Funny and true, but we’re leaving the “respectable” lawsuit phase of this process today in which fraud is semi-seriously averred and entering the “desperation” phase. That’s when Trump effectively gives up on trying to get the election overturned in court and starts leaning on Republican officials at the state level to just hand him the election by any political means necessary.

The coup phase, in other words.

It almost certainly won’t work but many, many, many millions of self-described “constitutionalists” will support it.

‘Normally you find evidence and then after seeing evidence then you reach a conclusion about whether or not there was a crime committed,’ Romney chuckled to David Axelrod during an interview on the CNN commentator’s podcast.

‘But I understand the president is not happy with the result, he’s entitled to pursue his legal remedies,’ Romney continued. ‘But I think in all likelihood, it’s pretty clear that Joe Biden will become the next president.’…

Romney said he’s surprised so many Republicans believe that Biden’s win is ‘illegitimate’ and due to some sort of funny business in ballot collection and tabulation.

I’m surprised that he’s surprised. Ed noted earlier that Team Trump has already thrown in the towel on its lawsuit in Michigan on the … interesting theory that it’s no longer necessary because Wayne County hasn’t certified its results. Of course, as Ed pointed out, Wayne County has certified its results. The two Republicans on the canvassing board who are trying to rescind their certification votes today have no legal avenue to do so. The certification will stand. It turns out that each of them received a call from the president of the United States himself on Tuesday night after they initially refused to certify:

“I did receive a call from President Trump, late Tuesday evening, after the meeting,” Monica Palmer, one of two Republican members of the four-member Wayne County canvassing board, told The Post. “He was checking in to make sure I was safe after hearing the threats and doxing that had occurred.”…

Asked if they discussed the presidential vote count, she said, “It’s hard for me to describe. There was a lot of adrenalin and stress going on. There were general comments about different states but we really didn’t discuss the details of the certification.”

Asked again about possible pressure from such a call, Palmer said, “It was not pressure. It was genuine concern for my safety.”

I bet a lot of Republican canvassing officials and state legislators in Georgia, Arizona, Wisconsin, and Pennsylvania are getting calls from well-known people this week, possibly including Trump himself, about their safety — and the upcoming certification votes. That’s what I mean by “desperation” phase. This is now a lobbying effort, not a legal effort. And what they’re lobbying for is a coup.

Which also explains why the Michigan lawsuit was withdrawn under false pretenses, I assume. Team Trump isn’t trying to win in court anymore, they just want to pretend that they’ve been cheated. So they’re going to pretend that Wayne County never certified its results even though they did purely so that they can act outraged and gaslight Trump fans when Michigan ultimately certifies Biden’s victory. Wayne County never agreed!

Another reason why they’re shifting from a legal approach to a lobbying approach is, well, because the legal effort is a mess:

The legal campaign has exacerbated tensions among the president’s advisers, people familiar with the discussions said. Early last week, top campaign aides on a conference call laid out a path for how the legal effort could conceivably reverse calls in some states, according to people familiar with the call…

“There was this period of hope that there’s fraud. And then it was, ‘Is there really enough fraud?’ ” said a campaign aide. “It’s starting to get a little embarrassing.”

The president put Mr. Giuliani in charge of the legal effort after a tense Oval Office meeting last week in which the former New York mayor accused other lawyers of lying to the president about his slim odds of overturning the election, according to a person familiar with the meeting. That prompted deputy campaign manager Justin Clark to call Mr. Giuliani a “f—ing asshole.” Mr. Trump elevated Mr. Giuliani, the person said, because “he was the only person telling the president he could win.”

The unreality bubble around the president is getting thicker, not thinner, which Republicans like McConnell really ought to bear in mind as they continue to humor his belief that the outcome of the election is still in doubt. The “desperation” phase could get very messy even though it’s all but certain not to give Trump the result he wants. Although he can bring intense pressure on local Republican officials to do his bidding, there’s only so much they’re legally able to do. “It is against the law in Pennsylvania, Wisconsin law gives no role to the legislature in choosing presidential electors, and there is little public will in other states to pursue such a path,” wrote WaPo today of Trump’s plan to convince state legislatures to award their electors to him notwithstanding the result of the state’s election. It may well be unconstitutional too. The Constitution lets states decide how their electors are awarded but they already made that decision when they agreed to hold an election. Not even a 6-3 conservative SCOTUS would allow them to flush democracy down the toilet because they’re too intimidated by Trump’s bout of authoritarian mania to tell him no. I think.

“Several Republicans said that even Giuliani believes the legal path is arduous. The goal now is to play for delay and cast doubt on the election, they said,” again according to WaPo, which claims that Steve Bannon — who is himself under indictment for fraud by Trump’s DOJ — is coordinating with Giuliani on the big “Democrats committed fraud” campaign. That’s the real endgame. Retaining power is a one-in-a-million longshot but giving Republicans in Congress and across the country some flimsy pretext not to work with Biden after he takes office because the election is “in doubt” will be gratefully received by all of them. If that makes the country a nastier, more vicious, less governable place, so be it. Just payback for the Mueller investigation, right?

All of the elected Republicans indulging this, though, had better understand that they’re committing themselves to this strategy in the future too. This is correct:

I think it depends on who’s nominated. If, by some stroke of luck, the GOP nominates a Nikki Haley or Marco Rubio down the line, populists will have much less difficulty believing that they were defeated fairly. Haley and Rubio aren’t populists, after all. Of course Americans would vote against them! But for Trump to lose, and lose fairly badly, is so intolerable a blow to the populist psyche that it can’t be reconciled to reality. Any election going forward in which a populist nominee loses will need to follow the sinister playbook Trump’s using now, in which theories of massive fraud are conjured out of thin air to explain the defeat. It’ll look “weak” for that nominee not to “fight” on by wrecking the country after Trump proved he was willing to.

Here’s the very serious head of the president’s very serious legal effort making a very serious argument at today’s press conference.