Not Quite Dramatic Capitulation

That was odd. Everything was over. Trump gave up, or he gave in, or something. He’s not characterizing whatever this was. Others will do that for him. That’s what the Washington Post’s team led by Philip Rucker does here:

President Trump effectively surrendered his three-week protest of the election results Monday by submitting to the government’s official transition to the incoming Biden administration, bowing to a growing wave of public pressure yet still stopping short of conceding to President-elect Joe Biden.

Trump authorized the federal government to initiate the Biden transition late Monday, setting in motion a peaceful transfer of power by paving the way for the president-elect and his administration-in-waiting to tap public funds, receive security briefings and gain access to federal agencies.

Though procedural in nature, Trump’s acceptance of the General Services Administration starting the transition amounted to a dramatic capitulation and capped an extraordinary 16-day standoff since Biden was declared the winner on Nov. 7.

He surrendered. He bowed to pressure. He conceded nothing but this was a dramatic capitulation anyway. This was a standoff and he was the one who blinked. He was the one who made this minor procedural matter a point of his pride in his obvious awesomeness and he suddenly shrugged as if this was no big deal. He looked like a loser.

Is that what happened? Three things did go wrong all at once:

On Monday, the Michigan Board of State Canvassers certified Biden’s win there, while earlier in the day dozens of business leaders and Republican national security experts had urged Trump to accept the result because refusing to begin the transition was endangering the country’s security, economy and pandemic response.

Three groups had turned on him, so he gave in and said he would never give in:

Trump yielded, writing Monday night on Twitter that he had agreed to support the Biden transition “in the best interest of our country.”

Yet the president also vowed to continue his push to overturn the results, adding, “Our case STRONGLY continues, we will keep up the good fight, and I believe we will prevail!”

No one knows how he will do that, and maybe he doesn’t know either:

A senior Trump campaign adviser, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to be candid, said Monday night: “He basically just conceded. That’s as close to a concession as you will probably get.”

To bring closure, some of Trump’s advisers said they were encouraging him to deliver a speech in which he does not concede but talks about his accomplishments in office and commits to a transfer of power.

That would be a curious speech. He had been awesome and he did NOT lose the election, but he’ll step aside anyway, for the good of the nation, but damn it, he won, really, and he’ll be back, and then everyone will be sorry and someone’s going to pay for this!

Perhaps that hypothetical speech should remain hypothetical. It seems this has been hard for him:

Trump only reluctantly agreed to let the transition begin as criticism intensified in recent days of his chaotic legal strategy, his failure to produce evidence of widespread voter fraud and his reliance on misinformation and debunked conspiracy theories.

A turning point was Thursday’s news conference by Trump lawyers Rudolph W. Giuliani and Sidney Powell alleging without any evidence that there was a coordinated plot with roots in Venezuela to rig the election in Biden’s favor.

Jay Sekulow, one of the president’s longtime personal attorneys, and White House Counsel Pat Cipollone were among those who helped persuade Trump to commit to the transition, officials and advisers said.

In short, this legal stuff wasn’t working and now key people knew it:

Trump was described as angry about the situation, particularly over comments Blackstone Chairman Stephen Schwarzman, one of the president’s closest allies in the business community, made to Axios acknowledging that the election outcome was “very certain” and that Biden had won and the country should move on.

Trump called political advisers Monday to say he had doubts about the GSA initiating the transition, to inquire about whether he could block certification of the Michigan result, and to express reluctance to travel to Georgia to campaign for the two Republican senators facing runoff elections, according to officials and advisers.

What about that? The polite silence on the other end of the line told him the answer to that question, as did the rest:

Chief of Staff Mark Meadows told other officials Monday evening it was time to begin the transition, two administration officials said.

This comes after a pileup of political and legal losses in recent days appeared to have triggered a shift among national GOP officials, who had largely been silent as Trump has waged an attack on the November vote and made baseless accusations of fraud.

National security luminaries, including former homeland security secretary Tom Ridge, directed particularly sharp language at the president, calling on “Republican leaders – especially those in Congress – to publicly demand that President Trump cease his anti-democratic assault on the integrity of the presidential election.”

