Nov 20, 2020 - Politics & Policy

Trump is on an island

Photo illustration of President Trump on an island.  
Photo illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios. Photo: Sean Gallup/Getty Images

Most of President Trump's closest advisers have completely distanced themselves from his legal effort and are avoiding his lawyers to avoid being swept into their courtroom dramas.

Why it matters: Some of the president's advisers act like they think he can still overturn the election results — because they remain on the payroll and don't have another choice. But talk to them privately, and many say Rudy Giuliani and his team are on a dead-end path.

The true believers are Giuliani and his sidekicks — Jenna Ellis and Sidney Powell — and not many others. Even Jared and Ivanka think this is going nowhere, people who’ve spoken to them told Axios.

  • Some administration officials say it’s borderline impossible to have a serious policy conversation these days without Trump turning it into a rant about the Dominion voting machine conspiracy.
  • Most hardcore Trump sources have psychologically bailed, and are just waiting out the storm.

Top Trump campaign officials tell Axios the legal team's biggest problem is that it doesn't have a clear strategy. Thursday's news conference meltdown is Exhibit A.

  • The campaign still has a daily conference call with communications director Tim Murtaugh, battleground director Nick Trainer and lawyers Matt Morgan, Justin Clark and Ellis. Kushner joins occasionally.
  • Giuliani and Powell aren't invited.

The near-universal opinion: In his efforts to “help,” Giuliani could not have done more harm to Trump.

  • His debate prep fueled the president's over-the-top antics in his first face-off with Joe Biden.
  • The former New York mayor ruined their carefully planned Wall Street Journal piece about Tony Bobulinski — an ex-business partner of Hunter Biden — by first giving the New York Post a hard drive containing alleged files from Biden's laptop.
  • Giuliani asked the Trump campaign to pay him an eye-catching $20,000 daily fee for his legal services.
  • And now, he's litigating a case rooted in conspiracies: Powell is alleging that voting machines used in the U.S. were hijacked with software designed to keep the late Venezuelan dictator Hugo Chavez in power.

Trump, meanwhile, has remained adamant that these legal fights continue, despite his top advisers — including campaign manager Bill Stepien and deputy Justin Clark — privately outlining what the "options for success" are, sources familiar with their conversations tell Axios.

  • One person who recently met with Trump at the White House said the president is still fired up about the possibility of fraud, and is hanging onto any sliver of hope he could win.
  • "He was in a very good mood — laughing, joking. He still thinks he has a shot while also recognizing it's a long shot," the source said.
  • In the source's personal opinion, putting Giuliani at the helm of this process was a mistake.
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