Why Trump's 4-front attack on U.S. election result is almost certain to fail

U.S. President Donald Trump and his allies are waging a four-front attack on the U.S. election result. It's doomed to fail, but the unusual gambit underscores how abnormal a moment this is in American democracy.

He's lost. But he's not giving up. Here is how Trump is fighting the results of last Tuesday's vote

U.S. President Donald Trump leaves after participating in a wreath-laying ceremony at Arlington National Cemetery in Arlington, Va., on Wednesday. Trump has launched a multi-pronged effort to discredit the result of last Tuesday's election, which saw Joe Biden declared the winner after several days of ballot counting and close races in key states such as Pennsylvania and Arizona. (Patrick Semansky/The Associated Press)

Several world leaders, including Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, made a bet this week when they congratulated Joe Biden on his U.S. election win.

They were wagering on normalcy.

Because normally, the loser of a U.S. election accepts the result, colleagues acknowledge he's the loser and the loser helps the successor prepare for the transition of power.

Donald Trump, however, is not a normal loser.

He has not conceded, he's not assisting president-elect Joe Biden's transition, and most of his Republican colleagues are remaining silent or urging him to fight on.

WATCH | U.S. attorney general authorizes election probe despite lack of evidence:

U.S. attorney general authorizes election probe despite lack of evidence

3 years ago
Duration 5:53
U.S. Attorney General William Barr has authorized federal prosecutors to pursue 'substantial allegations' of voting irregularities, despite a lack of evidence that voter fraud occurred during the presidential election.  

In fact, more foreign leaders have declared the election over than the number of U.S. Senate Republicans to do so: just a few of the 53 Republicans have conceded their former Senate colleague, Biden, has won.

The president and his allies, meanwhile, are fighting Biden's win on four fronts: on the street, in the courts, in the bureaucracy and in state legislatures.

And, of course, on social media. They're deluging the internet with claims about irregularities — claims either being disputed, debunked, contradicted, mocked, or which involve too small a number of ballots to affect the result.

Will any of this change the election outcome? Not a chance, according to several election-law experts, including two interviewed for this story and others who have weighed in elsewhere

"Trump is just not going to get a majority of electoral [college] votes," said Trey Hood, who studies election administration at the University of Georgia in Athens.

"It doesn't matter whether Trump concedes or not."

His colleague Michael Hanmer at the University of Maryland agrees the rules are too clear and Biden's lead too large for Trump's gambit to have any chance of success.

But it could be a disruptive moment for the country, as the president stokes the anger of his base on the following fronts.

Biden says he's getting on with his transition. However, he's not allowed access to government offices, or personnel, or public funding. (Jonathan Ernst/Reuters)

On the street: protests ahead

Several pro-Trump events are planned Saturday in Washington, D.C., and they're being promoted online by Trump's allies.

That has some locals worried about the potential for conflict, pitting residents of the capital, who overwhelmingly oppose Trump, against pro-Trump tourists.

Local authorities have expressed concern about one far-right rally and warned that guns will not be allowed to be carried openly in the city.

"We continue to follow those activities and be prepared for those activities," Mayor Muriel Bowser said.

WATCH | Trump's election response not a surprise, says former Gore advisor: 

Trump's election response not a surprise, says former Gore adviser

3 years ago
Duration 8:34
U.S. President Donald Trump's response to results showing Joe Biden won the election was expected, said Elaine Kamarck, former Al Gore campaign adviser, who also suggested that ongoing challenges to results are designed to stir up resentment and bitterness among Trump supporters.  

The city also said this week that no permits had been requested for the events. 

Demonstrations elsewhere in the country have become tense. There have even been death threats against election officials — including Republicans, in several states

These events illustrate the uncommon pressure on Republican officials at the state level who play a role in the election certification process.

One conservative organizer said Trump supporters are right to be skeptical if they see irregularities. He said they expect the same of their party leaders.

"Republicans want to fight," said Matt Batzel, the Wisconsin-based organizer of the conservative group American Majority. 

"The base does not want this election taken from them. They want leaders who want to fight."

WATCH | Trump campaign continues to push back against U.S. election results:

Trump campaign continues to push back against U.S. election results

3 years ago
Duration 1:51
The Trump campaign has launched a lawsuit challenging election results in Michigan, while the White House continues to keep president-elect Joe Biden's transition team in limbo.