These particular Republicans were urging all other Republicans to gang up on him, and that had already started:

On Monday, four more Republican senators, Rob Portman of Ohio, Shelley Moore Capito of West Virginia, Lamar Alexander of Tennessee and Bill Cassidy of Louisiana, added their voices to those who have acknowledged that Biden appeared to have won and said he should immediately begin receiving briefings related to national security and the coronavirus pandemic.

“When you are in public life, people remember the last thing you do,” Alexander said.

That’s a show-biz line. You’re only as good as your last performance. Trump would understand, and as the day closed, things got even worse:

The Trump campaign suffered yet another legal defeat on Monday as well, with the Pennsylvania Supreme Court refusing to toss thousands of ballots in Philadelphia and the Pittsburgh area that had technical errors on their outer envelopes but showed no evidence of fraud.

The opinion encapsulated the state of Trump’s efforts in court to overturn the election result, as his legal team has sought to block certification of Biden’s victories in Michigan, Wisconsin, Arizona, Nevada, Georgia and Pennsylvania – yet has offered no evidence of widespread fraud to justify such drastic action.

This was over. This Post item goes on to explain how things ended, state by state, in detail, but that hardly matters now. Trump is out. Biden is in. It’s his show now, and the New York Times introduces the cast of that new show:

President-elect Joseph R. Biden Jr. plans to name Janet L. Yellen as Treasury secretary, a nomination that would put a woman in charge of the Treasury for the first time in its 231-year history.

The expected appointment came as Mr. Biden moved to fill other top cabinet roles, selecting Alejandro Mayorkas as the first Latino to lead the Department of Homeland Security and Avril Haines as the first woman to be the director of national intelligence.

Mr. Biden is also expected to create a new post of international climate envoy and tap John Kerry, a former secretary of state who was a chief negotiator for the United States on the Paris climate change accord.

These are good people. These are boring people, and that may be the point. Boring people get the job done:

In choosing Ms. Yellen, who was also the first woman to lead the Federal Reserve, Mr. Biden is turning to a renowned labor economist at a moment of high unemployment, when millions of Americans remain out of work and the economy continues to struggle from the coronavirus.

Ms. Yellen, 74, is likely to bring a long-held preference for government help for households that are struggling economically. But she will be thrust into negotiating for more aid with what is expected to be a divided Congress, pushing her into a far more political role than the one she played at the independent central bank.

Still, there’s a big problem. She’ll address the problem. That’s all she will do, like the others:

The emerging diplomatic, intelligence and economic teams, as outlined by transition officials, reunite a group of former senior officials from the Obama administration. Most worked closely together at the State Department and the White House and in several cases have close ties to Mr. Biden dating back years. Mr. Biden will officially announce some of them at an event in Wilmington, Del., on Tuesday.

They share a belief in the core principles of the Democratic foreign policy establishment: international cooperation, strong U.S. alliances and leadership, but a wariness of foreign interventions after the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

It’s back to the boring stuff that kept us all safe, and three others will do the same:

The transition office confirmed reports on Sunday night that Mr. Biden will nominate Antony J. Blinken to be secretary of state and Jake Sullivan as national security adviser.

Mr. Biden will also nominate Linda Thomas-Greenfield to be ambassador to the United Nations and restore the job to cabinet-level status, giving Ms. Thomas-Greenfield, who is African-American, a seat on his National Security Council.

It is time to fix a few things;

If confirmed, Mr. Mayorkas, who served as deputy homeland security secretary from 2013 to 2016, would be the first Latino to run the department charged with putting in place and managing the nation’s immigration policies.

A Cuban-born immigrant whose family fled the Castro revolution, he is a former U.S. attorney in California and began President Barack Obama’s first term as director of U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services. He will have to restore trust in the department after many key Democratic constituencies came to see it as the vessel for some of Mr. Trump’s most contentious policies, such as separating migrant children from their families and building a wall along the southern border.

Hey, we might be the good guys again! And we might have a foreign service again:

Ms. Thomas-Greenfield is a 35-year Foreign Service veteran who has served in diplomatic posts around the world. She served from 2013 to 2017 as assistant secretary of state for African affairs. Just as important in the view of Biden officials is her time as a former director general and human resources director of the Foreign Service. They see it as positioning her to help restore morale at a State Department where many career officials felt ignored and even undermined during the Trump years.

