Jan 3, 2021 - Politics & Policy

Trump's powers backfire

Illustration of Trump with flashlights pointing at him from two directions
Illustration: Rebecca Zisser/Axios

President Trump’s caught-on-tape effort to bully the Georgia secretary of state shows that the powers Trump used to cajole his way to the top of business — and into the presidency — are now failing him in his White House final days.

Why it matters: “The clock is ticking," a longtime friend and Trump adviser told me. "The only thing that has made it sound more desperate is he knows that come Wednesday, it’s game over. The closer he gets to [Congress accepting the Electoral College vote], the more desperate he's getting.”

The one-hour conversation, obtained and released today by the Washington Post, captures Trump floundering with one of his go-to moves:

  • He likes to try to create intimacy with a negotiation target — a "just-you-and-me" posture.

In this case, Trump was trying to get the secretary of state — Brad Raffensperger, a Republican — to change the outcome of the presidential race.

  • Even with that change, for which there's no justification, Joe Biden would still be president-elect: Georgia's electoral votes aren't enough for Trump to win.

The longtime friend and adviser told me: "If you listen to the tape, it's all the same things he does whenever he's trying to get something in the bloodstream but can't attribute it to anybody."

Anyone who was surprised by the rambling, Nixonian tape wasn’t listening in August when the president spoke to Axios’ Jonathan Swan.

  • The president telegraphed the mayhem that was to follow his Election Day loss, claiming mail-in ballots would lead to voter fraud and laying the seeds for a period that has become the most tumultuous of his already topsy-turvy presidency.
  • During his interview with Swan, the president warned "lots of things can happen" with voting by mail if the presidential race isn't decided on election night — which ended up happening.

Be smart: The fact that someone taped a conversation between a secretary of state and the president of the United States, both from the same political party, speaks to the mistrust and legal fears that have followed Trump’s frantic efforts to overturn the results.

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