Trump Team Pursues Contradictory Strategy as U.S. Counts Votes
(Bloomberg) -- President Donald Trump’s chances of winning re-election now rest on a long-shot and contradictory strategy -- an attempt to stop vote counting in states where he thinks he’s ahead, while demanding the tallies continue, or be recounted, where he’s losing to Democrat Joe Biden.
The former vice president, meanwhile, says every legal vote, everywhere, should be counted.
Trump’s campaign dispatched a team to Arizona, where the race has been called by the Associated Press for Biden, to ensure that hundreds of thousands of mail-in ballots are counted, according to people familiar with the matter.
The president has repeatedly claimed that voting by mail is rife with fraud. Yet in Arizona, his campaign manager Bill Stepien said, his team believes those ballots will favor him by up to a 70% margin and flip the state back to his column.
His campaign on Wednesday also asked for an official recount in Wisconsin, which Biden won by more than 20,000 votes. Recounts in previous Wisconsin elections haven’t turned up more than a few hundred erroneous ballots, the state’s Republican former governor, Scott Walker, observed in a tweet.
Trump’s campaign sued to stop counting or disqualify uncounted ballots in Pennsylvania, and has also sued to stop the count in Michigan, claiming elections officials didn’t give the campaign proper access to observe the tally.
The campaign touted a Pennsylvania Appellate Court order in Trump’s favor to allow its observers to more closely watch ballot counting in Philadelphia County.
Trump also tweeted that any vote that came in after election day will not be counted. However, Pennsylvania allows mail-in votes to be counted if they were post-marked on or before Nov. 3 and arrive by Friday. As mailed-in ballots were counted, Trump’s lead in Pennsylvania dwindled overnight.
The legal efforts have been coupled with public criticism of Fox News and the AP for calling the Arizona race for Biden, a decision Trump’s campaign says was premature. Fox News host Bret Baier said on air Wednesday that the network stands behind its call. Trump gave a speech early Wednesday declaring that he had won the election, while trailing Biden in the Electoral College tally and with millions of votes yet to be counted.
“We are declaring a victory in Pennsylvania,” Stepien told reporters in a conference call Wednesday, following a press release that claimed, without substantiation, that “bad things are happening” in the state and that “Democrats are scheming to disenfranchise and dilute Republican votes.”
Even some Republicans expressed concern that Trump’s remarks and his campaign’s activities could falsely persuade his supporters that the election was fraudulent.
Deputy campaign manager Justin Clark said in a statement Wednesday that it would sue in Pennsylvania to stop vote counting until officials provide “meaningful transparency” for the tally and to invalidate a decision by Democratic Secretary of State Kathy Boockvar to allow first-time voters more time to provide identification to elections officials.
The campaign is also joining a case before the Supreme Court seeking to throw out ballots received after Election Day. Pennsylvania officials already agreed to segregate those ballots after the high court signaled it might examine the issue should it prove relevant to the election outcome.
The president telegraphed his aggressive strategy early Wednesday in his White House speech, when he called the ongoing count of legally cast ballots “a fraud on the American public.”
His senior aides, including senior adviser Jared Kushner and White House chief of staff Mark Meadows, were said to have met all day Wednesday at campaign headquarters in Northern Virginia gearing up for a major battle over vote-counting.
Although the path is a narrow one, Trump’s advisers expressed confidence it would work.
“We’re honing in specifically on Pennsylvania and Arizona,” Stepien told reporters on another call earlier Wednesday, saying that if ballots are legally counted in those two states, “the president will win.”
Biden’s team said Trump’s conflicting strategies are a sign of desperation, and that he knows he faces long odds of winning a second term.
“The president now understands he’s in a very different position, which is he’s trying to claw back this defeat and turn it to legal action, to a victory,” Biden campaign senior adviser Bob Bauer said Wednesday on a Washington Post webcast.
Walker said on Twitter Wednesday that Trump’s best path is to hold Georgia and North Carolina, to win Pennsylvania and to ultimately prevail in Arizona.
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