Ms. Thomas-Greenfield, who recently recounted joining a “still very male and very pale” Foreign Service decades ago, has also served as the U.S. ambassador to Liberia and has been posted in Switzerland, Pakistan, Kenya, Gambia, Nigeria and Jamaica.

Antony Blinken as secretary of state helps too:

In Mr. Blinken, 58, Mr. Biden chose a confidant of more than 20 years who served as his top aide on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee before joining his vice-presidential staff, where he served as Mr. Biden’s national security adviser before becoming principal deputy national security adviser to Mr. Obama and then deputy secretary of state from 2015 to 2017.

Mr. Blinken is widely viewed as a pragmatic centrist on foreign policy who, like Mr. Biden, has supported past American interventions and believes the United States must play a central leadership role in the world. Mr. Biden most likely calculated that the soft-spoken Mr. Blinken, who is well regarded by many Republicans, will face a less difficult Senate confirmation fight than another top contender, the former national security adviser Susan E. Rice.

He’s good and he’s careful and he’s sensible, and he’s boring, and Kevin Drum sees this:

Blinken is a fairly ordinary human being. He’s experienced and knowledgeable. He doesn’t have any desire to destroy the State Department. Foreign leaders will get along with him just fine. Based on this, hooray! Good choice.

On the other hand, Blinken is fairly hawkish, having supported both the Libya incursion and some kind of military intervention in Syria. Barack Obama, who had finally started to understand the national security blob a little better by then, vetoed any action in Syria, so we dodged that bullet. Unfortunately, it’s not clear if Blinken has learned any of the same lessons. Based on this, meh. We could do better.

But we could do worse:

Joe Biden is not a hard lefty, so it’s hardly surprising to see him choosing pretty mainstream aides so far. That’s what we collectively voted for, and that’s what we’re going to get, especially in the highest profile appointments. What’s more, I’m willing to cut him substantial slack with national security appointments. There is, literally, no progressive wing of the national security establishment with any real influence. Behind all the yelling and screaming, Democrats and Republicans are pretty much the same on NatSec issues, with smallish differences on the margin and not much else. This means that even if Biden did appoint someone more progressive, they’d just run into a brick wall of opposition: in the White House, in Congress, in the intelligence agencies, in the military, and in think tanks. It’s all but impossible to buck this, and Biden probably doesn’t really want to in the first place. He’s got bigger fish to fry…

In other areas, there are big differences between Democrats and Republicans and there are plenty of progressives with real clout. We should expect to see some riskier appointments at Labor, HHS, Energy, EPA, and so forth.

But for now, this will do. The Washington Post’s Annie Linskey explains that this way:

Unlike Trump, who favored outsiders, or President Barack Obama, who often turned to up-and-coming political stars, Biden’s nominations so far are heavy on technocrats known more for competence than sparkle. Many had been rumored for weeks to be taking on big roles in the new administration.

“It’s kind of a bread-and-butter approach to governing,” said Leon Panetta, the former defense secretary and CIA director. “You’re not going for the headline; you’re going for people who you know can do the job and people you can work with.”

That’s what’s different:

Other high-profile choices announced Monday were Jake Sullivan, a Biden adviser who will become national security adviser, and Linda Thomas-Greenfield, a longtime diplomat tapped to represent the United States at the United Nations.

In contrast to such figures, Trump’s first secretary of state was Rex Tillerson, a corporate executive with no government experience, and his first national security adviser was Michael Flynn, a fiery retired general who led “Lock her up” chants against Hillary Clinton at the Republican National Convention.

“It’s the difference between a president who basically rolled the dice on appointees because he had no experience in government, had few friends, and kind of operated by gut instinct and a president who knows the people he’s appointing and has had experience with them,” Panetta said.

Experience is good. Friends are good:

“The most striking thing about this group of national security advisers is how well they know each other,” said retired Adm. James Stavridis, the former supreme allied commander at NATO. “They are smart, collegial, seek no drama, and are deeply loyal to each other and their boss. It is a stark contrast with the previous administration, to say the least.”

This might work. But this might not work that well. The New York Times’ Michael Shear reports this:

Voters have decided that President-elect Joseph R. Biden Jr. should guide the country through the next four years. But on issues of war, the environment, criminal justice, trade, the economy and more, President Trump and top administration officials are doing what they can to make changing direction more difficult.

