President Donald Trump pushed out more unsubstantiated claims that the election was stolen by firing off a series of angry tweets Sunday, even as the vote count continued to move against him and Joe Biden shifted into transition mode.
The tweet from Trump came more than an hour after George W. Bush issued a message telling him the election's outcome was 'clear' and that it was held with 'fairness and integrity' and Chris Christie, one of the president's most prominent allies, said it was time for him to show evidence or 'move on.'
With his political options narrowing and his hold on power becoming more tenuous by the hour, Trump also blasted the media for getting to 'call' who will be the next president.
After the broadcast and cable networks all called the race for Democrat Joe Biden, the race entered a new phase, with Biden giving a victory speech and laying plans for the transition, even as Trump and his legal team prepared lawsuits and made accusations of fraud on TV without yet providing evidence.
'Since when does the Lamestream Media call who our next president will be? We have all learned a lot in the last two weeks!' Trump tweeted Sunday afternoon after another round of golf, his second in two days.
Melania, who had been the subject of a report she had urged her husband to concede, made clear that she was still with her husband on his war footing on Twitter.
'The American people deserve fair elections. Every legal - not illegal - vote should be counted,' the Slovenia-born former model wrote. 'We must protect our democracy with complete transparency,' she added.
She did not go as far as Trump and his allies in alleging that there had been election fraud, but her comments lined up with Trump and GOP allies' calls for investigation and litigation to get to the bottom of the Trump team's claims.
Despite Trump's claims about the media, the election will only be decided after county boards of elections submit their tallies, states report the results, the electoral college meets, and Congress meets in a joint session.
What media organizations do is evaluate the vote count as it comes in, then determine when one candidate or the other no longer has a chance of winning a state based on the outstanding vote.
In the case of Pennsylvania, which networks used to reach their conclusion, Biden is up by 43,000 votes, with 98 per cent of precincts reporting.
What makes the lead basically insurmountable, though, is that the remaining votes are coming almost entirely from mail ballots in pro-Biden counties, and Biden has been winning each batch by an overwhelming margin.
Even if the media were wrong – networks wrongly called Florida in 2000 only to pull their projections back – it wouldn't matter if the official count went the other way for some reason.
Amid conflicting reports about factions inside his orbit, Trump's public comments have all attacked the election and demonstrated fight.
He once again quoted former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, a partisan warrior, calling big city machines 'corrupt' and venting 'these people are thieves,' as well as calling it a 'stolen election.'
Melania's intervention also adds to suggestions that his family are becoming fractured by the outcome, with Jared Kushner reported to have told him to concede,
How Trump will be persuaded to agree to a transition of power remains in flux, with the failure of the intervention by Bush a sign that there may be few options to get the president to come round to his fate.
Bush congratulated Joe Biden on his election victory Sunday - and delivered an unmistakable message to Donald Trump that he must now concede.
The only living former Republican president broke his silence, more than 24 hours after Biden was declared the winner in a call by TV networks and the Associated Press, to say that he had spoken to the Democratic victor, and to Kamala Harris, the vice president-elect.
'I just talked to the President-elect of the United States, Joe Biden,' he said in a statement. No Republican leader has so far called Biden president-elect.
'Though we have political differences, I know Joe Biden to be a good man, who has won his opportunity to lead and unify our country.'
And in what will be instantly read as a rebuke to Trump over his claims of fraud and a direct message that he must publicly concede the election, Bush said there were no doubts over the integrity of the result.
'No matter how you voted, your vote counted,' he said.
Sunday morning also saw his personal attorney Rudy Giuliani aggressively claim he will contest the election, telling Fox News' Maria Bartiromo that he had 'four or five' lawsuits which would be ready by the end of the week.
He claimed Republican observers were not allowed close enough to see mail-in ballots being processed in Philadelphia and Pennsylvania, and that dead people in Philadelphia had voted in the past.
He also claimed that he would sue in Nevada, which has been called for Biden, without specifying how. Asked 'where is Bill Barr on this?' - a reference to the attorney general, who in theory at least could investigate allegations of mass-scale vote rigging - he said: 'I don't know and I can't worry about that.'
Giuliani claimed he has '60 or 70 witnesses' to voter fraud, and might make 'one or two' public. So far there have been a handful of anecdotal witnesses in videos posted on social media but none who have made claims to authorities.
Another key member of Trump's kitchen cabinet, South Carolina senator Lindsey Graham, used the same show to tell the president not to concede.
'If we don't challenge and change the U.S. election system, there will never be another Republican president elected again,' he claimed.
Gingrich's claims the election was corrupt came from a Fox & Friends interview in which he called Democrats 'corrupt' and claimed the outcome was a 'left-wing power grab.'
'President Trump has the right to request recounts and pursue legal challenges, and any unresolved issues will be properly adjudicated.
'The American people can have confidence that this election was fundamentally fair, its integrity will be upheld, and its outcome is clear.'
The message from the 43rd president could hardly be clearer and shows the pressure mounting on Trump to give up his apparently doomed fight to remain in the White House for a second term.
