Donald Trump returned to the golf course on Sunday as the former president George W Bush sent a shot across his bows by calling the election “fair”, even as the president pushed ahead with his legal challenge against the results in some states.
The president gave no indication he plans to concede the race anytime soon amid unsupported claims of widespread voter fraud, although one former Republican presidential nominee predicted he eventually will.
Mr Bush added pressure on Mr Trump to accept the outcome of the ballot. He said: "The American people can have confidence that this election was fundamentally fair, its integrity will be upheld, and its outcome is clear."
Mr Bush has critcised the president before, and Mr Trump has railed against the 43rd commander-in-chief for what he calls his “dumb wars” in Afghanistan and Iraq. With congressional Republicans notably silent about president-elect Joe Biden’s apparent win, Mr Bush became the most senior GOP official to start nudging the president towards the door.
At his Northern Virginia golf club, the president was sticking to his contention the election was somehow taken from him. But he and his team still have not produced any 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!” he tweeted.
It has long has been common practice for the Associated Press and major news networks, who all employ teams of election experts, to assess vote tallies and other data before projecting a winner. Mr Trump said nothing during the campaign about wanting to change that.
Rather than even acknowledging he would possibly consider dropping his challenges, Mr Trump and his team were mostly quiet on Sunday. They did not send anyone to the Sunday morning political talk show circuit, and Mr Trump was no more active than normal on Twitter.
What the Trump camp did do on Sunday was try to raise funds for what they’re dubbing an account to pay the president’s legal bills as he files lawsuits in swing state after swing state, trying to get just enough ballots thrown out to surpass Mr Biden in the Electoral College.
“The Left will try to STEAL this Election! I'm calling on YOU to step up & FIGHT BACK. Your support is critical right now, John. We must protect the integrity of this Election,” one fundraising email with the president’s name attached stated. “Can I count on you?”
But as Mr Bush pushed back on the president’s challenges in his own way, so did Utah Senator Mitt Romney. He was the GOP’s presidential nominee in 2012 and was the lone Republican senator to vote to remove Mr Trump from office in the Senate’s impeachment trial earlier this year.
“The president doesn't have a choice. People think, 'Can we remove him from office?' You don't have to remove him from office," Mr Romney said on CNN. "If he does not win on a legitimate basis, he ceases to be the president when Joe Biden is sworn in."
“You’re not going to change the nature of President Trump in these last days, apparently, of his presidency,” he said. “He is who he is. And he has a relatively relaxed relationship with the truth and so he’s gonna keep on fighting until the very end.”
It would be up to the US Secret Service and US Marshals Service to remove Mr Trump once the new president is sworn in, experts say. The Biden campaign says the president-elect would not hesitate to give such an order.
Republicans are almost silent right now. They appear to be giving Mr Trump space and time to concede the race.
“But don’t expect him to go quietly into the night,” Mr Romney added, “That's not how he operates.”
To that point, in an email purporting to be from Eric Trump, the campaign wrote this: “People know exactly what is going on in this country… It's fraud!
“There are ridiculous discrepancies in the votes all over the Country, so my father has formed the Election Defense Task Force to FIGHT BACK against this corruption. This is the fight of our lives, and we won’t win without you,” it added. “The Democrats think that we’ll let them trample the integrity of our Election, but they don’t understand the grit and determination of the American People. Can my father count on you?”
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