When Donald Trump heard he lost the election to Joe Biden, he was on the golf course.
After being cooped up in the White House since Election Day, the president had traveled to his namesake golf club outside Washington to play a round of golf, like he had so many warm, sunny weekends during his presidency.
He was there at 11:25 a.m. when news outlets declared Democrat Joe Biden had secured the 270 electoral votes needed to win the White House, cutting short Trump’s presidency after one term.
But Trump wasn’t ready to concede. A few minutes after the race was called, the campaign issued a prepared statement from the president, refusing to acknowledge Biden as the winner and continuing to offer vague, unsubstantiated allegations of voter fraud.
“The simple fact is this election is far from over,” Trump said. “Joe Biden has not been certified as the winner of any states, let alone any of the highly contested states headed for mandatory recounts, or states where our campaign has valid and legitimate legal challenges that could determine the ultimate victory.”
It didn’t matter that officials say the recounts are unlikely to change the outcome and that election lawyers say Trump’s legal challenges are not likely to stand up in court. In that moment, Trump got to be defiant, while being surrounded by supporters lavishing him with praise.
Golfers at Trump National Golf Club spotted the president as he moved through the course, where he played with club manager Kevin Morris. They cheered as he drove by in his golf cart.
“Hey, Mr. President! Go!” one yelled.
Trump pumped his fist into the air in response, according to one golfer who was there.
“Thank you. We’ve got a long way to go!” Trump called out.
After finishing his round of golf, Trump stopped — as he often does — to snap photos with a bride getting married at the club, according to images and videos circulated on social media. People clapped and laughed, starstruck at meeting the president.
Once out of the club, though, the tenor changed.
While there were Trump supporters among the crowd of dozens lining the road to the club, others were holding up signs mocking the president.
“You’re fired,” read one sign.
“Pack your s— and go,” read another.
The president’s backers tried to break through. Cars, pickup trucks and an SUV with a large trailer packed with Trump flags were driving back and forth, horns blaring.
“The media lies about everything,” one person said through a loudspeaker.
Trump was soon on his way back to Washington, where parts of the city had erupted in celebration as the news spread. Trump is deeply unpopular in the nation’s capital, earning just 5 percent of the district’s vote this election, and has barely set foot in the city outside of the White House grounds apart from visiting his namesake hotel.
As Trump’s motorcade got near the White House compound, mostly pro-Biden crowds lined the roads. He would not be making any public speech that day, the White House confirmed a few hours later.
The mood around D.C. upon Trump’s return was ebullient. People banged pots and pans. Others leaned out of their cars as they drove around blasting music, including one song with the refrain, “F— Donald Trump” — echoing the graffiti that has been ubiquitous for four years across D.C.
At the White House, a large crowd of Biden supporters congregated. One person held aloft a boombox, playing Kool & The Gang’s “Celebration.”
Meanwhile, 150 miles away in Philadelphia, Trump’s personal attorney Rudy Giuliani, was fighting on, appearing at a press conference outside a landscaping firm that shared a named with The Four Seasons hotel, causing confusion throughout the morning.
Giuliani pledged to file more lawsuits alleging Republicans were not allowed to watch votes being counted, even though similar suits thus far have either been dismissed or resulted in only modest victories that haven’t changed the vote totals.
More broadly, Trump’s campaign has filed a litany of lawsuits alleging wrongdoing in various battleground states, including Pennsylvania, Georgia and Nevada and Michigan — but has yet to make any tangible progress in halting or slowing the counting of ballots. Still, Saturday morning, before the race was called Trump tweeted: “I WON THIS ELECTION, BY A LOT!”
“President Trump’s campaign was denied its right to a fair count,” Giuliani said. “Networks don’t get to decide the election. Courts do.” (In fact, courts are generally not involved on a large scale — the task of deciding falls to state officials.)
Trump trumpeted the same message Saturday afternoon, well after Biden became the presumptive 46th president, blasting out another all-caps tweet with similar unsubstantiated claims of fraud that Twitter labeled as “disputed.”
Throughout the day, the Trump campaign continued to text supporters emails soliciting money for its legal efforts. “The Left will try to STEAL this Election! I’m calling on you to step up and FIGHT BACK,” said one text.
Yet privately, some of the president’s aides and allies were acknowledging that Trump had, in fact, lost.
“The president fought an incredibly close election,” said a former senior White House official. “He had very strong headwinds with a worldwide pandemic and all that came out of that, but he made it this a very close, serious contest and the Democrats’ lack of down-ballot success shows that this is a fight that will continue long into the future.”
A current senior administration official realized the election had been called for Biden when cheers and honking broke out outside their residence in Washington.
Even those who support Trump’s election fight said the president needs to start thinking about conceding.
“My advice would be he should continue with the recounts and if things don’t get any better, he should concede graciously,” said a person close to the president.
One person close to the campaign suggested that Trump change his focus to start campaigning in Georgia, where two Senate races set for a January runoff will determine which party controls the Senate.
“To be honest, he should just spend most of his time there,” the person said. “The movement doesn’t just go away.”
A top Republican fundraiser agreed. “For the pragmatist Republican donor who can tolerate the idea of a Biden presidency, but can’t tolerate the idea of a fully Democrat government, their attention as of today has shifted to Georgia,” the person said. “They view the Georgia Senate races as their last stand at the Alamo.”
“We should count every legal vote to the last one and challenge the systemic corruption in Clark County, Philadelphia, and other Democrat-controlled big cities,” said Matt Schlapp, a Trump ally and chairman of the American Conservative Union. “When that is done we will know the outcome.”
On Twitter — the medium Trump used to help cultivate his populist base — his most prominent online advocates erupted in outrage and disbelief, accusing the media of sabotaging Trump.
“I don’t know who needs to hear this right now but ‘the media’ has no business calling an election that is currently being litigated on this many levels with this many discrepancies,” tweeted Turning Point USA creative director Benny Johnson. “Our media is attempting to break our country in half. This election is irredeemably compromised.”
Added pro-Trump political operative Blair Brandt: “We knew this was coming people. The fix was always in. Fight goes on,”
The Republican Party establishment was far from unified in its reaction to the news, with many remaining largely silent.
The last Republican presidential candidate, Sen. Mitt Romney of Utah, who has clashed with Trump in the past, was the first to congratulate the Bidens on their win.
“We know both of them as people of good will and admirable character,” Romney said in a statement. “We pray that God may bless them in the days and years ahead.”
But Sen. Josh Hawley (R-Mo.) said no winner had been decided. “When all lawful votes have been counted, recounts finished and allegations of fraud addressed, we will know who the winner is,” he tweeted.
Biden plans a speech to the nation Saturday night, a formal victory address he’s been waiting to deliver for days.
“Donald Trump does not get to decide the winner of elections,” Biden senior adviser Symone Sanders said. “The people decide, voters in the country decide, as we have long said, and voters have made their choice very clear.”
Just before 4 p.m., the White House announced Trump would not be making any statements Saturday.
Ben Lefebvre, Meridith McGraw, Tina Nguyen and Gabby Orr contributed to this report.
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