It makes me laugh to see some Senate Republicans try to nudge Trump to start the transition this way (you don’t need to concede, Mr. President, just let him have the briefings), as if it’s 2000 and Florida all over again. If Trump and Biden were in a good-faith dispute over a ballot question that momentarily placed the outcome of the election in doubt, then sure, it’d make sense for the challenger to be briefed just in case he won in court.
But there’s no good-faith dispute. Trump believes, or wants others to believe, that Biden perpetrated the biggest fraud in American history to win the election illicitly. Any concession he makes on transitioning risks legitimizing Biden’s victory at a moment when he’s doing everything he can to delegitimize it. Why would he grant his opponent the courtesy of intel briefings when he’s trying to convince the public that that opponent cheated to put himself in a position to receive them?
Republicans are in denial about how petulant Trump’s prepared to be about all this, as if seeing states certify their results will jar something loose in the president’s mind to get him to back down. He’s not blocking the transition as an act of carefully considered strategy, he’s doing it in a fit of narcissistic panic that any gesture he makes to assist Biden’s team will be received as a concession that he lost fairly and is destined to lose in court. Remember, this is a guy who reacted so badly to the notion that Putin’s antics might have aided his glorious 2016 victory that his intelligence briefers started briefing him less and less about Russia. His ego couldn’t bear the thought that he didn’t deserve exclusive credit for defeating Clinton, to the point that he didn’t even want the topic of Russia raised. Imagine how much more trouble it’s having coping with the reality that he was defeated by a figure as uncharismatic as Sleepy Joe.
So no, Lindsey, there’s no such thing as a “half-pregnant” transition where Trump authorizes intel briefings and COVID assistance for Biden’s staff while holding back everything else. He’s going to obstruct as much as he can. Cronies like Graham who worry about national security had better start figuring out what they’ll say to get him to change his mind
Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC): “The president is contesting the election and I would urge him to give intel briefings to Joe Biden.” pic.twitter.com/SGuhHqnCQ6
— The Recount (@therecount) November 18, 2020
As I say, he’s going to obstruct as much as he can:
Some Health and Human Services staffers instructed today that if anyone from President-elect Joe Biden’s team contacts them, they are not to communicate with them and are to alert Deputy Surgeon General Rear Admiral Erica Schwartz of the communication per administration official
— Kristen Holmes (@KristenhCNN) November 18, 2020
Anthony Fauci was asked today if anyone from Team Biden had reached out to him and he said they hadn’t. No one told him that contact is forbidden, he claimed, but maybe that’s now changed per the tweet above. As for why he thought the incoming administration hadn’t contacted him, he gave an interesting reason that I suspect is correct: “I have tried to the best of my ability to stay out of the political aspects and just focus on my role as a public health person, a physician and a scientist… To be honest with you, I believe the Biden people understand that and don’t want to put me in a compromised position.”
Right. If Ron Klain or Biden himself called him up and chatted with him, there’s no reason to think Trump wouldn’t throw a tantrum and try to fire Fauci once he found out. He fired Chris Krebs, another public servant who’s been praised by both parties for his work, didn’t he? Krebs’s reputation didn’t stop Trump so there’s no reason to think Fauci’s would. The president has it in for Fauci too because of the many times Fauci counterprogrammed the White House’s “get back to normal” message on COVID. Team Biden has probably concluded that the pandemic is dire enough and the progress on vaccines far enough along that it’s more important to keep Fauci on the job than to huddle with him about their plans for next year. If that means keeping their distance from him, so be it.
The question isn’t whether Trump will gradually come around on a transition, the question is how far public opinion will move against him as he continues to hold out. Even Trump allies are getting impatient with the lack of evidence to support the claims of mega-fraud:
I watched so you don’t have to: Adams says he started with a 95% prior that the election had been stolen. Says that number drops every day he doesn’t see “the kraken”, will be under 50% if he hasn’t seen it by the end of the week. (Maybe he’s crackin’?) https://t.co/T2PcUlVJmc
— Benjamin Morris (@skepticalsports) November 18, 2020
The Wall Street Journal editorial page, normally friendly confines for POTUS, is also in “put up or shut up” mode today:
President Trump has so far been unwilling to concede to Joe Biden, and his latest argument is that the voting machines must have been rigged. Where’s the evidence? Strong claims need strong proof, not rumors and innuendo on Twitter…
[S]o far there’s no good evidence of voting problems that would come close to Mr. Biden’s lead of 73,000 votes in Pennsylvania or 145,000 in Michigan. In Georgia, the Republican Secretary of State last week ordered a hand recount of all five million ballots. The effort turned up 2,600 missing votes that Floyd County forgot to upload. Adding them would cut Mr. Biden’s lead to slightly north of 13,000. But the error isn’t Dominion’s fault, and it better hope no glitches are revealed, given its 10-year contract with the state for $107 million.
If Georgia’s recount doesn’t find big irregularities, then these claims should be put to rest. In the George W. Bush years, the conspiratorial left focused on Diebold, a maker of electronic voting machines. It would be a mistake for anyone on the right to go down a similar dead end, especially if Georgia’s paper ballots give the same result as the computers.
Follow the link and read that piece in full if you have time, as it debunks the conspiracy theories about Dominion voting machines. If there’s anything that might move Trump, it’s not argument that he’s hurting the country but arguments that he’s hurting himself. Here’s where we are today:
The same pollster found that 46 percent want him to concede immediately and another 32 percent say he should concede eventually if he can’t back up his voter-fraud claims. Just 27 percent of Republican say he should never concede. The longer he blocks the transition, the more people will conclude he’s being a baby who’s risking the country’s defenses against COVID and foreign threats to soothe his bruised ego, and the more damage will be done to any 2024 campaign he might be planning. The best thing he could do for himself is declare that he’s running again in four years and then behave responsibly until January 20. But he can’t do that so he won’t.