Trump retreats from public eye in post-election fight
President Trump has gone a full week without making any public comments beyond his Twitter feed, a rare instance of extended absence as he refuses to concede the election.
Trump waited four days to make his first official appearance after Saturday’s projection that Joe Biden was the winner of the presidential race. He spent about 10 minutes attending a Veterans Day observance ceremony at Arlington National Cemetery on Wednesday.
The president has not made remarks on camera since Nov. 5, when he declared without evidence that the election was being stolen from him at a hastily scheduled press conference in the White House briefing room. He did not take questions, and has not fielded any from reporters or news hosts since a trip to his campaign headquarters on Election Day.
Factbase Feed, which collects and analyzes Trump’s public statements and tweets, noted that six days is the longest Trump has gone in office without making remarks in person.
White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany on Thursday would not say when Trump planned to speak publicly next, but indicated he was stepping aside to allow the legal challenges to the election play out.
“I think you’ll hear from the president at the right moment,” McEnany said in an appearance on “Fox & Friends.”
“Right now he is letting this litigation play out, letting his lawyers take the lead on this while he stays hard at work for the American people on COVID and other matters,” she added.
Other White House officials have also been notably absent from the airwaves. McEnany has appeared on television a handful of times, but has said she is speaking in her capacity as a campaign adviser and not a White House spokesperson.
Trump allies see the litigation lasting weeks, meaning Trump could remain silent beyond his Twitter feed for some time. Republicans have expressed support for the president in his effort to challenge the election results despite Biden’s victory, though some criticized his rhetoric last week and urged him to let his lawyers take the lead.
“I think that Trump has decided that he wants to let the lawsuits play out but he also knows that he can’t stop being president either,” said Republican strategist Ford O’Connell. “It’s now in the hands of the lawyers and canvassers.”
Trump spent a good part of Thursday morning firing off tweets criticizing Fox News and casting doubt on the election results in what has become an almost daily routine. He also sought to boost the GOP senators whose Jan. 5 runoffs in Georgia will determine control of the Senate next year.
Julian Zelizer, a political history professor at Princeton University, said Trump’s behavior since the election has differed from that of past one-term presidents because he has been focused on contesting the results of the election rather than completing work on legislation or other issues.
Zelizer noted that former President Carter, for example, spent his final weeks focusing on his environmental agenda and addressing the Iran hostage crisis.
“They’ve accepted the results of the election. They’ve given formal concessions. They’ve remained active. They still work on legislation,” Zelizer said of past presidents at the end of their only term. “They tend to focus their energy on that as opposed to focusing on what President Trump is doing right now, which is contesting the election.”
The White House maintains that Trump is continuing to carry out his “America First” agenda and address the coronavirus pandemic.
“Just as he promised, President Trump is fighting hard for a free and fair election while at the same time carrying out all of his duties to put America First,” said White House spokesman Judd Deere. “He’s also working to advance meaningful economic stimulus, engaging members of Congress on a government funding proposal, and ensuring state and local governments have what they need to respond to the ongoing pandemic.”
The president’s schedule has been sparse in the time since he last spoke in front of cameras. Trump had no public events on his schedule from Friday through Tuesday, though he went to his Virginia golf club on Saturday and Sunday.
On Wednesday, Trump participated in a Veterans Day ceremony at Arlington National Cemetery, but did not speak to reporters. The next day, Trump met with Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Vice President Pence. Both events were closed to the press.
White House schedules do not always contain all of the president’s engagements.
Trump has not met with the White House coronavirus task force in months, according to Anthony Fauci, and economic relief negotiations between the White House and Congress are all but abandoned.
White House chief of staff Mark Meadows reportedly told top aides to come up with ideas for policy measures they can push via executive action over the next two months, a sign that others in the building realize their time is limited before Biden takes office on Jan. 20.
The president has in recent days signed a handful of proclamations, disaster declarations and executive orders. But his Twitter feed has been almost singularly focused on unfounded allegations of widespread fraud that he blames for his deficit in Pennsylvania, Michigan and Georgia. Trump is trailing in all three states, and his campaign has filed legal challenges that have either been rejected or would not change the outcome.
It’s unclear whether Trump may ultimately campaign in Georgia to help boost Republican Sens. Kelly Loeffler and David Perdue ahead of the runoff elections. Some GOP senators have urged Trump to get involved in the race to help them retain control of the upper chamber.
However, other Republicans have expressed concern that Trump’s involvement could end up dividing Republicans and hurting the GOP candidates. Loeffler and Perdue called on Georgia’s Republican secretary of state to resign earlier this week as they criticized the state’s election process.