One month after losing the presidential election, Donald Trump and his allies continue to promote conspiracy theories about voter fraud that include claims about deceased Venezuelan president Hugo Chávez and invocations of the Kraken, the Scandinavian version of the Loch Ness monster.
Aside from undermining American democracy in the eyes of critics, Mr Trump’s strategy seems ill-fated, since he has no chance of changing the result of the election. But he has used it to raise huge sums of money and fuel a grievance movement ahead of a possible announcement that he will seek the White House again in 2024.
The Trump campaign and Republican National Committee have raised $207m since the November 3 election. While Mr Trump is soliciting donations to contest the result, a lot of that money is being funnelled into a fund that he can use to support Republicans in future elections.
The war chest will help him amplify his powerful voice on social media and give him even more power to influence Republican primary races. His strategy also complicates the situation for Republicans who are widely believed to want to run for president in four years, including Nikki Haley, former South Carolina governor, and Mike Pompeo, his secretary of state.
As most states have certified their election results, Mr Trump has still refused to concede. His rag-tag legal team, led by former New York City mayor Rudy Giuliani, has been rebuffed repeatedly in court. Even William Barr, the attorney-general who has been fiercely loyal to the president, this week acknowledged there was no evidence of widespread fraud.
Asked if he had confidence in Mr Barr, Mr Trump said: “Ask me that in a number of weeks” — an ominous response given that he fired Chris Krebs, his top official for election security, for saying voting was free of problems.
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People who have refused to pander to the conspiracies have faced threats. Joe diGenova, a member of the Trump legal team, this week said Mr Krebs should be “taken out at dawn and shot”.
In another example of the controversies, Michael Flynn — Mr Trump’s former national security adviser who pleaded guilty to lying to the Federal Bureau of Investigation but recently received a presidential pardon — backed a call to impose martial law and rerun the vote.
While the national media is paying less attention to Mr Trump, the president this week gave a speech that was broadcast on social media in which he repeated the kind of baseless claims that Mr Barr rejected.
Many Republicans believe Mr Trump’s threat to run for president again will enable him to remain a GOP kingmaker given his considerable sway over the conservative base, who are the most engaged members of the party when it comes to Republican primary races.
But there are also concerns Mr Trump’s voter-fraud theories will hurt the GOP as it tries to win two run-off Senate elections in Georgia in January that will determine if the party can keep its majority in the chamber.
At a “Stop the Steal” rally in Georgia this week, Sidney Powell, a lawyer who worked with the Trump campaign before it disavowed her, and Lin Wood, another lawyer pursuing election challenges, urged Republicans not to vote in the Senate races because they could not be sure that their ballots would be protected from fraud.
Their comments drew a rebuke from Newt Gingrich, the former Republican speaker of the House, who castigated the pair for being “totally destructive” and urged Republicans to ignore them.
“Every Georgia conservative who cares about America MUST vote in the runoff,” he wrote on Twitter. “Their ‘don’t vote’ strategy will cripple America.”
Mr Trump will hold a rally in Georgia on Saturday to support David Perdue and Kelly Loeffler, the Republican Senate incumbents who have refused to acknowledge that he lost the election, in order to reduce the chances that he will turn on them.
Highlighting their conundrum — that backing the fraud claims could depress Republican turnout — Mr Perdue said on a leaked Zoom call that it was critical he and Ms Loeffler won so the Senate could counter Mr Biden — an implicit acceptance of the election outcome.
When she was still on the Trump legal team, Ms Powell said the campaign had found hundreds of thousands of examples of voter fraud fuelled by tech companies that were trying to eject Mr Trump from the White House.
“I’m going to release the Kraken,” she said, echoing a phrase from Clash of the Titans that has become a Twitter meme among people who believe Mr Trump can still overturn the election outcome.
Yet with no sign of the “Kraken”, the number of Republicans urging Mr Trump to concede is slowly growing. More are expected once the electoral college officially meets to cast their votes on December 14.
In the meantime, Mr Biden said that many of the Republican senators who had not congratulated him in public were not really in denial. “There have been more than several sitting Republican senators who have privately called me and congratulated me,” Mr Biden told CNN.
Additional reporting by Kadhim Shubber
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