Mr. Trump has spent the last two weeks hunkered down in the White House, raging about a “stolen” election and refusing to accept the reality of his loss. But in other ways he is acting as if he knows he will be departing soon, and showing none of the deference that presidents traditionally give their successors in their final days in office.

During the past four years Mr. Trump has not spent much time thinking about policy, but he has shown a penchant for striking back at his adversaries. And with his encouragement, top officials are racing against the clock to withdraw troops from Afghanistan, secure oil drilling leases in Alaska, punish China, carry out executions and thwart any plans Mr. Biden might have to reestablish the Iran nuclear deal.

In short, Trump has found ways to screw Biden anyway:

Mr. Trump’s political appointees are going to extraordinary lengths to try to prevent Mr. Biden from rolling back the president’s legacy. They are filling vacancies on scientific panels, pushing to complete rules that weaken environmental standards, nominating judges and rushing their confirmations through the Senate, and trying to eliminate healthcare regulations that have been in place for years.

In the latest instance, Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin declined to extend key emergency lending programs that the Federal Reserve had been using to help keep credit flowing to businesses, state and local governments and other parts of the financial system. He also moved to claw back much of the money that supports them, hindering Mr. Biden’s ability to use the central bank’s vast powers to cushion the economic fallout from the virus…

Mr. Mnuchin defended his decision on Friday, insisting that he was following the intent of Congress in calling for the Fed to return unused money to the Treasury. But it will be Mr. Biden who will be left to deal with the consequences. And restoring the programs would require new negotiations with a Congress that is already deadlocked over Covid relief.

That’s what this is about – if Biden wants to save the economy he will have to start over, from scratch. The misery will be widespread. People may starve. And Trump will have his revenge. Biden will find things in ruin:

Terry Sullivan, a professor of political science and the executive director of the White House Transition Project, a nonpartisan group which has studied presidential transitions for decades, said Mr. Trump was not behaving like past presidents who cared about how their final days in office shaped their legacy.

“They are upping tension in Iran, which could lead to a confrontation. The economy is tanking and they are not doing anything about unemployment benefits,” he said.

It wasn’t always this way:

Former president George W. Bush consciously left it to his successor, Barack Obama, to decide how to rescue the auto industry and whether to approve Afghan troop increases. And when Congress demanded negotiations over the bank bailouts, Mr. Bush stepped aside and let Mr. Obama cut a deal with lawmakers even before he was inaugurated.

Aides to Mr. Bush said the outgoing president wanted to leave Mr. Obama with a range of policy options as he began his presidency, a mind-set clearly reflected in a 2008 email about negotiations over the status of American forces in Iraq from Joshua Bolten, Mr. Bush’s chief of staff at the time, to John D. Podesta, who ran Mr. Obama’s transition, just a week after the election.

“We believe we have negotiated an agreement that provides President-Elect Obama the authorities and protections he needs to exercise the full prerogatives as commander in chief,” Mr. Bolten wrote to Mr. Podesta on November 11, 2008, in an email later made public by WikiLeaks. “We would like to offer, at your earliest convenience, a full briefing to you and your staff.”

That has not been Mr. Trump’s approach.

That’s a bit of an understatement:

Some of Mr. Trump’s advisers make no attempt to hide the fact that their actions are aimed at deliberately hamstringing Mr. Biden’s policy options even before he begins.

One administration official, speaking on the condition of anonymity because of not being authorized to talk publicly, said that in the coming days there would be more announcements made related in particular to China, with whom Trump advisers believe that Mr. Biden would try to improve relations.

Judd Deere, a White House spokesman, defended the administration’s actions, saying the president was elected because voters were “tired of the same old business-as-usual politicians who always pledged to change Washington but never did.”

No, they were tired of Trump. That’s what the election was about. The same old business-as-usual politicians sounded pretty good now. More rage and chaos didn’t. Trump had to surrender. He’s working on that at the moment.

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Too Crazy Even for This President

Be bold! Be startling! Say what no one else will say! Go crazy! Wake people up! Be the hero! In fact, be Donald Trump!

But that only works for Donald Trump, and may no longer work for Donald Trump. That may be what the election, that he lost, was about. He was just too crazy for a clear majority of those who, one way or another, voted. He wasn’t bold. He wasn’t brave. He was kind of nuts. There’s refreshingly-crazy but then there’s just plain crazy.

