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Photo illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios. Photos: Stefan Rousseau (AFP), Jabin Botsford (The Washington Post)/Getty Images

Apart from a few die-hards, most people close to President Trump know the race is over — but no one wants to be the sacrificial lamb who tells him to concede, people familiar with their thinking tell me.

Why it matters: Trump's long-shot legal war, aimed at preventing him from being the first one-term president in 28 years, is being enabled by active supporters — and a lot of passive appeasement.

What we're hearing: Top Trump advisers sat the president down at the White House on Saturday and walked him through the "options for success," a campaign official tells me.

  • The official added that they made clear to Trump the likely outcome of waging these legal battles, but he was firm that he wants to forge ahead anyway.
  • One source who recently spoke to the president tells Axios' Jonathan Swan that even Trump has discussed the possibility of not winning. He has accepted that losing may be an outcome but insists on pursuing what he claims is mass fraud.
  • Several of his close advisers, including social media guru Dan Scavino and personnel director Johnny McEntee, are egging him on.
  • But people one rung out have privately accepted reality. They know the court cases are dead ends, and some are already putting out job feelers.

Behind the scenes: Chris Liddell, Trump's deputy chief of staff for policy coordination, has been working on transition preparations for the past several weeks, but "everything is frozen right now, they’re not doing anything," a source familiar with his work says.

  • Typically at this point, Liddell should be figuring out what priorities they can push through before Jan. 20 and working with the Justice Department to review security clearances for Biden officials.
  • While the Biden campaign has posted its own transition page, Emily Murphy, administrator of the General Services Administration, has yet to declare when Biden's official transition begins.
  • Neither may happen until the White House gets on board with the outcome.

One White House official described a scene of chaos and frustration among staff, particularly younger, lower-level aides anxious about finding new jobs.

  • "Senior staff can afford to drag it out, but mid to lower ... need paychecks and don't want to get left behind," the official said.
  • The challenge, the official added, is sending out resumes when "we are technically supposed to believe we can win."
  • White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany says, "Having spoken with many younger West Wing staffers, I can tell you that the team fully supports President Trump and the movement behind him."

The bottom line: One adviser who attended Trump's election night party at the White House tells me the president had "whiplash" watching his lead diminish over the ensuing days.

  • "He went to bed thinking he won. We all felt good," the Trump adviser said. "That's why we collectively are still confounded. But there's only so much you can do now once a big part of the country has decided to move on."

Go deeper

Updated Dec 2, 2020 - Politics & Policy

The top Republicans who have acknowledged Biden as president-elect

Photo: Tasos Katopodis/Getty Images

Some elected Republicans are breaking ranks with President Trump to acknowledge that President-elect Biden won the 2020 presidential election.

Why it matters: The relative sparsity of acknowledgements highlights Trump's lasting power in the GOP, as his campaign moves to file multiple lawsuits alleging voter fraud in key swing states — despite the fact that there have been no credible allegations of any widespread fraud anywhere in the U.S.

20 hours ago - Politics & Policy

Bolton lauds Barr for standing up to Trump

John Bolton. Photo: Jabin Botsford/The Washington Post via Getty Images

John Bolton says Attorney General Bill Barr has done more to undercut President Trump's baseless assertions about Democrats stealing the election than most Senate Republicans by saying publicly that the Justice Department has yet to see widespread fraud that could change the election's outcome.

What he's saying: “He stood up and did the right thing," Bolton said in a Wednesday phone interview.

Trump's 2024 begins

Trump speaking to reporters in the White House on Thanksgiving. Photo: Erin Schaff - Pool/Getty Images

President Trump is likely to announce he'll run again in 2024, perhaps before this term even ends, sources tell Axios.

Why it matters: Trump has already set in motion two important strategies to stay relevant and freeze out other Republican rivals.