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Photo illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios. Photo: Joshua Roberts/Getty Images

Right up to Monday's Electoral College vote, President Trump held the false hope that Republican-controlled state legislatures would replace electors with allies who'd overturn Joe Biden's win, two people who discussed the matter with him told Axios.

The big picture: Through the past week, the sources said, the president browbeat GOP legislators in multiple states, launched tirades against Republican Govs. Doug Ducey of Arizona and Brian Kemp of Georgia, vowed to make Fox News "pay" for accurately calling the race, and tested ways to say he didn't win without acknowledging he had lost.

Behind the scenes: One source who talked to Trump over the weekend said the president continued to insist that there was significant fraud in multiple states, paraphrasing him: "Do you think if the legislatures know this is all true, they would just act to overturn this?'"

  • Like other confidants, this person tried to gently explain that even lawmakers who are allies probably wouldn't overturn a presidential election without a court order.
  • A second source said Trump ranted about how Ducey had been close to the late Sen. John McCain of Arizona, a Trump nemesis — and how Kemp, in Trump's view, owes him his election but gave him nothing in return.
  • In Trump's private telling, Kemp was way down in the polls during the primary race, and Trump was bored one day in 2018, "so I started tweeting" an endorsement, and his support put Kemp in office. (Kemp was behind, and it's hard to imagine he would have won without Trump's support.)

Trump also has been telling confidants that "people at the highest levels of Fox" have reached out to his people to try to repair the relationship but that he has no desire to do that.

  • "He wants to make them pay," said a source who discussed Fox News with Trump in recent days.
  • He's focused in particular on Chris Wallace, Bret Baier and Martha MacCallum. Trump interrupted a recent conversation that had nothing to do with Fox to ask the person he was talking to whether they'd heard that Newsmax's Greg Kelly recently beat MacCallum in the 7 p.m. hour.
  • He was referring to the evening ratings for Dec. 7, in which Kelly edged out MacCallum in the 25-to-54-year-old demographic advertisers covet. Over November, however, "The Story with Martha MacCallum" consistently beat Newsmax's "Greg Kelly Reports" in both total viewers and that age demo.

What's next: Sources who've spoken to Trump in the past few days said he's reluctant to talk much about a 2024 run.

  • That's because "it's an acknowledgement of the end," said one source who spoke to Trump at length in recent days. "He'll say, 'Yeah, I'll probably do it. I may do it.'"
  • Another source said that Trump seems depressed at the realization that his backers have given up on 2020: "He's saying, 'We won these states, we won those states,'" and adding that what he took away from conversations with his pollster John McLaughlin was that if he could get as many votes as he did, he also must have won.
  • The closest Trump has come privately to admitting where this is heading, the source added, is to say, "If we don't win, I don't say lose. I say 'I don't win.'"

Go deeper

DOJ watchdog to probe whether officials sought to alter election results

Donald and Melania Trump exit Air Force One in West Palm Beach, Fla., on Jan. 20. Photo: Alex Edelman/AFP via Getty Images

The Justice Department's inspector general will investigate whether any current or former DOJ officials "engaged in an improper attempt to have DOJ seek to alter the outcome" of the 2020 election, the agency announced Monday.

Driving the news: The investigation comes in the wake of a New York Times report that alleged Jeffrey Clark, the head of DOJ's civil division, had plotted with President Trump to oust acting Attorney General Jeffery Rosen in a scheme to overturn the election results in Georgia.

Return-to-work plans on ice after COVID spike

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

Even more "back-to-office" callbacks are being postponed amid a surge in COVID-19 infections.

Why it matters: It feels like March 13, 2020, all over again. When businesses sent all their workers home, it was an early big hint the pandemic was going to upend our lives.

How the Delta variant ups the stakes in the war against COVID

Illustration: Shoshana Gordon/Axios

The dominant Delta variant's ability to efficiently infect people and rapidly grow inside a person is enabling the coronavirus to regain its footing in the United States.

Why it matters: "The solution is right in front of us — get everybody vaccinated and we wouldn't even be talking about this," NIAID director Anthony Fauci tells Axios.