His family appeared split on the issue, with Jared Kushner reported to be telling him to give up the fight and concede, but his sons Eric and Don Jr. aggressively tweeting claims of voter fraud - none of them with evidence - and demands for a 'manual recount' across the country.
Vocal allies took to the Fox News circuit this morning, including Newt Gingrich, Mike Huckabee, Lindsey Graham and his personal attorney Rudy Giuliani, all pushing for the fight to continue.
But the intervention by Bush will serve to remind Republicans of the damage not conceding could present to the party in the future.
Trump himself called the election 'stolen' Sunday morning as he tweeted claims from former House Speaker Newt Gingrich that Democrats 'stole what they had to steal.'
But he avoided using his own voice in a series of tweets, instead highlighting Gingrich - who had appeared on Fox and Friends - and Turley, a registered Democrat who had spoken against Trump's impeachment as a Republican witness to the House Judiciary Committee.
The strategy to wage a legal fight against the votes tallied for Biden in Pennsylvania and other places is more to provide Trump with an off-ramp for a loss he can´t quite grasp and less about changing the election's outcome, the officials said. They spoke to AP on the condition of anonymity to discuss internal strategy.
Trump aides and allies also acknowledged privately the legal fights would - at best - forestall the inevitable, and some had deep reservations about the president's attempts to undermine faith in the vote. But they said Trump and a core group of loyalists were aiming to keep his base of supporters on his side even in defeat.
There has never been a presidential election in memory where such widespread fraud was alleged.
Moments after the AP called the race for Biden, Trump attorney Rudy Giuliani stood in front of campaign banner taped over the garage door of a landscaping company in Philadelphia, wedged between a cremation center and an adult book store, with a handful of poll watchers and declared they'd been kept too far away to check for any inaccuracies.
'We have no way of knowing, because we´ve been deprived of the right to inspect ballots,' he said.
Partisan poll watchers are designated by a political party or campaign to report any concerns they may have. They are not poll workers who actually tally ballots. Monitoring polling places and election offices is allowed in most states, but rules vary and there are certain limits to avoid any harassment or intimidation. They are not allowed to interfere with the conduct of the election and are typically required to register in advance with the local election office.
This year, because of the coronavirus that has killed more than 230,000 people across the country, there was litigation in a few states, including Pennsylvania, over where poll watchers could stand to ensure social distancing.
Lawyers could potentially argue the vote tally should be cast aside over fraud observed by poll watchers, but in order to win that argument they´d need evidence, not just allegations the monitors weren't allowed to see clearly enough. Judges are loathe to disenfranchise any voters and there would need to be substantial proof that fraud had damaged the count so much that it must be set aside.
Democratic poll watchers, who were also given the same access, have not raised concerns. Giuliani called evidence of fraud circumstantial at the news conference. He said he'd be filing suit in federal court, but the issue has already been before judges.
A federal judge in Philadelphia Thursday night ordered the two sides to work out an agreement on the number of poll watchers and how close they could be to the counting. The judge also voiced concerns about the safety of poll workers during the pandemic if poll watchers were allowed to peer over their shoulders.
But Trump's tweets Sunday make clear that if his team believe they are providing him with an off-ramp, he seems to be rejecting that junction and heading down the interstate instead.
The tweets suggest that Trump is not backing down or planning to concede despite signs he is already fracturing his family with his sons and Kushner at odds over whether he should concede.
Gingrich had spent Saturday at the same Trump golf course where the president was golfing when he was told that TV networks and the Associated Press had called the election and that he was defeated. It is unknown if the two men spoke there.
Trump also amplified claims by Turley, a law professor, about fraud, specifically in Pennsylvania, which is the state which pushed Biden over the top to his electoral college majority.
Turley suggested that there could be a problem 'authenticating' ballots received after Tuesday and that this could affect the result of 'the whole election.'
The claim is difficult to assess. Pennsylvania had already separated the late-arriving ballots, and it is so far not known how many there are and whether there enough to sway the election's outcome.
Trump's eldest sons launched a fusillade of morning tweets claiming their father's defeat was fraudulent Sunday, in a sign of a split from their brother-in-law Jared Kushner.
Don Jr. and Eric both retweeted claims from Republican operatives that included the late boxer Joe Frazier voting in Philadelphia and that counting software was rigged against Republicans.
Eric called for a 'manual recount' of all ballots - which would amount to as many as 150 million - because one county in Georgia said three days ago that it was briefly delaying counting due to a software glitch.
'Software from hell! There needs to be a manual recount of every ballot in this country right now!' he said.
And Don Jr. retweeted an anti-concession demand accusing Michigan, Wisconsin and Pennsylvania of 'rampant fraud.'
It was unclear early Sunday whether either son has spoken to their father since his defeat was called by networks just before midday Saturday.
But it was revealed late Saturday night that their brother-in-law Jared has been urging Trump to come to terms with defeat and offer a concession.
The possibility of an ugly family split would add new drama to the last days of the Trump White House - although the two sons had offered contradictory signals themselves on Saturday.
Eric did not attend a press conference with Rudy Giuliani outside a landscaping company in Philadelphia - and across the road from a sex shop - where the president's personal attorney claimed he had evidence of voting fraud in the city.
