President Donald Trump’s campaign has gone quiet. Some aides are leaving their posts for the holidays.
It has been days since Trump’s aides held a briefing for the press on its dwindling legal efforts to overturn the election, replaced by Rudy Giuliani’s Twitter feed and YouTube videos. The campaign’s communications director, Tim Murtaugh, hasn’t tweeted himself for almost a week. A senior campaign official described the campaign manager, Bill Stepien, as “MIA.”
“Nobody is really doing anything inside the campaign,” said the senior campaign official.
But back in Washington, Trump is clinging to the White House, attending to the bare minimum of presidential duties and improbably boasting on Twitter that he “will soon prevail!” in the already-settled presidential election.
In other words, he’s soldiering on — publicly, at least.
Almost everyone else is going home.
“It’s a pretty small crew,” said one adviser to the campaign.
And yet, Trump’s threadbare operation is forging ahead with a legal fight led by Giuliani that few advisers believe has any chance. It’s a fight that is creating rifts within the Republican Party, dividing the Trump true believers from the majority of the GOP establishment. And it is also setting the early narrative of Trump’s next act — whether it’s as a Twitter pundit or political leader.
“The window is shutting,” said Stephen Moore, an informal Trump economic adviser. “There’s a really good chance he runs in 2024, but if he wants to do that, then he doesn’t want to diminish his stature by playing the sore loser.”
Each day, Trump and his campaign are suffering fresh blows to their efforts to overturn the election. On Tuesday, Pennsylvania certified its presidential election results and the White House confirmed President-elect Joe Biden would soon start receiving the president’s daily intelligence briefing, one day after the General Services Administration finally released government funds for Biden’s transition.
On Capitol Hill, senators from Trump-friendly states like West Virginia, Tennessee and Louisiana are starting to call on the president to begin the transition process and consider his legacy.
Even within the White House, chief of staff Mark Meadows on Monday night instructed staff in an email to cooperate with the transition efforts. He included a rallying cry in the note: “Our work here is not done.”
“I am confident that each of you will represent and preserve the Executive Office of the President as we continue on,” Meadows wrote.
Looming over all of it is Dec. 14, when the Electoral College meets to certify Biden’s victory.
“He is going to put the protocols in place,” said Republican National Committee Chair Ronna McDaniel during an appearance on Fox News. “But he is not by any means giving up this fight.”
At his rare public appearances, the president has not responded to shouted questions from the press about whether he will concede. In total, he has avoided taking questions from the press for 21 days, a remarkably long stretch for a president who is not camera shy. But he has gone off on Twitter, and on Tuesday morning shared a string of bizarre tweets about election fraud from actors Randy Quaid and James Woods, both prominent Trump boosters on Twitter. Hours later he startled aides when he decided on just a few minutes notice to appear in the press briefing room to congratulate the country on the stock market’s performance, with Vice President Mike Pence at his side.
Outside of Twitter, Trump has not commented about the election in days, but a Republican close to the White House said the president reached a tipping point on Monday after he saw the response to a press conference his legal team held last week.
People at the campaign and in top Republican circles tried to distance themselves from the conspiracy theory-laden event, describing it as a “circus” and “national embarrassment.” The president was told by advisers he doesn’t have to concede, but he should keep his own legacy in mind and start the transition.
“The president was going to have to come to terms with what happened and throw a tantrum,” said a top Republican official. “It took a little longer than people first thought.”
Even some of Trump’s favorite conservative media hosts are reaching the same conclusion.
Fox News host Tucker Carlson called out Sidney Powell, who was cut off from Trump’s legal team on Sunday, for refusing to provide evidence to back up her sweeping claims of election fraud. Conservative radio titan Rush Limbaugh blamed the campaign for hyping “blockbuster stuff” about election fraud but not backing it up. “It’s not good,” Limbaugh said, encouraging the president to hold rallies in support of Republicans in the Senate runoff races in Georgia.
“Unless the legal situation changes in a dramatic and unlikely manner, Joe Biden will be inaugurated on 20 January,” said Fox News host Laura Ingraham.
A senior campaign adviser argued that the president’s legal team is now just trying to publicly lay the groundwork for a “fairer” election in 2022 and 2024.
“They’re trying to figure out how the campaign can set this up for the future beyond 2020,” the adviser said. “We want to be focused on the future so we can hit the ground running.”
The president has also had one foot publicly in the fight, and the other foot privately out the door. Behind the scenes, Trump has mused about his future after the White House, which has included everything from building up a Trump political arm, to investing in a media company, to a potential run in the next presidential election.
Some other members of the Trump family are also waxing nostalgic about the last four years. On Instagram, the president’s daughter and adviser Ivanka Trump posted old photos of her family, including husband Jared Kushner, visiting different sites across Washington, D.C., and at holiday events.
“This time of year always brings back wonderful memories at the White House,” she posted.
The couple is expected to leave Washington next year.
Gabby Orr and Nancy Cook contributed to this report.
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