.
It would also be electorally pointless, Hood said, as Trump has lost in too many states for such a radical gambit to work.
Legislatures could, in theory, take the lesser step of trying to hamper their state’s certification process.
That could take time.
Under attack by his own party, the top Georgia official, Republican Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger, has announced that every ballot will be recounted by hand.
He intends to have the count done by next week despite reports Raffensperger is now quarantining after his wife tested positive for COVID-19.
A Pennsylvania Republican leader says he won’t interfere in the electoral college:
I have had ZERO contact with the Trump campaign or others about how PA chooses electors. The PA process as outlined in the Election Code DOES NOT involve the legislature. <a href=”https://t.co/DI2vsO7Z1E”>pic.twitter.com/DI2vsO7Z1E</a>
Such recounts face real deadline pressure.
Key states must announce the final result within weeks: Georgia’s result-certification deadline is next Friday; Pennsylvania’s and Michigan’s are Nov. 23; Arizona’s is Nov. 30; and Wisconsin’s is Dec. 1.
They must then formally report their results a week before Dec. 14, when the electoral college meets to officially pick the president.
These deadlines are serious. The U.S. Supreme Court, in the Bush vs. Gore case in 2000, suggested that missing such deadlines could cancel a state’s votes.
So recounts might slow the process. But could they affect the result? Not if history is any guide. Recounts in 2016 produced a net change of 131 votes in Wisconsin and 103 votes in Michigan, for example.
To win, he would need a minimum of three states to flip his way.
Court fights failing so far
Republicans have launched and lost about a dozen post-election legal cases. Yet Trump has said he wants to keep pushing the fight to the U.S. Supreme Court.
One Trump lawsuit seeks to suspend Pennsylvania’s process for certifying the vote result.
Al Schmidt, a Republican city commissioner who runs elections in Philadelphia and has received death threats, said lies and exaggerations about the result are popping up faster than he can debunk them.
“I have seen the most fantastical things on social media, making completely ridiculous allegations that have no basis in fact,” he told CNN.
“One thing I can’t comprehend is how hungry people are to consume lies — consume information that is not true.”
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He said he inspected rampant rumours that people who had died were illegally registered as voters in Philadelphia. Not a single example turned out to be true, he said.
Yet some allegations linger. In one suit filed in Michigan by a conservative group, a Detroit city employee who was reportedly furloughed earlier this year said she witnessed some election irregularities before she left in September, such as city election workers ignoring ID requirements and encouraging people to vote for Democrats.
Groups are even offering money for more witnesses to come forward. One group, Project Veritas, is offering up to $25,000 US.
It said a Pennsylvania postal worker alleged the backdating of some votes to meet a Nov. 3 deadline. He later recanted his story under questioning from postal service investigators, then changed it one more time.
Hood and Hanmer, for their part, saluted the work of election officials, whom they said did a great job under difficult circumstances given the pandemic. Hood even monitored about a dozen polling stations in Georgia as a non-partisan observer: “I observed no problems. Things were very efficient.”
The bureaucracy weighs in
Biden’s transition is being impeded financially and logistically at the bureaucratic level.
A Trump appointee who runs the General Services Administration has refused to sign a letter authorizing the start of the transition process.
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That has deprived Biden of the use of government resources, office space and funding to plan the transition in various government departments.
Biden is also not receiving the daily intelligence briefing that he normally would as president-elect.
Meanwhile, Trump has in recent days made a series of unusual national security moves for a president who’s supposed to be on his way out of office.
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Biden insists he’s not worried.
He downplayed the drama about him not getting security briefings or transition funding and said it will all work out.
He called the president’s behaviour “an embarrassment” for him and his legacy, and expressed confidence when asked if his old Republican colleagues in the Senate would come around. “They will,” he said.
What’s Trump’s goal?
Does he actually hope to flip the result? Is he raising money for his new political action committee? Is it a face-saving exercise? The news site Axios this week reported that Trump intends to launch a competitor to Fox News, and that he may hold rallies to bash Fox for being insufficiently loyal to him.
There are reports Trump plans to start a competitor to Fox News:
.<a href=”https://twitter.com/FoxNews?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw”>@FoxNews</a> daytime ratings have completely collapsed. Weekend daytime even WORSE. Very sad to watch this happen, but they forgot what made them successful, what got them there. They forgot the Golden Goose. The biggest difference between the 2016 Election, and 2020, was <a href=”https://twitter.com/FoxNews?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw”>@FoxNews</a>!
There are also varying theories about why elected Republicans are slow to acknowledge the result. A common one is that they’re fearful of angering Trump supporters right now.
Republicans need Trump fans to turn out for two critical elections in Georgia that will decide control of the U.S. Senate.
There’s one weakness, if that’s the strategy. It’s the calendar. Republicans can’t sit on the fence for long. Those Georgia elections aren’t until January, and the next president will be chosen far sooner.
The electoral college vote, on Dec. 14, wouldn’t usually be dramatic — at least not in normal times.
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About the Author
Alexander Panetta is a Washington-based correspondent for CBC News who has covered American politics and Canada-U.S. issues since 2013. He previously worked in Ottawa, Quebec City and internationally, reporting on politics, conflict, disaster and the Montreal Expos.