As President Trump’s legal options for contesting the presidential race dwindle, Republicans are hopeful he can be persuaded to put the 2020 election in the past and focus on his political future.
Persistent rumors that either Trump will run for president again in 2024 or one of his children will remain active in Republican politics may give GOP leaders the leverage they need to persuade him to stand down, concede, and work on keeping the Senate under the party’s control by campaigning for both Republican candidates in the Georgia runoff.
“If he wants to run again or Don Jr. wants to run, that won’t be helped by losing in Georgia and costing us the Senate,” said a Republican political consultant. “[Senate Majority Leader] Mitch McConnell needs to make this clear to him.”
Republican elected officials have mostly stood patiently behind Trump’s efforts to contest the results in multiple battleground states that went narrowly for President-elect Joe Biden, some are starting to back away as legal setbacks mount, evidence of widespread voter fraud has failed to materialize to the satisfaction of many lawmakers, and the states in question begin to certify their election results.
The General Services Administration announced Monday evening that it would begin the official White House transition process. Earlier in the day, even Trump-friendly lawmakers were calling for this to begin.
“Vice President Biden and Senator Harris should begin receiving all appropriate briefings related to national security and COVID-19 to facilitate a smooth transfer of power in the likely event that they are to take office on January 20,” said GOP Sen. Shelley Moore Capito of West Virginia, a state Trump won by 40 points, in a carefully worded statement. While acknowledging Trump’s right to pursue legal challenges, she added, “However, at some point, the 2020 election must end. The window for legal challenges and recounts is rapidly closing as states certify their results in the coming days.”
Trump tweeted approvingly of the GSA beginning the transition while maintaining he was going to continue to challenge the results.
Top conservative commentators, ranging from Fox News’s Tucker Carlson to nationally syndicated radio show host Rush Limbaugh, have also pressed the Trump legal team to substantiate their claims of wide-ranging fraud. Both Carlson and Limbaugh are supportive of Trump, and both say they have failed to see proof of the alleged conspiracy. The legal team itself has fractured, with Sidney Powell, the lawyer who went the furthest in claiming communists and voting software stole the election from the president, on the outs.
Powell even declared that Republican leaders in Georgia were a part of the stolen election conspiracy. GOP leaders fear it could demoralize the party’s voters in the state ahead of the two runoff elections that will determine the Senate majority.
Donald Trump Jr., the president’s son and a family member seen as a possible future political candidate or even party leader, tweeted in opposition to those who say Republicans should withhold their support from GOP Sens. David Perdue and Kelly Loeffler to protest the presidential election. “That is NONSENSE,” he wrote. “IGNORE those people.”
Under federal law, states need to have their slates of electors set by Dec. 8. The Electoral College meets to vote six days later. The Georgia runoffs aren’t until Jan. 5, potentially giving Trump time to process the result.
Other Republicans aren’t holding their breath for Trump to back down anytime soon. “I don’t think anybody, with the possible exception of McConnell, has any leverage over Trump,” said a GOP operative in Washington, D.C. “The bottom line is that Trump cares very little about anyone but himself, and his decisions and actions are based on that premise.”
Trump could also believe that his changes in 2024 are better if Republican voters see him as having been cheated out of an election he rightfully won rather than the 2020 loser.
The Trump campaign remained defiant after Biden was certified the winner in Michigan. “Certification by state officials is simply a procedural step,” said senior legal adviser Jenna Ellis in a statement. “We are going to continue combatting election fraud around the country as we fight to count all the legal votes. Americans must be assured that the final results are fair and legitimate.”
“The smartest and most productive move he could make would be to concede the election and do everything he can to help our two candidates in Georgia,” said the operative. “But he won’t, and it could cost us the Senate. I do believe, however, that this will hurt him in a 2024 run and that it’ll bring other candidates to a GOP presidential primary.”
Some party insiders are hopeful an appeal to Trump’s legacy will help — he has left congressional Republicans in a stronger position than George W. Bush did — while others are skeptical.
“No, Trump doesn’t feel like he needs the support of anyone and will do whatever he thinks is best for himself,” said a Republican strategist who has advised one of the president’s biggest allies within the party.