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Denial, and Resignation, From Trump and a Handful of Aides


WASHINGTON — President Trump’s motorcade was just pulling into his private golf club in suburban Virginia Saturday morning when news organizations ended days of waiting and declared that he had lost the presidency to Joseph R. Biden Jr.

Aides called Mr. Trump to let him know that their predictions over the past several days had come true: Every major news outlet had projected Mr. Biden to be the winner. But the president, who an hour earlier had said on Twitter that “I WON THIS ELECTION, BY A LOT!,” was not surprised, they said. And he did not change his plans to go ahead with legal challenges to the election results that several of his own advisers warned him were long shots at best, or to play golf.

The aides said Mr. Trump had no plans to immediately deliver the kind of concession speech that has become traditional in past presidential elections, and his campaign vowed to continue waging the legal battle across the country. In a statement issued while he was still on the course at Trump National Golf Club, Mr. Trump said Mr. Biden was trying to “falsely pose” as the winner.

“The simple fact is this election is far from over,” the president said, “Beginning Monday, our campaign will start prosecuting our case in court to ensure election laws are fully upheld and the rightful winner is seated.”

Mr. Trump’s advisers described him as in complete denial that he would have to leave the White House in January and said he refused to abandon his baseless accusation that Democrats stole victory from him.

They do not believe he will try in any way to block Mr. Biden from taking his place, but they said that if the president has not delivered a formal concession speech by the time he departs, pressure may mount on his Republican allies, family members and friends to convince Mr. Trump that he must give in to the inevitable and let the American people know that he accepts their judgment of his four years in office.

Even some of Mr. Trump’s oldest advisers, like former Gov. Chris Christie of New Jersey, have said publicly that he needed to have actual evidence to make the claims he has been making about the election.

“This kind of thing, all it does is inflame without informing. And we cannot permit inflammation without information,” Mr. Christie said on ABC News on Thursday night.

Now that Mr. Biden has been declared the winner, White House advisers must confront the reality that Mr. Trump will be a lame-duck president for the next two and a half months, lashing out at his perceived enemies on Twitter and asserting the power of his office even as the coronavirus pandemic continues to rage across the country.

Since early Wednesday morning, when Mr. Trump angrily declared the election to be a “fraud” on the public, he has been mostly ensconced in the Oval Office or the presidential residence, watching television coverage and brooding.

Besides his children, he has spoken by phone and at the White House with a coterie of advisers, including the former White House counselor Kellyanne Conway, his campaign manager, Bill Stepien, and his deputy campaign manager, Justin Clark, and Ronna McDaniel, the chairwoman of the Republican National Committee.

Vice President Mike Pence spent part of Friday in the Oval Office with Mr. Trump, but the president’s chief of staff, Mark Meadows, who tested positive for the coronavirus the day after the election, has been working remotely on the campaign’s current legal challenges.

Mr. Trump’s advisers had succeeded in persuading his personal lawyer Rudolph W. Giuliani to stand down from some of public allegations about fraud. But Mr. Giuliani called Mr. Trump directly to appeal to him, and the president signed off on a news conference outside a landscaping company in Philadelphia that started Saturday morning just after news outlets called the presidential race for Mr. Biden.

Aides were candid with him that there was not much of a path forward. Only a few had seemed resistant to the idea that Mr. Biden was likely to win, including the president’s son-in-law, Jared Kushner, people who spoke with Mr. Trump said.

Several Trump advisers said that they now wanted to give the president space to process the loss, but that they were exhausted after four years of tumult, and were eager for clarity about what would come next.

Mr. Trump has been eager to leave the White House, and after musings about a rally this week fell flat, aides said he was likely to make a trip next week to his private club, Mar-a-Lago, in Palm Beach, Fla., instead. But the president has no intention of ending the boisterous events that he held throughout his presidency just because his re-election campaign is over.

It was unclear whether Mr. Trump would follow tradition and invite Mr. Biden to the White House for a symbolic meeting like the one he had with President Barack Obama during his own transition four years ago. It is also tradition for the departing president to attend the inauguration of his successor, but Mr. Trump has ignored many of the norms of the office.

Mr. Biden, as a former vice president, does not require the type of introduction to the building that Mr. Trump did. Such a meeting would send a signal that could tamp down anger nationally among the president’s supporters about a loss — but it would be a strikingly different approach from a president who has so often sought to inflame passions.

Democrats are concerned about an array of traditional transition practices possibly being disrupted by Trump administration officials. But so far, such operations are underway without any disruption.

A top White House adviser, Chris Liddell, has been leading the transition operations for the Trump administration, officials said, coordinating with others to meet mandated deadlines. Mr. Trump has had little awareness of those activities, one White House official said, in part because of his own superstitions about planning before an election, and in part because officials feared he would try to meddle with them.

As Mr. Trump’s motorcade arrived back at the White House Saturday afternoon, passing crowds of Biden supporters applauding the president’s ouster, Mr. Trump’s aides were still in varying degrees of shock about the outcome of a race that many had believed he would win.

Some of those aides had already started to leave in anticipation of a loss. Ja’Ron Smith, the most senior Black official in the West Wing and a deputy assistant to the president, sent an email to colleagues on Friday saying that he was departing. One of his colleagues said it had been long planned, but others saw it as the beginning of a slow exodus as Inauguration Day draws closer.

Mr. Trump, for his part, showed no sign of ending his hunt for allegations of fraud that could lend credence to lawsuits he wants filed in a number of states. A campaign official said that Mr. Stepien and Mr. Kushner had David Bossie, the head of the conservative group Citizens United and a longtime Trump ally, to lead efforts to contest vote counts in several states.

Some of the president’s allies in the Senate said they understood why he felt entrenched.

“I don’t blame him one bit for fighting for every single vote,” said Senator Kevin Cramer, Republican of North Dakota.

But even before he leaves the White House, one of Mr. Trump’s most powerful forms of communication has been diminished. Twitter has grown increasingly aggressive about flagging Mr. Trump’s false statements even as the president, in the days after the election, has spread false stories about “illegal ballots” and has demanded that local officials in several states stop counting ballots prematurely.

A spokesman for Twitter, Nick Pacilio, said in a statement that the company had flagged the president’s tweets “for making potentially misleading claims about an election. This action is in line with our civic integrity policy, and as is standard with this warning, we will significantly restrict engagements on these tweets.”

Mr. Trump posted the same false claim about having won the election on his Facebook page early Saturday. Facebook quickly added its own warning: “Votes are being counted. The winner of the 2020 U.S. presidential election has not been projected.”



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