All week I’ve been referring to Trump’s court battle as the “respectable” phase of his attempt to cling to power insofar as all sides acknowledge that a candidate is entitled to seek legal remedies for voter fraud — assuming any meaningful evidence exists.
Putting a declining clown like Rudy in charge of the effort means the effort is no longer respectable. It’s essentially a concession that Team Trump has nothing to substantiate its allegations and what remains of the legal “strategy” is just loud conspiratorial noises. Giuliani hasn’t been a serious lawyer in a long time and he’s never specialized in election law as far as I’m aware. He’s a PR flack at this point in his career, one whom Trump appreciates because he’s willing to make wild charges against the president’s enemies in hopes of damaging their credibility, the closest thing Trump has to a Roy Cohn. You don’t make Rudy the face of your legal effort if you want to convince a judge, you make Rudy the face of your legal effort if you want to convince Newsmax viewers. Who, of course, are already pretty convinced.
Trump’s advisors reportedly recognize that deputizing Rudy is a disaster, and not just legally. Although Giuliani’s fondness for conspiracies makes him an effective PR conduit to the GOP base, that same quality makes him poisonous to the rest of the public. A serious effort to overturn the election and legitimize that outcome in the eyes of tens of millions of skeptics would require the most sober possible presentation of facts and evidence of fraud. With Giuliani, Trump’s doing the opposite. He’s throwing in the towel on winning in court and authorizing Rudy to start lighting things on fire rhetorically instead.
[T]he involvement of Mr. Giuliani, who held a widely mocked news conference in front of a landscaping company in Philadelphia last weekend in which he claimed widespread fraud, has vexed people on the campaign and in the White House.
A half-dozen other Trump advisers have described Mr. Giuliani’s efforts as counterproductive and said that he was giving the president unwarranted optimism about what could happen. Those advisers have said that they are concerned Mr. Giuliani is damaging not only Mr. Trump’s remaining legal options, but his legacy and his future opportunities in politics as he considers another campaign in 2024…
In an Oval Office meeting with aides on Thursday, Mr. Trump put Mr. Giuliani on speakerphone so the others could hear him. He angrily accused the aides of not telling the president the truth, according to people briefed on the meeting. Justin Clark, the deputy campaign manager, pushed back aggressively on Mr. Giuliani, said the people briefed on what took place.
The most pitiful moment for the Trump campaign since the election was Giuliani’s bizarre press conference last weekend at the Four Seasons — not the hotel, but a landscaping company by that same name in Philadelphia. Trump advisors reportedly watched in horror as Rudy turned what was aiming to be a serious legal effort involving top-tier talent into another bizarre sideshow:
Senior campaign aides scurried to urge organizers to kill the event, infamously staged at the wrong “Four Seasons” — a landscaping business adjacent to an adult bookstore and a crematorium. But Giuliani plowed ahead anyway, delivering a conspiracy-filled rant that undercut the legal strategy the president’s advisers had meticulously mapped out in the run-up to the election.
Campaign officials described the episode as disastrous, saying it scared off many of the lawyers they spent months recruiting, who now no longer wanted to be involved. With the campaign already facing exceedingly long odds in its recount efforts, there are widespread concerns within Trumpworld and GOP circles that Giuliani’s antics are thwarting the president’s legal machinery from within…
Republican officials said they viewed Trump’s decision to promote Giuliani as an implicit acknowledgment that his legal options are closing and a sign that he’s determined to go out guns blazing. Top Republicans described a feeling of resignation late Friday that the election was coming to a close.
The “serious” side of the legal effort is aimed at chipping away votes from Biden in states where the margins were narrow-ish, hopefully forcing recounts, and then … I’m not sure what. No recount is going to put Trump ahead. But an incremental strategy might succeed in raising some doubt about the legitimacy of Biden’s win among voters outside the GOP base. Rudy’s strategy, by contrast, is maximalist and aimed right at the base: Trump was robbed, massive fraud happened, and now it’s simply a matter of screaming about it.
Politico has a story today about Trump’s lawsuits in Michigan, Pennsylvania, Arizona, Nevada, and Georgia sputtering out, which probably encouraged him to switch to the Giuliani approach. At this point, he has nothing to lose. The story features a quote from Ben Ginsberg, precisely the sort of respected Republican election-law specialist that a credible effort to prove fraud would involve. “They’re throwing the kitchen sink against the wall to see what sticks — a mixed metaphor that’s deserving of this legal strategy. And ‘legal strategy’ should be in quotes,” Ginsberg told the outlet. Barry Richard, another election-law attorney who worked on Bush’s 2000 Florida effort, laughed that Trump’s claims of widespread fraud are “purely outlandish stuff.” Putting Rudy in charge is an admission of that. It’s a semi-official announcement that we’re leaving the “respectable” phase and entering the “desperation” phase.
