Trump privately admits it’s over, but wants to brawl for attention

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Donald Trump has privately acknowledged he lost the presidency. He knows Joe Biden will replace him. He recognizes Congress will formally certify the results on Wednesday.

To one person, Trump even confided he was “just disappointed we lost.”

Trump’s acceptance has taken shape in recent weeks, according to three people who have spoken to Trump in that time span, with one conversation occurring a week ago. Trump admits his defeat, but still maintains he would have won a fair election, they said, despite no concrete evidence emerging of widespread voter fraud. He has even discussed his exit plans from Washington with staff, debating when to move to his South Florida Mar-a-Lago resort, according to one of the people.

Sometimes, Trump does still lapse back into the belief that maybe, just maybe, he could somehow eke out a win, most often when listening to his small group of lawyers, including former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani and Chapman University law professor John Eastman.

But mostly, he is continuing his fight to subvert the election for a Trumpian reason: to keep the attention on himself and give his supporters what they want, according to the people who have spoken with him.

“The point is to still be relevant and still be talked about in the news,” said one of the people. “This is someone who’s been on Page Six of the New York Post for 40 years. He’s beyond embarrassment.”

With that in mind, Trump has kept up a flurry of activity to pressure other Republicans to aid his effort to block Biden’s presidency.

In the days before Congress votes to certify the election results, Trump has been calling numerous members of Congress and legislators in battleground states, while meeting with lawyers and top aides.

He even publicly pressured Vice President Mike Pence on Tuesday to go beyond his constitutional duties and upend Wednesday’s certification proceedings, which the vice president will oversee in a mostly ceremonial role. But hours later at lunch, Pence informed Trump that he doesn’t believe he has the power to block he certification of Biden’s victory, according to two White House officials. The vice president told Trump that he planned to allow objections and possibly make his own statement on election fraud, they said.

Trump’s team hopes to secure 180 House members, along with 13 senators, to object to Biden’s Electoral College win, likely turning a traditionally short ceremony into a day-long event.

If lawmakers contest results from the six swing states of Pennsylvania, Nevada, Wisconsin, Georgia, Michigan and Arizona, the vote could drag into Thursday.

Rep. Scott Perry of Pennsylvania, who visited the Trump campaign headquarters shortly after the election, is expected to play a role in contesting his state’s results, according to a former Trump campaign staffer. And newly sworn in Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene of Georgia recently spoke to Trump, making it likely she will play a role in contesting her state’s results.

Still, Democrats are expected to join with numerous Republicans to eventually declare Biden the winner.

Jason Miller, who served as a Trump campaign senior adviser, argued Trump’s election fight is not about his own race but about fixing the election system for future elections.

“We want to make sure people have confidence in our election system," he said. "We don’t want this all to get swept under the rug."

The White House did not respond to a request for comment.

For the two months, Trump has falsely insisted he won the election, even as states across the nation certified wins for Biden and selected electors who voted last month to make Biden the 46th president.

But privately, Trump has told some allies he knows he won’t prevail. And even publicly, Trump has made statements about Biden that show he expects the Democrat will be in the White House.

At a campaign rally in Georgia Monday night, Trump speculated about what a relationship between President Biden and North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un might look like. “I got along very well with Kim Jong Un. I don’t think that Joe’s going to, based on what I’ve heard, but I got along very well with him,” Trump said without calling Biden the next president.

Those around Trump compared the president’s attitude to someone who knows he lost a game, but believe it’s only because the referee made a bad call. “He’s come to terms with the election results,” said one of the three people. “He accepts them, but he doesn’t believe them.”

Trump has repeatedly asserted the election was fraudulently stolen from him, using unsubstantiated allegations of voter fraud to file lawsuits trying to overturn the results. He filed a new challenge last week and still has a half dozen appeals and motions pending at the Supreme Court. None of them are expected to go anywhere.

Trump has long played the victim card, arguing he’s just like Americans who feel betrayed by the political system. As evidence, he and his allies have latched onto Robert Mueller’s probe into whether the Trump campaign coordinated with Russia on its 2016 election interference campaign. While Mueller uncovered extensive Trump campaign efforts to conspire with Russian contacts, he concluded there was no criminal conspiracy.

“After experiencing all of the baseless allegations around Russia and being proven right, you now have similar people coming to you and telling you that this system screwed you again and his view is, ‘I’m not going to get screwed a second time,’” said former White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer.

Even though the election’s certification has reached its last step in Congress, Trump hasn’t stopped pushing state officials to act.

Last weekend, Trump pressured Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger to “find” enough votes to overturn Biden’s victory, and also held a conference call with about 300 legislators from Arizona, Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin.

Phill Kline, a former Kansas attorney general who hosted the call on behalf of the group Got Freedom, which says it’s fighting election fraud, said state legislators still have time to act.

“The state legislatures have the constitutional authority and they have not been allowed to meet as a body to review the election and exercise that authority,” he said. “Up until Inauguration Day, they can meet and decertify electors.”

In Arizona, Republican T.J. Shope, an incoming state senator, said he expects at least one local legislator to try to decertify the election before Inauguration Day. “I fully expect some sort of late shenanigans of some sort,” he said. But Shope doesn’t expect the objections to have widespread support in Arizona, even among Republican leaders.

Election lawyers say the time to contest the election, either through litigation or in the states, passed in December.

“If the goal is some kind of PR move to try to get legislators to try to come out and say, ‘Congress shouldn’t accept electoral votes,’ it might play politically,” said Richard Hasen, an election law expert at the University of California, Irvine School of Law.

And the political play is why Trump keeps going publicly with the election subversion campaign, even as he privately accepts Biden will become president.

Indeed, Trump’s fights have been cheered by his MAGA base, which is expected to descend on Washington Wednesday for massive protests on the election results.

“He 100 percent knows it’s not going to happen, and he is calling people and doing stuff,” said one of three people. “But all of this is about demonstrating to his loyal followers on Twitter and the people who give $5 and $20 and $50 a month that he is fighting to the bitter end.”

Bryan Bender, Josh Gerstein, Natasha Korecki, Meridith McGraw, Gabby Orr and Holly Otterbein contributed to this report.

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