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The Memo: Trump hits out as tide moves for Biden

President TrumpDonald TrumpVeteran accused in alleged border wall scheme faces new charges Arizona Republicans to brush off DOJ concern about election audit FEC drops investigation into Trump hush money payments MORE’s attack on the legitimacy of the 2020 election Thursday evening was the most dramatic effort so far to undercut public faith in the contest. 

It comes as his Democratic opponent Joe Biden looks increasingly likely to be projected by networks as the election's winner. The former vice president holds leads in some key states and is gaining on Trump in others.

Trump retains a path to a second term, but the math has become steadily more daunting. 

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Biden is projected by some news organizations, including Fox News Channel, to already have won 264 electoral college votes — just six short of the 270 needed to claim the presidency. That means that projections of Biden as the election's overall winner could come soon.

The jolt of the president’s words, delivered from the White House briefing room, was potent.

Trump contended that he would “easily win” a second term if only legal votes were counted, and that his defeat could only come at the hands of “illegal” votes. He also insisted that mail-in voting “has really destroyed our system.” 

The president has himself voted by mail in the past. There is no evidence of widespread fraud in American elections, whether voting is held by mail or in-person.

Trump’s allegations caused an instant storm. On CNN, former GOP Senator Rick Santorum (Pa.) said that no Republican elected official would stand behind them. On the same network, anchor Jake TapperJacob (Jake) Paul TapperCNN's Jake Tapper questions giving some GOP leaders airtime Cheney slams Trump on 'big lie' over election Biden adviser on schools reopening in the fall: 'We can't look in a crystal ball' MORE branded them “a disgrace.”  

But those closest to the president have embraced a similar approach.

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Earlier in the day, the president’s eldest son, Donald Trump Jr., had called for his father to “go to total war over this election” to expose what he alleged, without specifics, was fraud.

Trump Jr. also complained about “the total lack of action” from aspiring 2024 GOP presidential nominees to support his father on allegations of electoral malfeasance.

A short time later, former South Carolina Gov. Nikki HaleyNikki HaleyPollster Frank Luntz: 'I would bet on' Trump being 2024 GOP nominee DNC gathers opposition research on over 20 potential GOP presidential candidates Will DeSantis, Rubio and Scott torch each other to vault from Florida to the White House? MORE (R) and Sen. Tom CottonTom Bryant CottonTim Scott sparks buzz in crowded field of White House hopefuls Opposition to refugees echoes one of America's most shameful moments White House defends CDC outreach to teachers union MORE (R-Ark.), tweeted on the topic. Both Haley and Cotton are seen as plausible presidential contenders four years from now.

Meanwhile, Lou DobbsLouis (Lou) Carl DobbsFox News says Smartmatic lawsuit should be dismissed Dominion lawyer: We haven't ruled out suing Trump, other media outlets What to know about Dominion's legal fight with Fox News MORE of Fox Business Network, a vocal supporter of the president, complained about a lack of support from establishment Republicans.

“Where in the hell are Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellMcConnell: Taliban could take over Afghanistan by 'the end of the year' McConnell alma mater criticizes him for 1619 comments McConnell amid Trump criticism: 'I'm looking forward, not backward' MORE, where is the Republican Party, where is [Republican National Committee chairwoman] Ronna McDanielRonna Romney McDanielNew York Post deletes story alleging Kamala Harris book given to migrant children Virginia GOP reverses course, will let those with religious obligations cast absentee votes for Saturday convention The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Facebook - GOP makes infrastructure play; Senate passes Asian hate crimes bill MORE … why isn’t the Republican Party in mass demanding the Department of Justice move in here?” Dobbs asked on-air Thursday.

Trump's own rhetoric, as well as the barrage of legal actions launched by his campaign, reflects worry at the president’s increasingly steep path to a second term.

Five crucial states had no projected winner as of 8 p.m. Thursday: Arizona, Georgia, Nevada, North Carolina and Pennsylvania. 

Biden is ahead in two — Nevada and Arizona — and has closed Trump’s advantage to almost nothing in a third, Georgia. Georgia has not backed a Democrat for president since Bill ClintonWilliam (Bill) Jefferson ClintonNever underestimate Joe Biden Joe Biden demonstrates public health approach will solve America's ills McAuliffe rising again in Virginia MORE in 1992.

Trump World appears more pessimistic about Pennsylvania than any of the other remaining states that the president had carried in 2016. 

Trump’s margin has been coming down in the Keystone State, and a large number of votes from Philadelphia have yet to be counted. Philadelphia, the state’s largest city, is a Democratic stronghold.

The Trump team’s legal efforts have had mixed success. They ended up on the losing side in court in Georgia and Michigan. In Pennsylvania, a judge did permit observers to be physically closer to the workers counting ballots than had previously been the case.

But the Biden campaign has been scathing about Team Trump’s court moves, arguing they are purely about perception rather than having any robust legal foundation.

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“It is a messaging exercise,” Biden lawyer Bob Bauer told reporters on Thursday. “It has no other purpose than to confuse the public about what is taking place.”

There is zero to be gained by the Trump campaign acknowledging the difficult situation in which it finds itself. Instead, confidence, verging on defiance, is the order of the day.

“The media and the insiders in this city [Washington] have been trying to count Donald Trump out for years,” Trump campaign manager Bill StepienBill StepienTrump adds veteran organizer to help run political operations: report Trump likely to form new super PAC Trump ready to make McConnell's life miserable MORE told reporters on a conference call Thursday morning. “Donald Trump is alive and well.”

Trump advisers are pinning a lot of their hopes on holding Arizona, where Trump is continuing to close in on Biden's lead. The Trump team insists its models show a real chance of victory, with senior adviser Jason Miller arguing the president is “on pace to win Arizona.”

But, greatly complicating the battle for public perception, Fox News Channel has already projected Biden as the winner in the state. The network’s decision, which it has maintained amid pressure, is hugely contentious among the president’s circle.

For the moment, Trump World’s efforts are all focused on one goal — to reassure his supporters that victory will be won in the end, and to halt any slide into resignation.

They need the math to cooperate, however. So far, it is not doing so.

The Memo is a reported column by Niall Stanage, primarily focused on Donald Trump’s presidency.