President Donald Trump’s small circle of devoted legal advocates is determined to carry on its fight to overturn the 2020 election in spite of a string of resounding defeats in court, including a seemingly terminal rebuke from the Supreme Court on Friday.
For Trump’s actual campaign, however, the fight is for all intents and purposes over. The president’s political machine is still raising money, buying ads, and publicly insisting that it will fight on. But the futility of the effort is apparent in the campaign’s northern Virginia headquarters—the office that is supposed to be devoted to supporting and housing the legal crusade—which, knowledgeable sources tell The Daily Beast, has virtually emptied out.
“It’s a ghost town now, with people waiting for the end,” one person familiar with the campaign’s operations told The Daily Beast this weekend.
According to that source and another person familiar with the situation, a large amount of the Trump-Pence signs have been stripped from the walls of the headquarters in Arlington, Virginia. The desks and memorabilia have been largely packed, thrown out, or removed from the office space too. Television sets, mounted to the walls around the rented 14th floor of the building, are being sold off for extra cash. Staffers’ belongings are even more thoroughly cleared out now than when the campaign was in the immediate aftermath of the downsizing last month.
The voter-fraud “hotline” room in Arlington created in the aftermath of Election Night was also dismantled last month, after it became a torturous chamber for mid-level staff, and a pointless magnet for crank callers, violent threats, and farting noises into the telephones. And over the course of an hour and a half this Sunday afternoon, there was nary a sign of any campaign official coming in or out of the building—though, to be fair, it was the weekend.
While a physical downsizing is taking place, it remains the official position of the outgoing president, his White House, and his re-election team (or what’s left of it) that Trump won the election he obviously lost to Joe Biden. “We will never give up!” Trump claimed on Twitter Sunday evening.
To that end, his lawyers are planning on waging their own campaign up to the doorstep of Biden’s inauguration late next month, even as several Trump advisers and allies have come out publicly to say it’s time to move on.
“We’re not finished, believe me,” lead Trump attorney Rudy Giuliani told Newsmax last week after the Supreme Court declined to hear a case from numerous state attorneys general, led by Texas’ Ken Paxton, seeking to invalidate election results in four key states. The president and his legal team, Giuliani said, plan to “look at other options.” The former New York City mayor did not respond to The Daily Beast’s questions on what those other “options” would look like.
With its string of legal defeats, the campaign has been reduced to devoting its resources to, mainly, messaging. It plans to air two new ads in unspecified television markets promoting its dubious position that the election was marred by widespread voter fraud. Shortly after the campaign’s announcement, both of those ads were removed from YouTube for violating its policies on election disinformation.
While the campaign still has boatloads of money that it can spend on such advertisements—the Trump re-elect, the Republican National Committee, and their two joint fundraising committees raised more than $200 million in the three weeks after Election Day—all signs indicate that the Trump campaign as a political apparatus is on its last legs.
Following the COVID diagnosis of Andrew Giuliani—the Trump attorney’s son who had been hanging around the legal team—the crew of Trump lawyers working on the post-election effort moved operations out of their conference room at the campaign’s HQ and into a nearby hotel. The hotel is not Trump International Hotel, the preferred site for Giuliani and other denizens of the sprawling MAGA social club for the past four years, located a quick walk from the White House, the sources said.
Asked for comment, Jason Miller, a senior Trump adviser on the campaign, said the sources’ descriptions amounted to a “stupid observation.”
“Election Day was November 3rd,” Miller added. “We’re now in mid-December. The campaigns are winding down. For example, Joe Biden’s headquarters is no longer packed with ballot harvesters.” (The final sentence is a reference to a widely discredited meme on the right.)
When asked why campaign operations aren’t more bustling—if, as Trump and his lieutenants claim, this a historic fight on par with the 2000 post election battle between George W. Bush and Al Gore—Miller said it was “tough to compare” and that much of what remains of the campaign is now “virtual because of COVID, and much of it decentralized to the states.”
But even as large swaths of the GOP keep backing Trump’s conspiracy theory-laden blitz to nullify the election, some well-connected Republicans are increasingly acknowledging, in blunt terms, just how futile the president’s continued struggle is.
“Everything that I know about politics and elections shows me that Joe Biden will be inaugurated on January 20th,” said Ed Rollins, a longtime Republican operative who chairs the pro-Trump group Great America PAC. “There’s no evidence to prove to me that he didn’t win… It only takes 270 [electoral votes] and I don’t see anything that would disqualify that, or convince… the Supreme Court to overturn this, which is [the Trump legal team’s] goal.”
To the extent that any Trump political operation remains, it will likely be housed in a new leadership PAC that the president created last month, and to which he’s steered substantial amounts of the money the campaign has raised with frantic calls to finance its “election defense fund.”
That political apparatus could come in handy if Trump opts for another White House run in 2024. But according to veteran GOP strategist Karl Rove, Trump is only hurting his own future political prospects with his incessant whining about last month’s contest. “America likes comebacks,” Rove said on Fox News Sunday, “but they don’t like sore losers, and he is on the edge of looking like a sore loser.”