President Donald Trump never admits defeat. But he faces a stark choice now that Democrat Joe Biden has won the White House — concede graciously for the sake of the nation or don’t — and get evicted anyway.
After nearly four tortured days of counting yielded a victory for Mr. Biden on Saturday, Mr. Trump was still insisting the race was not over. He threw out baseless allegations of voter fraud, promised a flurry of legal action and fired off all-caps tweets falsely insisting he’d “WON THIS ELECTION, BY A LOT.”
Mr. Trump is not expected to ever formally concede, according to people close to him, but is likely to grudgingly vacate the White House at the end of his term. His ongoing efforts to paint the election as unfair are seen both as an effort to soothe a bruised ego and to show his loyal base of supporters that he is still fighting. That could be key to keeping them energized for what comes next.
“He intends to fight,” Mr. Trump economic adviser Larry Kudlow said.
Would Mr. Trump ever concede? “I doubt it,” said Mr. Trump’s longtime friend and adviser Roger Stone, whose prison sentence was commuted by Mr. Trump in July. Mr. Stone asserted that Mr. Biden, as a result, will have “a cloud over his presidency with half the people in the country believing that he was illegitimately elected.”
Allies suggested that if Mr. Trump wants to launch a media empire in coming years, he has an incentive to prolong the drama. So, too, if he intends to keep the door open to a possible 2024 comeback — he would be only a year older then than Mr. Biden is now.
There are many in his inner circle egging him on, including his personal attorney, Rudy Giuliani. The former New York Mayor has been promising to provide the President with evidence of voter fraud but has produced little, including during a press conference he held Saturday in the parking lot of a small Philadelphia landscaping company next to an adult bookstore.
Trump’s adult sons, Donald Jr. and Eric, have also urged their father to keep fighting and challenged Republicans to stand with them.
Other political allies and White House officials, however, have pressed Mr. Trump to change his tone and commit to a smooth transition. They’ve emphasized to him that history will be a harsh judge of any action he takes that is seen as undermining his successor. And they have advised him to deliver a speech in the coming week pledging to support the transition.
Mr. Trump’s senior adviser and son-in-law Jared Kushner has told others that he has urged the President to accept the outcome of the race — even if Mr. Trump won’t come to terms with how it was reached.
At Fox News, where prime-time hosts wield enormous influence over Mr. Trump, Laura Ingraham gave voice to the President’s belief that the election had been unfair, while also pleading with him to keep his legacy in mind — and preserve his status as a GOP kingmaker — by gracefully leaving office.
“If and when it’s time to accept an unfavorable outcome in this election, and we hope it never comes, President Trump needs to do it with the same grace and composure that he demonstrated at that town hall with Savannah Guthrie,” she said on Thursday. “President Trump’s legacy will only become more significant if he focuses on moving the country forward.”
This story is based on interviews with more than a dozen of Trump aides and allies, many of whom spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss internal discussions.
‘Never accept defeat’
That the peaceful transfer of power was even in doubt reflected the norm-shattering habits of the now-lame duck President, who even in victory never admitted that he had lost the popular vote in 2016.
Most aides believed the President would take the weekend to decide on a plan, which will most certainly involve more legal action. But some aides believe the legal skirmishes are more about putting up the appearance of a fight than producing results.
There were some indications Mr. Trump was moving in a less contentious direction, even as he continued to angrily complain to aides, reviving old grievances about the Russia investigation that began under President Barack Obama,
In a statement on Friday, Mr. Trump suggested he would avail himself of every avenue under the law to challenge the election’s result.
Allies interpreted it as a begrudging acknowledgement of the likely outcome.