WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump is being encouraged by aides and advisers to not give up on his shrinking odds of victory, with those in his orbit determined to push a range of allegations about voting irregularities as they hold out hope that the count somehow shifts in his favor.
Campaign officials, along with White House senior adviser Jared Kushner and chief of staff Mark Meadows, huddled at the campaign’s Virginia headquarters Wednesday afternoon plotting strategy and legal battles ahead. Aides plan to make sure Trump is very visible in the days ahead performing presidential duties while his campaign tries to challenge results on multiple fronts.
If Democrat Joe Biden’s leads in Arizona and Nevada hold, he will have enough Electoral College votes to win regardless of the outcomes in Pennsylvania and Georgia, where the contests also remained close. After Michigan was called by NBC News and other major news organizations as a win for Biden, Trump attempted to call the race for himself, something he can't do.
"We have claimed, for Electoral Vote purposes, the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania (which won’t allow legal observers) the State of Georgia, and the State of North Carolina, each one of which has a BIG Trump lead. Additionally, we hereby claim the State of Michigan," Trump tweeted.
Trump has long said he wouldn’t necessarily accept the results of the election if he lost, and his campaign manager Bill Stepien repeatedly emphasized Wednesday the campaign's position that a count of all “legally cast ballots” would result in a Trump victory, based on the campaign’s internal calculations.
Trump's personal lawyer Rudy Giuliani said the campaign was disputing ballots in Pennsylvania that he said could have come from Mars, dead people, or Canada, and called the judge presiding over their legal challenge a "political hack."
“We are obviously leading a full-court press to make sure that we have all of our legal teams that are in place. We want to make sure that all legally cast ballots are counted,” Trump campaign adviser Jason Miller told reporters Wednesday. “We also want to make sure that illegally cast ballots are not counted.”
While it was unclear if Trump would make any more public remarks Wednesday, he has repeatedly tweeted his belief that results are being manipulated. The campaign has sent out multiple fundraising emails to supporters asking them to donate to fund a legal battle challenging results.
“They are finding Biden votes all over the place — in Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, and Michigan. So bad for our Country!” Trump tweeted Wednesday.
The campaign filed a lawsuit Wednesday afternoon in Michigan to halt the counting of ballots until “meaningful access has been granted” to observe the opening of ballots and the counting process. The campaign said it was also demanding a review of ballots that had already been opened and counted.
In Wisconsin, Trump’s campaign said it planned to call for a recount that could stretch into the end of the month if Biden’s lead remained below the 1 percent threshold the state has in place that would enable it to request such a review.
The campaign will have to wait several days before being able to file for a recount, and overcoming Biden’s current lead of just over 20,000 votes was a “high hurdle,” tweeted former Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, a Republican, based on the minimal changes to vote totals seen in past recounts.
In Nevada, Trump campaign officials have been making unspecified and unsubstantiated claims questioning the voting process, saying “Nevada as a state is very ripe with corruption,” Stepien said.
“We’re concerned about some of the efforts, some of the moves that were made there, so we feel good about our prospects from Nevada, particularly in the way that it closed last night,” he told reporters on a call Wednesday morning.
Allies have even been pushing an unsubstantiated theory in Arizona that ballots there were being tossed because a Sharpie was used to mark them. “3 more Trump supporters just contacted me who voted in AZ w sharpies and now are getting stonewalled as they try to verify they are in Trump's tally," Trump ally Matt Schlapp, head of the American Conservative Union, tweeted Wednesday. "This is happening in America #SharpieGate #StopTheSteal."
But state officials said there was no basis to the concern that the type of pen used could affect the tabulation of a vote. “IMPORTANT: If you voted a regular ballot in-person, your ballot will be counted, no matter what kind of pen you used (even a Sharpie),” tweeted Katie Hobbs, Arizona’s secretary of state.
The campaign's hopes of gaining enough ground in Arizona to have a chance of winning the state would hinge on Trump winning roughly 6 in 10 of the ballots yet to be counted, a mix of those cast on Election Day itself and others in the days before.
In Pennsylvania, the Trump campaign said it believed there were enough outstanding votes to tip the scale its way, offsetting what is expected to be a tsunami of ballots still to come in for Biden in Philadelphia. The campaign has also been challenging changes the state made because of the pandemic allowing ballots postmarked by Election Day, but received up to three days after, to be counted. The Supreme Court has refused to take up the case.
Several Republican allies criticized the president's remarks early Wednesday, when he demanded that the counting of ballots be stopped hours after the polls had closed. Former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie said Trump had no legal basis for the demand, and that it “undercut his own credibility”; former Sen. Rick Santorum of Pennsylvania said he was “distressed” by the comments. And Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky said the president's claim of victory did not mean the outcome of the race had been determined.
"It's not unusual for people to claim they've won the election. I can think of that happening on numerous occasions," he told reporters Wednesday. "But claiming you win the election is different from finishing the counting. And what we're going to see here in the next few days, both in the Senate races and in the presidential race, is each state will ultimately get to a final outcome."
But given Trump’s strength with Republicans, it appeared others were likely to give him room to wage his battle.
“He is very popular with Republican voters. He just had a big night, a better than expected night,” Michael Steel, a former adviser to Jeb Bush, said on MSNBC. GOP officials, he said, “are going to give him as much space as they can to run down the leads and try to lock it down.”