On Saturday morning, members of Donald Trump’s legal armada scrambled to put together a press conference to challenge the legitimacy of the election. For the site of their Waterloo, they chose a landscaping business in Philadelphia that rested on an industrial road next to an erotic book shop that hosts “Dildo Madness” sales and whose proprietors have taken a decidedly negative assessment of water-based lube.
For a moment, Four Seasons Total Landscaping and the nearby Fantasy Island Adult Bookstore, which one Yelp reviewer called “a creepy place,” were a punchline. And then they were a metaphor. Until, as the minutes ticked on, they grabbed their bizarro place in the history books.
For it was there that the team Trump put together to turn the tides of the election—Rudy Giuliani, Pam Bondi, and Corey Lewandowksi—stood when the call came down. Joe Biden was deemed president-elect, putting an end to days of waiting and ballot counting on top of the months of campaigning that preceded it.
Trump’s team—hardly an A-list of legal stalwarts—brushed it aside with a mix of shrugs, clenched fists, and a forced determination to flood the courts with their complaints. Speaking over the distant, dulcet tones of “Sweet Child of Mine,” a teal-painted wall and garage door adorned with Trump-Pence signs as their backdrop, Giuliani claimed that the election in Pennsylvania and other states was marred by fraud.
At one point, he put out his arms and stared up to the sky, mocking the television networks as false deities whose application of math and probability to determine the election winner wasn’t worth the price of cheapest vibrator in the building next door ($4.99 for the minis, in case you cared).
“All the networks, whoaaaa!” he declared, sardonically. “All the networks! We have to forget about the law, judges don’t count!”
Then he took it a step further. Without a scintilla of evidence, he accused national Democrats of spearheading a conspiracy to prevent Republicans from rooting out hundreds of thousands of fraudulent ballots that were supposedly submitted in the aftermath of Election Day.
“It seems to me someone from the Democrat National Committee sent out a little note that said ‘Don't let the Republicans look at those mail-in ballots, at least not in the big Democrat hack cities that we control,” Giuliani fumed. “’We’ve done a lot to destroy those cities, and now we’re gonna destroy their right to vote.’”
Giuliani and Lewandowski were flanked by a handful of people who said they were Republican poll-watchers in Philadelphia and who said they’d been obstructed in their efforts to monitor the counting of mail-in votes. “This is a gross miscarriage of the process,” Giuliani said. “It’s a fraud, an absolute fraud.”
The goal, it appeared, was to protest loudly and hope for the best; a channeling, of sorts, of a Fantasy Island Bookstore motto: “Dildo’s are great, vibrators are fun, but nothing can beat the mighty tongue!!!”
But by Saturday, that all seemed like background noise—the last gasps of a presidency and its allies who are on the way out. And, indeed, even some of Trump’s most committed defenders had trouble mustering up much anger at how the day had gone.
“We saw it coming,” former Rep. Jack Kingston (R-GA), who now serves as an official Trump surrogate, said just moments after the networks began calling it a day for Trump 2020. “At [worst], we still get a recount and our day in court.”
Trump himself was on his own fantasy island when the news came down: teeing off once more at his nearby golf course under a pristine, almost alarmingly warm early November day; then mingling with a wedding party at his club as they pleaded with him not to “give up.”
Such a use of one’s Saturday might not have seemed like the thing to do with the presidency on the line. But if it gave the impression of a man doing literally anything to avoid coming back to the White House (where tens of thousands had gathered to revel in his impending ouster) or just practicing what life would be like in an earlier-than-expected retirement, Trump’s aides quickly moved to dispel such thoughts.
"Obviously he's not gonna concede when at least 600,000 ballots are in question," Giuliani said.
Few, if any, in Trump’s inner circle expect him to go quietly. Eight White House officials and other associates who’ve spoken to Trump in the days since election night told The Daily Beast he’s planning to devote himself largely to groaning about “fraud” for the foreseeable weeks—and to be entirely ungracious to Biden, in part because of how much of a “pathetic,” unworthy foe he believes the former VP to be.
One source close to Trump said this week that they’re simply expecting the president to, in their words, “boycott” a Biden inauguration next year, should one actually take place in a world where COVID is rampant because of Trump’s own bungling of the pandemic.
Trump’s campaign on Saturday kept blasting out emails asking for cash to prop up their defense fund to fight the election outcome. And his surrogates kept insisting that something sinister had taken place over the course of the past few days.
“Media coordinated efforts are attempting to simply declare Joe Biden the winner and ignore the rule of law,” Jenna Ellis, a senior legal adviser to Trump and his campaign, told The Daily Beast just as the calls kept rolling in. “There is no official winner until every legal vote is counted accurately, the states certify results, and all legal challenges are resolved.”
Given license to speak anonymously, though, some on Team Trump sounded downright despondent and resigned to the ignominy that came with defeat. Two senior officials working on the re-election effort predicted that the president and his legal crew will flail for a while between now and Inauguration Day, and that Trump and his loyalists will continue to scream “fraud” and “stolen” election, possibly for months.
“There will be a lot of messaging,” one of them said. “But it seems that it’s over… [and] there aren’t that many people on the team who don’t think it’s over. That doesn’t mean they’re going to say it in public, but it is what it is.”