The most one can say about Giuliani’s inevitable failure to overturn the results is that Ginsberg and Richard wouldn’t have fared better. In the end this is a problem of evidence, not representation. And the evidence just isn’t there, as members of Bill Barr’s own Justice Department have begun to acknowledge:
Sixteen assistant U.S. attorneys specially assigned to monitor malfeasance in the 2020 election urged Attorney General William P. Barr on Friday to rescind his recent memorandum allowing investigators to publicly pursue allegations of “vote tabulation irregularities” in certain cases before results are certified, saying they had not seen evidence of any substantial anomalies…
The signers wrote that in the places where they served as district election officers, taking in reports of possible election-related crimes, there was no evidence of the kind of fraud that Barr’s memo had highlighted. Barr’s memo authorized prosecutors “to pursue substantial allegations of voting and vote tabulation irregularities prior to the certification of elections in your jurisdictions in certain cases,” particularly where the outcome of an election could be affected.
None of the signers represent districts in swing states but the silence thus far about massive fraud involving Dominion software from U.S. Attorneys who do is deafening. Between the DOJ’s failure to find gamechanging fraud and the Trump campaign’s failure to support its most outlandish claims, the already tiny chance that a state legislature might void its election results and hand its electors to Trump has dwindled to nothing. Republican leaders in Arizona, Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin have all said recently that they won’t override their election results and choose the nuclear option to keep Trump in office. If you’re going to set your own state on fire that way, you’d want at least a fig leaf of credible fraud to justify doing so. There’s not even a fig leaf this year. Awarding electors to Trump in that situation would be out-and-out election theft by the state legislature without even a pretense of ballot mischief to justify it.
Here’s where we are with the president’s own message:
Georgia Secretary of State, a so-called Republican (RINO), won’t let the people checking the ballots see the signatures for fraud. Why? Without this the whole process is very unfair and close to meaningless. Everyone knows that we won the state. Where is @BrianKempGA?
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) November 14, 2020
The reason they can’t check the ballots for signatures is that the ballots themselves aren’t signed. The outside envelope is signed and that signature is verified; then the ballot is removed and tossed onto the pile for counting. That’s the only way to preserve the secrecy of how the voter voted. You can’t track a person’s ballot back to their envelope once their signature’s been checked. Trump himself seems to have figured that out at some point overnight and then took to tweeting this:
….What are they trying to hide. They know, and so does everyone else. EXPOSE THE CRIME!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) November 14, 2020
That’s not what the consent decree did, said Erick Erickson, who lives in Georgia and has practiced election law before. It just extended the time for signature verification. (He elaborated in this thread.) Trump’s argument against mail-in ballots is essentially that they’re so inherently unverifiable that they shouldn’t count, period, no matter what sort of security check is in place. Which is nice, but (a) he’s had four years to litigate that point and (b) no court is about to declare 60 million mail-in votes invalid now. He’s just throwing stuff at the wall to see what sticks, as Ginsberg said. Even some of the handful of “dead voters” in Georgia this year recently touted by him and his allies turned out to be not so dead after all. That’s what the “desperation” phase looks like.
In the “desperation” phase, the point is no longer to convince the bulk of the population that Trump won and deserves to remain in power. It’s to affirm the absolute conviction of MAGA Nation that he won even though he won’t remain in power. If you can watch this…
— Mike Valerio (@MikevWUSA) November 14, 2020
…and still believe this…
…then the “desperation” phase is aimed at you.
One more point in closing. I haven’t independently checked Kyle Becker’s claim here but I’ll trust that he’s right:
Some Trump fans read Becker’s tweet and concluded that the president must have been cheated. If Republicans everywhere else on the map beat Democrats, how likely is it that Trump didn’t beat the Democrat in his own race? But that logic is ass-backwards. The question is: If the president was the victim of fraud in his own race, how likely is it that fraud wasn’t committed against Republicans in other races? If Democrats had the power to rig the numbers and get Biden over the top in swing states, why would they conceivably allow themselves to lose every toss-up in the House, weakening Pelosi’s hold on power? Why wouldn’t they have rigged Senate races too? Biden’s going to end up entering office at the mercy of Mitch McConnell and, to a lesser degree, Kevin McCarthy.
There’s an internal logic to why Americans voted as they did this year. At the presidential level and downballot, they voted against the “chaos” candidates. In Senate and House races, that meant voting against people from the party that wanted to defund the police and advance socialism. At the presidential level, that meant voting against a person who’s spent four years swinging wildly at his political enemies, feuding with his own former advisors like James Mattis, and not even attempting to contain a disease that’s out of control in the United States after having already killed 200,000 people. I repeat what I said yesterday: If any other Democrat but Biden had run against Trump, they too probably would have been sunk by the “defund the police” and socialist messaging. But voters have had 50 years to get to know Biden and just couldn’t be convinced that a term with him as president would be more chaotic than another with Trump, especially with Trump term-limited and free to govern as chaotically as he liked. Sleepy Joe’s sleepiness probably won him the election.