Pressure on state officials

This grassroots pressure on officials extends to legislatures in swing states, which are virtually all controlled by Republicans. A number of Trump supporters are demanding they overturn the reported result.

From the very moment Biden pulled ahead, some voices on the right demanded that state legislatures push aside governors and election boards and declare that they have the constitutional power to name electoral college slates for their state.

Republicans, represented in red, control the legislatures in the key swing states of Michigan, Wisconsin, Georgia, Pennsylvania and Arizona. (National Council of State Legislatures)

Trump has even alluded to this idea in a tweet. 

He referred to an event that would usually not warrant his attention: votes in the Pennsylvania legislature to decide who will hold key leadership positions. Trump said he hoped Republicans will choose fighters, and he added: "We will WIN!!"

Senior Pennsylvania Republicans have repeatedly said they won't flip the result as state law gives the governor, a Democrat, power to name the electoral college slate.

Hanmer called the idea of a legislature overturning a result democratically radioactive: "It would call into question our most basic assumptions about elections," he said.

It would also be electorally pointless, Hood said, as Trump has lost in too many states for such a radical gambit to work.  

Legislatures could, in theory, take the lesser step of trying to hamper their state's certification process.

Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger has come under attack from Republican colleagues who support Trump's questioning of the integrity of election results and demanded his resignation. He has announced a recount of every ballot cast in the state. (Brynn Anderson/The Associated Press)

Republican lawmakers in Pennsylvania and Georgia are pushing for their states' top election officials to resign. They are also demanding audits of all votes in their states.

That could take time. 

Under attack by his own party, the top Georgia official, Republican Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger, has announced that every ballot will be recounted by hand.

He intends to have the count done by next week despite reports Raffensperger is now quarantining after his wife tested positive for COVID-19. 

A Pennsylvania Republican leader says he won't interfere in the electoral college:

Such recounts face real deadline pressure.

Key states must announce the final result within weeks: Georgia's result-certification deadline is next Friday; Pennsylvania's and Michigan's are Nov. 23; Arizona's is Nov. 30; and Wisconsin's is Dec. 1.

They must then formally report their results a week before Dec. 14, when the electoral college meets to officially pick the president.

These deadlines are serious. The U.S. Supreme Court, in the Bush vs. Gore case in 2000, suggested that missing such deadlines could cancel a state's votes.

So recounts might slow the process. But could they affect the result? Not if history is any guide. Recounts in 2016 produced a net change of 131 votes in Wisconsin and 103 votes in Michigan, for example.

A number of protests have erupted as Trump supporters doubt the election result, such as this one at a vote-counting site in Phoenix on Nov. 6 ( Jim Urquhart/Reuters)

That's not close to the game changer Trump would need. He's losing by 50,000 votes in Pennsylvania, and the gap is growing, by 145,000 votes in Michigan, by 20,000 in Wisconsin, by 14,000 in Georgia and 13,000 in Arizona.

To win, he would need a minimum of three states to flip his way.

Court fights failing so far 

Republicans have launched and lost about a dozen post-election legal cases. Yet Trump has said he wants to keep pushing the fight to the U.S. Supreme Court.

One Trump lawsuit seeks to suspend Pennsylvania's process for certifying the vote result. 

Al Schmidt, a Republican city commissioner who runs elections in Philadelphia and has received death threats, said lies and exaggerations about the result are popping up faster than he can debunk them.

"I have seen the most fantastical things on social media, making completely ridiculous allegations that have no basis in fact," he told CNN.

"One thing I can't comprehend is how hungry people are to consume lies — consume information that is not true." 

WATCH | Trudeau asked about his call with Biden and his relations with Trump:

Trudeau is asked about his call with U.S. President-Elect Biden and his relations with U.S. President Trump

3 years ago
Duration 0:45
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau spoke by phone yesterday with U.S President-Elect Biden and Vice-President-Elect Kamala Harris.

He said he inspected rampant rumours that people who had died were illegally registered as voters in Philadelphia. Not a single example turned out to be true, he said.

Yet some allegations linger. In one suit filed in Michigan by a conservative group, a Detroit city employee who was reportedly furloughed earlier this year said she witnessed some election irregularities before she left in September, such as city election workers ignoring ID requirements and encouraging people to vote for Democrats.

