History may call it the death rattle of this presidency. Right now, the election needs to be called first.
As the country’s verdict crystallised and TV increasingly showed a map turning Democrat blue, Donald Trump addressed journalists inside the White House.
The voting figures had formed in him a melancholic mode and he read, low-key, from a paper script through familiar, baseless, accusations of an election “stolen”.
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However, he didn’t present so much as president pickpocketed and ready for robust challenge. Rather, the tone was resigned.
If this was a set-piece media event to lay out a convincing case for legitimate challenge, it fell short – short of a White House lawyer or two to give detail and credibility on where and why the courts would see fit to become involved.
Donald Trump’s advisers had reportedly advised him against rolling out his allegations of electoral fraud, but he ignored them.
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A fraught election can put distance between a president and his people and there’s increasing evidence of it.
The Republican Party has obediently filed in behind Donald Trump throughout his term, but unity has been undermined by his denouncing of the country’s democratic process. The fracture lines stretched onto social media.
Maryland’s Republican Governor Larry Hogan tweeted: “There is no defence for the President’s comments tonight undermining our Democratic process.”
Republican Congressman Adam Kinzinger tweeted: “STOP Spreading debunked misinformation… This is getting insane.”
Twitter – where else – was the arena for Family Trump to engage in the fight. A series of tweets from Eric and Don Trump Jnr, sons of Donald, screamed at Republicans in an effort to shake them for support.
Eric Trump tweeted: “Where are Republicans! Have some backbone. Fight against this fraud. Our voters will never forget you if your (sic) sheep! “
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Therein lies the dilemma for the Republican party. The “our voters” of whom Eric Trump spoke number nearly 70 million after Tuesday’s election.
It’s a huge voter base that every Republican needs, whether Donald Trump remains in the White House or not.
The Trump warning to Republicans is “back him or else”.
The incumbent president needs the wider support of the movement to add momentum and political clout to any court challenge.
Many Republicans would prefer to see Donald Trump recycled out of the party for the party’s sake. Enabling such a scenario comes with significant risk to personal and party ambition.
Not for the first time with this president, it is a balance of priorities and principles.