Eric had attended Giuliani's Thursday press conference in the city where the former New York mayor and Borat prank victim claimed 'Canadians and Martians' may have voted in the Keystone state.
And Don Jr. flurry of tweets claiming the election was corrupt were accompanied by an Instagram post with his father paying tribute to his willingness to 'fight' in what could be interpreted as an elegy for a lost cause.
The question of who can tell Trump it is time to admit he is done has perplexed aides in his inner circle.
Some have launched public attempts to flatter him into conceding, including former chief of staff Mick Mulvaney, who used a Wall Street Journal op-ed to say Saturday that Trump will concede once he is sure the election was not corrupt.
Laura Ingraham, the Fox News 10pm host used her show on Thursday to call for him to 'stand tall' and know that 'it was all worth it.'
'If and when it's time to accept an unfavorable outcome in this election, and we hope it never comes, President Trump needs to do it with the same grace and composure that he demonstrated at that town hall with Savannah Guthrie,' she said Thursday. 'President Trump´s legacy will only become more significant if he focuses on moving the country forward.'
But Trump's own state of mind was clear in his tweets Saturday.
Trump is not expected to ever formally concede, according to people close to him, but is likely to grudgingly vacate the White House at the end of his term. His ongoing efforts to paint the election as unfair are seen both as an effort to soothe a bruised ego and to show his loyal base of supporters that he is still fighting. That could be key to keeping them energized for what comes next.
'He intends to fight,' Trump economic adviser Larry Kudlow said as it was becoming clear that the president was headed for defeat.
Would Trump ever concede? 'I doubt it,' said Trump´s longtime friend and adviser Roger Stone, whose prison sentence was commuted by Trump in July. Stone asserted that Biden, as a result, will have 'a cloud over his presidency with half the people in the country believing that he was illegitimately elected.'
Allies suggested that if Trump wants to launch a media empire in coming years, he has an incentive to prolong the drama. So, too, if he intends to keep the door open to a possible 2024 comeback - he would be only a year older then than Biden is now.
There are many in his inner circle egging him on, including his personal attorney, Giuliani.
If he is watching his favored news outlet, Fox News Sunday, as his Newt Gingrish tweet suggested, he is unlikely to hear voices suggesting he give up.
Former Arkansas governor Mike Huckabee - whose daughter Sarah Huckabee Sanders was White House press secretary and spent election night with Trump - scoffed at the idea he should concede.
And Steve Scalise, the Republicans' second-most senior member of the House, claimed state laws in Pennsylvania 'were not being followed' in the counting of late-arriving ballots and that Democratic officials were 'not being transparent.'
So far the only senior Republicans to congratulate Joe Biden on becoming president-elect have been Mitt Romney, who voted to impeach and remove Trump from office, and Lisa Murkowski, the Alaska senator who Trump has repeatedly attacked.
No other members of the House or Senate who are close to Trump have spoken out to suggest the election is over.
And the Trump campaign itself has bombarded supporters with fundraising emails and texts based on their claims they will fight results in the courts.
They have raked in tens of millions of dollars since Tuesday, according to people familiar with the matter.
Some of the money was earmarked to retire campaign debt - not fight in the courts - but the rest could be used to keep up an aggressive public campaign to continue to undermine faith in the election outcome.
That the peaceful transfer of power was even in doubt reflected the norm-shattering habits of the now-lame duck president, who even in victory never admitted that he had lost the popular vote in 2016.
Most aides believed the president would take the weekend to decide on a plan, which will most certainly involve more legal action.
But some aides believe the legal skirmishes are more about putting up the appearance of a fight than producing results.
There were some apparent indications Trump was moving in a less contentious direction, even as he continued to angrily complain to aides, reviving old grievances about the Russia investigation that began under President Barack Obama,
In a statement Friday, Trump suggested he would avail himself of every avenue under the law to challenge the election's result. Allies interpreted it as a begrudging acknowledgement of the likely outcome.
'We will pursue this process through every aspect of the law to guarantee that the American people have confidence in our government,' Trump said in the statement. 'I will never give up fighting for you and our nation.'
On Saturday, the White House released a terse statement saying the president 'will accept the results of a free and fair election' and that the administration 'is following all statutory requirements.'
Still, there were concerns that Trump's rhetoric would inflame tensions in a nation that was already bitterly divided before the election. Isolated scuffles were reported near tabulation centers in Philadelphia and Phoenix.
Pro-Trump protesters - some of them openly carrying rifles and handguns - rallied outside tallying facilities in a few cities around the country Friday, responding to Trump´s groundless accusations that the Democrats were trying to steal the White House.
The Biden campaign made clear its patience had limits.
'As we said on July 19, the American people will decide this election,' Biden spokesman Andrew Bates said Friday. 'And the United States government is perfectly capable of escorting trespassers out of the White House.'
Trump, whose voluminous Twitter account seems to provide an apt entry for any occasion, offered this advice in 2016: 'Vladimir Putin said today about Hillary and Dems: 'In my opinion, it is humiliating. One must be able to lose with dignity,' So true!'
This article has been adapted from its original source.
© Associated Newspapers Ltd.