Donald Trump knows this. He knows what going too far is. Politico reports he cut the crazy lady loose:

President Donald Trump appears to have cut ties with Sidney Powell, a key member of his legal team who also represents former national security adviser Michael Flynn in his long-running attempt to unravel a guilty plea for lying about his 2016 contacts with Russia.

The abrupt shake-up came in a terse Sunday-evening statement from the Trump campaign that offered no explanation for Powell’s removal.

“Sidney Powell is practicing law on her own,” Trump’s personal lawyer Rudy Giuliani and campaign lawyer Jenna Ellis said in the statement. “She is not a member of the Trump Legal Team. She is also not a lawyer for the President in his personal capacity.”

Part of this seems to have to do with her amazing claims of voter fraud and her vow to “release the kraken” of evidence that she refused to produce when asked by one of Trump’s favorite Fox News hosts. The New York Times had reported on that a few days earlier:

For more than a week, a plain-spoken former federal prosecutor named Sidney Powell made the rounds on right-wing talk radio and cable news, facing little pushback as she laid out a conspiracy theory that Venezuela, Cuba and other “communist” interests had used a secret algorithm to hack into voting machines and steal millions of votes from President Trump.

She spoke mostly uninterrupted for nearly 20 minutes on Monday on the “Rush Limbaugh Show,” the No. 1 program on talk radio. Hosts like Mark Levin, who has the fourth-largest talk radio audience, and Lou Dobbs of Fox Business praised her patriotism and courage.

So, it came as most unwelcome news to the president’s defenders when Tucker Carlson, host of an 8 p.m. Fox News show and a confidant of Mr. Trump, dissected Ms. Powell’s claims as unreliable and unproven.

“What Powell was describing would amount to the single greatest crime in American history,” Mr. Carlson said on Thursday night, his voice ringing with incredulity in a 10-minute monologue at the top of his show. “Millions of votes stolen in a day. Democracy destroyed. The end of our centuries-old system of government.”

But, he said, when he invited Ms. Powell on his show to share her evidence, she became “angry and told us to stop contacting her.”

That might have been a bad move:

The response was immediate, and hostile. The president’s allies in conservative media and their legions of devoted Trump fans quickly closed ranks behind Ms. Powell and her case on behalf of the president, accusing the Fox host of betrayal.

But that didn’t last. The Washington Post’s reporters asked around:

Two advisers to Trump, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss private conversations, said that the president disliked the coverage Powell was receiving from Fox News host Tucker Carlson and others and that several allies had reached out to say she had gone too far. The advisers also said she fought with Giuliani and others in recent days.

Trump believed she was causing more harm than help, a campaign official said: “She was too crazy even for the president.”

Yes, he knows better, and Politico added more detail:

Powell has accused election officials in multiple states of committing crimes, and in recent days turned on Georgia’s Republican governor, Brian Kemp, who on Friday helped certify President-elect Joe Biden’s victory in the state. Her attack on Kemp, which also included the threat of a “biblical” lawsuit, appeared to unsettle some of Trump’s allies.

“Sidney Powell accusing Governor Brian Kemp of a crime on television yet being unwilling to go on TV and defend and lay out the evidence that she supposedly has, this is outrageous conduct,” former Gov. Chris Christie of New Jersey said on Sunday.

It is, but others needed more time to realize that:

In recent days, Republicans aligned with the national party began to express increasing reservations about Powell’s rhetoric, including the claim that Trump had “won by a landslide,” even though Biden is millions ahead in the popular vote and won states equating to 306 electoral votes, compared with Trump’s 232.

The national GOP on Thursday posted a video clip of Powell making the claim, and Ellis, the Trump campaign’s attorney, celebrated Powell’s remarks at last week’s press conference.

Mike DuHaime, the Republican National Committee’s former political director, tweeted on Sunday that the party must pull down its tweet endorsing Powell’s remarks now that she’s been removed from representing Trump or the campaign.

“This is crazy/embarrassing to promote,” he tweeted.

It took DuHaime four days to get there, but he got there. Cut her loose. But what about the other boldly crazy person, the president?

