Donald Trump was on Friday making a futile but dangerous last stand, without precedent in modern American history, to overturn the result of the presidential election so he can remain in power.
Even as Joe Biden’s victory in the state of Georgia was confirmed, the president was set to meet Republican leaders from Michigan at the White House in an increasingly desperate bid to subvert democracy after a series of courtroom defeats over allegations of voter fraud.
The Trump campaign’s apparent strategy is to persuade Republican-controlled legislatures in Michigan and other battleground states in the electoral college to set aside the will of the people and declare Trump the winner, despite officials declaring it the most secure election in American history.
“The entire election, frankly, in all the swing states should be overturned and the legislatures should make sure that the electors are selected for Trump,” Sidney Powell, one of Trump’s lawyers, told the Fox Business Network on Thursday.
Most experts dismiss the idea as political fantasy and probably unlawful. But they warn that an American president trying to reverse a free and fair election could poison millions of minds, conditioning his base to lose faith in democracy and regard Biden as an illegitimate president.
Hillary Clinton, a former secretary of state defeated by Trump in the 2016 election, tweeted on Friday: “Protecting one man’s ego is not worth damaging the legitimacy of our democracy.”
Biden, a former vice-president, won the election and is preparing to take office on 20 January, but Trump has refused to concede and is searching for a way to invalidate the results, alleging widespread irregularities without providing evidence.
Speaking in the White House briefing room on Friday about an initiative to lower prescription medicine prices, Trump maintained his baseless claim that he was the true winner. “Big pharma ran millions of dollars of negative advertisements against me during the campaign – which I won, by the way,” he told reporters.
“But, you know, we’ll find that out. Almost 74m votes. We had big pharma against us. We had the media against us. We had big tech against us. We had a lot of dishonesty against us.”
Biden received nearly 6m more votes than Trump but the winner is determined by the electoral college, where each state’s electoral votes, based largely on population, are awarded to the winner of a state’s popular vote.
Biden leads by 306 electoral votes to Trump’s 232 as states work to certify their results at least six days before the electoral college convenes on 14 December to ratify the vote.
The Trump campaign is particularly targeting Michigan, which Biden won by 154,000 votes, in the hope that Republicans there will manipulate the electoral system.
Its state legislative leaders, the senate majority leader, Mike Shirkey, and the house speaker, Lee Chatfield, both Republicans, were said to be visiting the White House at Trump’s request.
Shirkey was greeted by protesters and media at Washington’s Reagan international airport. There were chants of “Certify the results!” and a shout of “Where is the evidence of fraud?”
Both Shirkey and Chatfield have previously denied that they might try to overturn Biden’s win, noting that Michigan law does not allow the legislature to directly select electors or award them to anyone other than the person who received the most votes.
Even so, Michigan’s governor, Gretchen Whitmer, a Democrat, told the MSNBC TV network: “It’s incredibly dangerous that they are even entertaining the conversation. This is an embarrassment to the state.”
Earlier this week, two Republicans canvassers blocked the certification of votes in Wayne county, Michigan, where Detroit is located, a majority Black city. They later relented, amid cries of racism, and the results were certified. It then emerged that Trump made contact with the canvassers, Monica Palmer and William Hartmann, on Tuesday to express gratitude for their support.
On Wednesday, Palmer and Hartmann signed affidavits saying they believed the county vote “should not be certified” after all. But Michigan’s secretary of state said they cannot rescind their votes.
Trump’s dominance of the Republican party is such that few prominent figures have spoken out again his scorched earth strategy.
However, Mitt Romney, a senator for Utah and the party’s 2012 presidential nominee, broke ranks on Thursday. He said: “Having failed to make even a plausible case of widespread fraud or conspiracy before any court of law, the president has now resorted to overt pressure on state and local officials to subvert the will of the people and overturn the election. It is difficult to imagine a worse, more undemocratic action by a sitting American president.”
Georgia’s secretary of state, Brad Raffensperger, a Republican and Trump supporter, on Friday certified results that showed Biden won the state by just over 12,600 votes after a manual recount and an audit were conducted. “The numbers reflect the verdict of the people, not a decision by the secretary of state’s office or courts, or of either campaigns,” he told reporters.
Trump’s attempts to reverse his defeat via lawsuits and recounts have met with no meaningful success. Yet his campaign has not abandoned its offensive in the courts.
Rudy Giuliani, the president’s personal lawyer, said in an hour-and-a-half-long press conference on Thursday that there are plans to file more lawsuits. He accused Democrats of masterminding a “national conspiracy” to steal the election, referencing China, Cuba, the Clinton Foundation, billionaire George Soros and the late Venezuelan president Hugo Chávez but offering no proof.
“I know crimes, I can smell them,” said Giuliani, the former mayor of New York, sweating profusely as what appeared to be hair dye trickled down his face. “You don’t have to smell this one, I can prove it to you.” He offered no evidence to support his claims.
Chris Krebs, the Trump administration election official fired last week over the comments about the security of the election, tweeted: “That press conference was the most dangerous 1hr 45 minutes of television in American history. And possibly the craziest.”
Biden, celebrating his 78th birthday – he is the oldest US president-elect in history – met the House of Representatives speaker, Nancy Pelosi, and the Senate minority leader, Chuck Schumer, on Friday after spending most of the week with advisers planning his administration, despite the refusal of the Trump administration to cooperate with his team, even over dealing with the coronavirus pandemic.