Trump campaign legal fight keyed to court of public opinion
The Trump campaign’s effort to change the outcome of the presidential election increasingly is moving from a legal setting to the court of public opinion, where the campaign continues to sow doubt about the contest’s integrity and hopes to win over public officials with a role in certifying the results.
The shift in focus coincides with the appointment of Rudy Giuliani to head the campaign’s legal effort. The former New York mayor’s strategy reportedly entails a longshot bid to pressure Republican lawmakers in key battleground states to approve pro-Trump electors rather than certify their state’s popular vote.
Although the campaign has little success to show in the courts, at least by any traditional measure, the flood of post-election litigation is likely a major contributor to the perception among Trump’s supporters that the vote was tainted by widespread fraud. About half of Republicans believe Trump rightfully won the election, but that it was stolen from him by widespread fraud, and nearly 7 in 10 Republicans said the election was rigged, according to a Reuters poll.
“Whereas most ordinary Americans view the courts, politics and the media as separate spheres, Trump understands them all as information battlegrounds—avenues of influence to the central goal of casting doubt,” wrote Jon Rauch, a senior fellow in governance studies at the Brookings Institution.
A dizzying 24 hours of developments in Michigan and Pennsylvania shows the interplay between the Trump campaign’s seemingly scattershot legal effort, the stoking of his supporters’ distrust of the election result, and Trump’s influence campaign over public officials who hold levers of power in the mechanics of the election.
The Trump campaign’s legal team shocked many court watchers on Thursday when they used court filings to make the dubious claim that a Democratic stronghold in Michigan had failed to certify its election results. The move capped off a remarkable turn of events that began Tuesday night when the four-member team of the Wayne County canvassing board gathered to certify county votes.
The two Republican members of the bipartisan panel initially refused to certify the results, citing concerns about widespread irregularities. A public pressure campaign quickly ensued and the GOP board members reversed their positions, eventually agreeing to sign off on the results.
But on Wednesday the board members filed sworn affidavits saying they had been unduly pressured and misled by Michigan state elections officials into certifying, and made clear they sought to rescind their approval.
A spokesperson for the Michigan secretary of state’s office told The Hill there was no way for the Wayne County Republican members to undo the certification.
“There is no legal mechanism for them to rescind their vote,” said Tracy Wimmer, a spokesperson for Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson. “Their job is done and the next step in the process is for the Board of State Canvassers to meet and certify.”
On Thursday, critics grew more alarmed when one of the GOP board members confirmed to The Washington Post that she had received a call from Trump on Tuesday night thanking her for her initial resistance.
Reports of the exchange fueled fears that Trump’s new strategy would include bringing his supporters’ discontent to bear on those charged with administering and certifying the election.
Those fears grew substantially after Trump on Thursday invited Republican state legislatures from Michigan to a meeting at the White House on Friday.
The effort to change the result in Michigan has some parallels to the Trump campaign’s approach to Pennsylvania.
On Wednesday the campaign filed an amended lawsuit in a Pennsylvania federal court, arguing that he should be named the winner in the battleground state and that the GOP-controlled state legislature should be given the authority to assign its electoral votes.
The filing also argued that 1.5 million votes across the state “should not have been counted” and that they led to “returns indicating Biden won Pennsylvania.”
Trump trails Biden by some 82,000 votes in the Keystone State.
Giuliani deflected a question at a Thursday press conference when asked if the campaign’s strategy was to halt state certifications to allow GOP lawmakers to bypass the state’s popular vote and pick pro-Trump electors.
“Our goal here is to go around the outrageous iron curtain of censorship and get facts to the American people,” he said.
Several election law experts said that while the recent moves undermined the country’s election infrastructure, they believe American institutions would withstand the assault.
“I am alarmed at what recent developments mean long-term for the health of American democracy,” Ned Foley said. “I’m not alarmed in terms of the outcome of this year’s presidential election, meaning that on Inauguration Day the candidate chosen by the electorate will be the one inaugurated.”
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