That’s easy. It was the same thing. The Washington Post notes those Republicans who are starting to cut him loose:

Several prominent Republicans said over the weekend that President Trump’s legal arguments had run their course and called on him to allow the presidential transition process to begin.

Chris Christie, a Trump confidant who helped prepare the president for the debates, called the conduct of Trump’s legal team a “national embarrassment.” Sen. Patrick J. Toomey (R-Pa.) said Trump had “exhausted all plausible legal options” and urged him to concede. Sen. Kevin Cramer (R-N.D.) said it’s time to begin the transition.

Things had moved from refreshingly-crazy to just plain crazy, and too crazy for them:

In an interview on ABC News’s “This Week,” Christie said the president should give up his legal strategy. “Elections have consequences, and we cannot continue to act as if something happened here that didn’t happen,” he said.

“The conduct of the president’s legal team has been a national embarrassment,” Christie added, noting that Trump’s lawyers have made a flurry of fraud allegations but have offered no evidence to back them up in court.

Christie criticized Trump’s lawyers for proffering false conspiracy theories at news conferences and other media appearances.

“They don’t do it in the courtroom,” the 2016 Republican presidential candidate said, suggesting the attorneys are fearful of making baseless arguments under oath before federal judges.

“It must mean the evidence doesn’t exist,” Christie said.

There he goes again, being all logical, but he was frustrated:

Christie said the Republican Party should focus on trying to win Georgia’s two runoff elections Jan. 5 to secure the Senate majority rather than continuing with its unsuccessful legal challenges of the presidential election results.

“The rearview mirror should be ripped off,” Christie said.

Don’t expect that, but the senator from Pennsylvania was saying the same thing:

Late Saturday night, after a federal judge threw out Trump’s legal attempt to invalidate millions of votes, Toomey congratulated Biden and Vice President-elect Kamala D. Harris on their victory and encouraged the president to accept that result.

“President Trump has exhausted all plausible legal options to challenge the result of the presidential race in Pennsylvania,” Toomey said in a statement, noting that the deciding judge, Matthew W. Brann, is a “longtime conservative Republican.”

This result, Toomey noted, followed Georgia’s certification Friday of Biden’s victory there and Michigan’s GOP legislative leaders rejecting efforts to block the certification of Biden’s clear victory in that state.

“I congratulate President-elect Biden and Vice President-elect Kamala Harris on their victory. They are both dedicated public servants and I will be praying for them and for our country,” Toomey said.

Toomey has moved on, and so have others:

Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska), who congratulated Biden in a statement after his Nov. 7 victory address, also urged Trump to “begin the full and formal transition process” and criticized the president’s efforts to pressure state and local officials.

“President Trump has had the opportunity to litigate his claims, and the courts have thus far found them without merit,” Murkowski said in a tweet Sunday night. “A pressure campaign on state legislators to influence the electoral outcome is not only unprecedented but inconsistent with our democratic process.”

In fact, it’s crazy, but no one else would say that yet:

Republicans are aware that any perceived lack of loyalty to the president could prompt him to attack the defectors – just as Trump did Saturday night when he called Brann a “product of Senator Pat ‘No Tariffs’ Toomey.”

“No friend of mine,” Trump tweeted.

Are those words the kiss of death? They used to be. But that is changing:

The president also on Sunday lashed out at Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan (R), who said earlier in an appearance on CNN’s “State of the Union” that he was “embarrassed that more people in the party aren’t speaking up” against Trump.

“Well, I just don’t think there are a lot of profiles in courage, frankly,” Hogan said. “I mean, we all know how vindictive the president can be, how powerful his Twitter account is, and how he can really pressure Republicans and go after them. Very few of us are willing to stand up.”

Soon after, Trump shared a link to a report on how Hogan spent $9.46 million on coronavirus tests from South Korea that turned out to be flawed. “This RINO will never make the grade,” the president tweeted. “Hogan is just as bad as the flawed tests he paid big money for!”

That was supposed to be the famous Trump Tweet of Death. Hogan’s political career was over. It wasn’t:

Later Sunday afternoon, Hogan took to the president’s favorite medium to return fire.

“If you had done your job, America’s governors wouldn’t have been forced to fend for themselves to find tests in the middle of a pandemic, as we successfully did in Maryland,” he tweeted at Trump. “Stop golfing and concede.”

