As Donald Trump's top aides ratchet up their commitment to contest the results of the 2020 election, the president on Friday appeared to hint for the first time at the possibility of a new administration during a briefing on the coronavirus vaccine.
Speaking to reporters in the Rose Garden after a week of public silence, Trump said "time will tell" who would be occupying the White House in the coming months. Though still not conceding the election to Democrat Joe Biden, the remark was a departure from past declarations by the president and his allies of four more years of Trump.
"This administration will not be going to a lockdown. Hopefully whatever happens in the future — who knows which administration it will be? I guess time will tell," Trump said. "But I can tell you this administration will not go to a lockdown."
Trump did not take questions at the Rose Garden event, but the president and his team are barreling ahead with lawsuits aimed at casting doubt on the legitimacy of the election. In a recent interview, Trump continued to refuse to acknowledge that he had been beaten by Biden, insisting that his campaign’s election-related legal challenges would reverse the race’s outcome and arguing that Americans should “never bet against me.”
The unrealistic prediction from the president, published in the Friday edition of Washington Examiner correspondent Byron York’s newsletter, represented some of Trump’s first remarks to a member of the news media since Biden was declared the winner of the election last weekend.
In his interview with York, Trump argued he was still competitive in several key swing states where Biden had already emerged victorious, saying he was “going to win Wisconsin” — a state called for Biden last Wednesday where Trump is currently trailing by more than 20,000 votes.
In Arizona, which was also called for Biden as early as last Wednesday, the race will “be down to 8,000 votes,” Trump said, even though he is behind by more than 11,000 votes there. “If we can do an audit of the millions of votes, We’ll find 8,000 votes easy. If we can do an audit, we’ll be in good shape there,” he said.
Trump went on to say he was “going to win” Georgia, where Biden has a lead of more than 14,000 votes and which was called for him Friday afternoon. Georgia’s top election official announced Wednesday that the state would conduct a hand recount of every ballot cast in the presidential race.
“Now we’re down to about 10,000, 11,000 votes, and we have hand counting,” Trump told York, incorrectly stating his vote deficit in Georgia. “Hand counting is the best. To do a spin of the machine doesn’t mean anything. You pick up 10 votes. But when you hand count — I think we’re going to win Georgia.”
Later in the evening, Trump wrote in a tweet that Georgia's secretary of State, Brad Raffensperger, was a "RINO" and was not adequately verifying the ballots for fraud. Raffensperger has repeatedly rebuffed Trump's conspiracy theories about the election, offering hourly updates of the vote-counting process and denying any mass fraud or other malfeasance.
Trump also tagged in his evening tweet Gov. Brian Kemp, who previously served as secretary of State for Georgia at the time of his 2018 election. Trump endorsed Kemp at the time, and Kemp defeated Democratic candidate Stacey Abrams. But the president showed signs of souring on the governor after Kemp moved to shut down the state amid the coronavirus pandemic this summer.
"Everyone knows that we won the state. Where is @BrianKempGA?" Trump tweeted Friday night.
Trump also asserted that he would win North Carolina, which was called for him Friday afternoon and where he is ahead of Biden by more than 71,000 votes, and said his campaign’s litigation could result in him picking up both Michigan and Pennsylvania — two states that were called for Biden last week where Trump trails by more than 146,000 votes and more than 60,000 votes, respectively.
Trump was less certain about the timeline for his campaign’s various legal actions, speculating that he may be able to overturn the election results in “probably two weeks, three weeks.” And despite his rosy assessments of the race, the president revealed that he entertained the prospect of losing his reelection bid at some point last week.
“I’m a guy who realizes — five days ago, I thought maybe. … But now I see evidence — and we have hundreds of affidavits,” he said. Trump’s campaign has produced no evidence to support his claims of widespread voter fraud, and a group of federal officials, election supervisors and voting technology vendors have deemed the 2020 election to be “the most secure in American history.”
Trump seemingly struggled to reconcile that government-issued statement with his own claims Friday, tweeting: “For years the Dems have been preaching how unsafe and rigged our elections have been. Now they are saying what a wonderful job the Trump Administration did in making 2020 the most secure election ever. Actually this is true, except for what the Democrats did. Rigged Election!”
Apart from a brief visit Wednesday to Arlington National Cemetery to commemorate Veterans Day and his Friday briefing where he took no questions, Trump has not appeared or spoken publicly since a news conference at the White House last Thursday, when he repeated his attacks on the country’s electoral system.
By the week’s end, however, the president showed signs of a new willingness to engage with friendly media figures amid his protracted legal fight. Fox News contributor Geraldo Rivera tweeted Friday morning that he “had [a] heartfelt phone call” with Trump, who reportedly described himself as a “realist” who will do the “right thing.”
But hinting at the president’s defiance, Rivera also wrote that Trump “wants to see ‘what states do in terms of’” certifying their election results. “He sounded committed to fighting for every vote & if he loses, talking more about all he’s accomplished,” Rivera added.
The president also tweeted Friday afternoon that he “may even try to stop by and say hello” at a series of pro-Trump rallies taking place in Washington, D.C., this weekend in support of his refusal to concede. “Heartwarming to see all of the tremendous support out there,” he wrote.
Meanwhile, White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany maintained her outspoken presence on cable news, defending the president in her capacity as an adviser to his campaign. In a Friday interview on Fox Business, she brushed aside suggestions that Trump may accept the election’s outcome but never formally concede the race to Biden.
“The president is not even there yet,” McEnany said. “He’s merely fighting for the men and women of this movement who have brought real questions and claims forward, and he’s fighting for this in a way that I think no campaign has — putting a light on some of these operations that have happened in blue cities and counties.”
White House trade adviser Peter Navarro echoed that sentiment in a separate interview on Fox Business. “We are moving forward here at the White House under the assumption there will be a second Trump term,” he said, and “any speculation about what Joe Biden might do, I think, is moot at this point.”
But as the president’s allies projected public confidence, his already improbable legal battle confronted a new roadblock, after another law firm moved late Thursday night to drop its representation of Trump’s campaign in a suit over Pennsylvania’s election tallies.
Trump campaign communications director Tim Murtaugh lashed out in a statement Friday morning. “Cancel Culture has finally reached the courtroom,” he said, contending that the firm pulling out of the case had “buckled” under the pressure of “leftist mobs.”
“The President’s team is undeterred and will move forward with rock-solid attorneys to ensure free and fair elections for all Americans,” Murtaugh said.