Groups are even offering money for more witnesses to come forward. One group, Project Veritas, is offering up to $25,000 US.

It said a Pennsylvania postal worker alleged the backdating of some votes to meet a Nov. 3 deadline. He later recanted his story under questioning from postal service investigators, then changed it one more time.

Chester County, Pa., election workers process mail-in and absentee ballots a day after the election. It was Pennsylvania that ultimately gave Biden the electoral college votes he needed to be declared the winner, but the tight margins in that state have made it a focus of the Trump teams efforts to contest some ballots. (Matt Slocum/The Associated Press)

In Texas, the state's lieutenant-governor said he's paying up to $1 million US for fraud tips.

Hood and Hanmer, for their part, saluted the work of election officials, whom they said did a great job under difficult circumstances given the pandemic. Hood even monitored about a dozen polling stations in Georgia as a non-partisan observer: "I observed no problems. Things were very efficient." 

The bureaucracy weighs in

Biden's transition is being impeded financially and logistically at the bureaucratic level. 

A Trump appointee who runs the General Services Administration has refused to sign a letter authorizing the start of the transition process.

WATCH | Republicans' refusal to acknowledge Biden won is 'not of much consequence': 

Republicans' refusal to acknowledge Biden won the election is 'not of much consequence'

3 years ago
Duration 0:50
U.S. president-elect Joe Biden said Monday his transition is 'well underway' despite some Republicans' denial of his victory.

That has deprived Biden of the use of government resources, office space and funding to plan the transition in various government departments. 

Biden is also not receiving the daily intelligence briefing that he normally would as president-elect. 

Meanwhile, Trump has in recent days made a series of unusual national security moves for a president who's supposed to be on his way out of office. 

He has just fired the top civilian leaders of the military — and brought in some partisan appointees. 

He's also reportedly wanted to fire the head of the CIA, who is now being criticized online by the president's allies, including his son

WATCH | Biden calls Trump's unwillingness to concede 'embarrassing': 

Biden calls Trump team’s unwillingness to concede ‘embarrassing’

3 years ago
Duration 2:03
Donald Trump and most of his team still refuse to admit that the Republican president lost last Tuesday's U.S. election, resisting the usual transitional protocols. Joe Biden calls it embarrassing, as he prepares to move into the White House in January.

Biden insists he's not worried. 

He downplayed the drama about him not getting security briefings or transition funding and said it will all work out.

He called the president's behaviour "an embarrassment" for him and his legacy, and expressed confidence when asked if his old Republican colleagues in the Senate would come around. "They will," he said.

What's Trump's goal?

Trump supporters are angry and are even turning on Fox News for allegedly not being supportive enough of the president, as seen in a protest outside the Georgia State Capitol in Atlanta on Wednesday. (Elijah Nouvelage/Reuters)

Democrats and some media outlets have floated a variety of theories on the U.S. president's endgame. 

Does he actually hope to flip the result? Is he raising money for his new political action committee? Is it a face-saving exercise? The news site Axios this week reported that Trump intends to launch a competitor to Fox News, and that he may hold rallies to bash Fox for being insufficiently loyal to him.

There are reports Trump plans to start a competitor to Fox News:

There are also varying theories about why elected Republicans are slow to acknowledge the result. A common one is that they're fearful of angering Trump supporters right now.

Republicans need Trump fans to turn out for two critical elections in Georgia that will decide control of the U.S. Senate.

There's one weakness, if that's the strategy. It's the calendar. Republicans can't sit on the fence for long. Those Georgia elections aren't until January, and the next president will be chosen far sooner. 

The electoral college vote, on Dec. 14, wouldn't usually be dramatic — at least not in normal times.  

WATCH | Former head of U.S. Homeland Security under George W. Bush on dangers of delaying transition of power:

Ex-Homeland Security boss on dangers of delaying Biden's transition

3 years ago
Duration 1:28
Michael Chertoff, former head of U.S. Homeland Security under President George W. Bush, explains why facilitating the incoming administration's transition to power is urgent — and why refusal to do so, endangers the lives of the American people.


Alexander Panetta is a Washington-based correspondent for CBC News who has covered American politics and Canada-U.S. issues since 2013. He previously worked in Ottawa, Quebec City and internationally, reporting on politics, conflict, disaster and the Montreal Expos.