Hogan was onto something. Yes, Trump is dangerously crazy, but Trump has also stopped even pretending to do his job. Josh Dawsey documents that:

The president who likes to put on a show is mostly offstage these days.

Since President Trump was declared the election’s loser earlier this month, gone are blustery speeches and stemwinder White House news conferences about the coronavirus, which never disappeared like he promised – or any other topic for that matter. Gone are lengthy call-in sessions with favored Fox anchors that often stretched so long the hosts had to push to conclude the calls.

Gone, too, are regular White House jousting matches with the press, impromptu Oval Office appearances with random guests or any pretense of being interested in many of the duties of the job.

In the 19 days since the election, 12 have included no events on the president’s schedule. He has appeared at public events four times and has played golf at his own Virginia course six times. He has taken no questions from reporters.

Somehow, the man has changed:

The president’s lust for ratings – he has sometimes defended events such as his coronavirus news conferences by citing how many people watched them – seems to have evaporated.

Now, more than ever, he’s just going through the motions, and Hogan was right about the golfing:

Trump – known for cannonballing on the global stage with moves such as threatening to pull out of NATO – participated minimally in the virtual Group of 20 summit this weekend, speaking to other world leaders for a few minutes, looking downward at his phone during the proceedings and leaving early both days, aides and diplomats said. He skipped the special session about handling the coronavirus pandemic on Saturday – even as cases surge in the United States – and went to the golf course. He went golfing again on Sunday.

What’s happening? Dawsey sees a man who has checked out early:

Given a chance to brag about the successful development of a coronavirus vaccine in recent days, a historic achievement for his administration, the president attacked the company for not releasing it before the election.

“I won, by the way,” he said offhandedly during a brief Friday appearance. He did not elaborate.

It is a marked sea change from the past five years, during which Trump dominated the national psyche with a constant stream of bravado: provocations, cliffhanger events, firings, rallies, tweets and controversies that often blurred one into the next. The denouement of the Trump presidency is largely playing out without Trump. He is no longer pretending to embrace parts of the job that he never liked, some advisers say.

But he can still get riled up:

Trump has deluged the Internet with a fusillade of conspiracy theories and falsehoods about the election – even as his lawyers decline to make most such allegations in court and lose case after case. He has taken brazen steps, such as meeting with Michigan’s top legislators in a bid to have new electors chosen that would pick him. He has railed against judges who have ruled against him.

Trump fired two high-profile officials, including his defense secretary, by tweet. Republicans who have said Joe Biden won the election have been hit by Twitter broadsides with Trumpian clockwork.

So, he’s still that wild and crazy guy, but now on only one topic. That’s odd, so Dawsey taps his White House sources about that:

Advisers say he is trying to figure out what to say and what to do. Unlike 2016, when Trump doubted that he would win, he is genuinely surprised by the defeat, advisers say. Over the past few weeks of the campaign, advisers on Air Force One repeatedly told the president he was going to win because of the large crowds at his rallies and showed him favorable polling. Trump mused about how he would mock the pundits and his critics after the election when he won again, advisers said.

Since then, he has vacillated between delusion that he actually won, anger and deflation that he lost and a desire to keep fighting. “I don’t think he knows what he wants to say yet,” said one official who has spoken to the president and who, like other aides and advisers, spoke on the condition of anonymity to reveal private conversations. “It’s all over the place based on the day.”

Okay, he is crazy:

“Yes and yes,” one adviser responded, when asked whether the president knows the election is over or believes it was truly rigged. Trump rails against Fox News and Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp (R) and dives into Wisconsin laws on some days, while plotting his 2024 campaign on other afternoons and pondering ways to sabotage Biden. One afternoon last week, Trump told advisers that he was going to win Michigan and Pennsylvania and that he could still win Georgia. No one seemed to challenge him.

What would be the point? The king has gone mad:

Trump, a prodigious television watcher even in happier times, is consuming many hours these days, complaining vociferously about individual Fox News hosts when they question his team’s claims. He has mentioned to advisers, several of them say, that ratings will go down when he is gone.

Aides say Trump is searching for positive information, calling advisers such as John McLaughlin, his pollster, to hear how well he performed and how he really won the election. “More people than would admit to you are telling him he actually won the election and giving him a false sense of hope,” a person close to him said.

Some other advisers are simply trying to cheer him up by repeatedly noting that he won more votes than any other Republican has ever won.

They don’t mention that Joe Biden won more than six million more votes than that. Why upset him? All he has left is ruining everything on his way out:

“It’s about what serves his needs, not about what moves policy forward. He doesn’t have the appetite to stay in it now because he knows it’s over,” said Tim O’Brien, a longtime Trump biographer and frequent critic.

“His only goal is to try and taint the election. If he goes back to his base and runs again, he can say Biden didn’t really beat me, that’s all he wanted out of this.”

That may be why all of his team’s legal stuff is so laughably absurd. Democrats can relax. It was never supposed to work. He just needs his base to agree that elections never really work. It’s all a joke.

The Philadelphia Inquirer’s Will Bunch is not impressed:

Yes, it’s easy to laugh at the ridiculousness of Trump’s scheme – which he telegraphed for months before Election Day – to somehow get judges, or state legislatures, or the Electoral College to anoint him the victor of an election he couldn’t win by getting the most votes, even in the battleground states that handed him the White House in 2016.

The latest proof of the pathetic nature of the president’s plot to allege widespread voter fraud, with zero actual evidence, came Saturday when a Republican, straight-outta-the-Federalist-Society jurist here in Pennsylvania – U.S. District Judge Matthew W. Brann – dismissed his campaign’s latest election challenge “with prejudice,” using words like a “Frankenstein’s monster” and “unhinged” to describe the case argued by Giuliani last week. Yet as that was happening, the Trump campaign was demanding a reality-defying third recount that will surely ratify his loss in Georgia…

But it’s time now for all the laughter to die in outrage. Because we need to state in the clearest and most unambiguous terms what is happening in America in November 2020: The president of the United States is using the power of his office to try to overturn, by any means necessary, the fair and democratic election that will remove him from office. In a nation that stakes its claim to “exceptionalism” on 44 peaceful transfers of power over 231 years, its current leader is attempting a coup.

Bunch is serious about that:

The president, the Republican Party, and some of its key elected officials crossed a line last week when they went from frivolous courtroom challenges and insistent recount demands – annoying and antidemocratic, but legal – to demanding that election canvassers and state legislatures ignore legal vote counts, untainted by any evidence of fraud, and simply award unearned electors to Trump.

Trump’s courtroom losses and hasty retreats – the outrageous stand by the Wayne County canvassers collapsed in about three hours – shouldn’t allow us to obscure that we are not only witnessing a crime in progress, but one that’s more insidious and damaging than Watergate, let alone the Ukraine matter.

That’s because Trump wins by losing all of these legal battles:

The antics of Trump and his thoroughly corrupted Republican Party probably (and it’s alarming enough that I have to say “probably”) won’t undo the result of our fair, democratic election, but they are already having dire consequences in the real world. A recent poll found that a staggering 70% of Republicans don’t believe Biden’s election victory was “free and fair,” despite the mountain of real-world evidence to the contrary. The entrenched denial of Biden’s legitimacy by millions of Americans will make it all but impossible for the 46th president to govern as he deals with a deadly pandemic and a crippled economy. Even worse, it’s all but certain to inspire acts of violence by the deluded “people who vote for freedom.”

That is a worry, not a joke, and should be considered a crime:

Subverting elections is a crime – and it ought to be treated as such. If a powerful United States senator like South Carolina’s Lindsey Graham is phoning Georgia’s secretary of state and asking him to toss out legal ballots, or when Trump himself flies Michigan’s top lawmakers to Washington and someone is buying them $500 bottles of Dom Pérignon in the name of appointing Trump electors in a state Biden won by 150,000 votes, how is this not election tampering at the felony level?

If what Trump, Graham and other top Republicans are doing isn’t felony election tampering, then rewrite the criminal code to make it so.

That’s not a bad idea. Bunch argues that Trump was never really refreshingly crazy. He was dangerous all along:

America’s democracy isn’t exceptional, or even particularly well thought out. To the contrary, it’s incredibly fragile – chock full of loopholes and exploitable flaws that were just waiting for a power-mad, narcissistic demagogue to exploit them, which is now happening before our disbelieving eyes.

Sidney Powell was too crazy even for this president? Fine. This president is too crazy for the rest of us.

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