The US presidential election seems to have become a zombie election, as Donald Trump continues to challenge its validity. Despite dozens of legal and procedural defeats, his campaign team continues to file new lawsuits that have no hope of success and to make new unsubstantiated allegations of fraud.
Last Monday looked like the end of the president’s incessant challenges to the election, after the federal government recognized that President-elect Joe Biden was the “apparent winner” and Trump paved the way for cooperation in the transition of power, but his unfounded accusations are endlessly repeated.
On Wednesday, Trump participated by phone in a local meeting of Pennsylvania Republican lawmakers that had been organized by his campaign to falsely claim again that the election was fraudulent.RELATED
“This election was rigged and we cannot allow that to happen,” Trump said, offering no evidence.
But that’s just it. Trump’s strategy has not been to change the outcome, but rather to formulate a series of phantom claims about the presidential race to infect the nation with doubts, although there is an obvious winner and no evidence of widespread fraud.
“Zombies are dead people who walk among the living, and this litigation is the same,” said Franita Tolson, a law professor at the University of Southern California. “In terms of litigation that could change the election, all of those causes are basically the walking dead.”
It’s a strategy tolerated by many Republicans, especially Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, who cling to Trump as they face the fight to retain their own power in the form of two runoff elections in Georgia in January.
“This is really our version of a coup,” said Thomas Mann, a resident scholar at the Institute for Government Studies at the University of California at Berkeley. “It could end quickly if the Republican Party acknowledged what is happening, but they fear Trump’s connection to their base.”
A day after Trump said his administration should start working with Biden’s team, his allies filed three more lawsuits to try to stop the certification of the results in two disputed states. In Michigan, a judge did not rule on the lawsuit and the state certified the results in favor of Biden. Another lawsuit was filed in Wisconsin, certifying it next Tuesday. In Arizona, Republicans sued over ballot inspection; the certification there will be on Monday.
And the campaign’s legal team said state legislators in Arizona and Michigan would hold meetings on the election “to provide confidence that all legal votes have been counted and illegal votes have not been counted in the November 3 election.”
In Pennsylvania, where Republican state lawmakers gathered in Gettysburg on Wednesday to voice complaints about the election, Trump’s attorney Rudy Guliani attended in person and the president called from the White House.
“We have all the evidence,” Trump said. “What we need is a judge who listens properly without having a political opinion.”
But the biggest legal rebuttal was voiced by a conservative Republican judge in federal court in Pennsylvania, who on Saturday rejected the lawsuit by Trump’s legal team seeking to overturn the election results. The judge admonished the Trump campaign in a scathing ruling on its lack of evidence. The campaign has appealed.
Trump allies have privately acknowledged that his plan would never reverse the results, but would give the president a way out of a defeat he was not acknowledging and a way to maintain his loyal base for what he does next.
“And then it will be hell to govern and do politics, because he will continue to do what he is doing from his private position,” predicted Mann.
Emily Murphy, the head of the General Services Administration, declared Biden the “apparent winner” on Monday, an administrative but crucial move that allowed the transition to begin formally. Murphy made the determination after Trump’s demands against the election failed in several states. He mentioned “recent events related to legal claims and electoral results certifications.”
Michigan certified Biden’s victory Monday despite Trump’s calls on Republican members to block the vote for a ballot audit in Wayne County, where Trump claimed to be a victim of fraud. Biden beat the president by more than 330,000 votes there.
“The duty of the board today is extremely clear,” said Aaron Van Langevelde, the Republican vice chairman of the board. “We have a duty to certify this election based on these results.”
Still, Trump’s legal team rejected the certification, saying it was “simply an administrative measure” and insisted that he would keep fighting.
He started at least four cases in Michigan that tried – unsuccessfully – to block the certification of election results in part or in the entire state.
In Pennsylvania, after Gov. Tom Wolf certified Biden as the winner, a federal appeals judge ordered state authorities to stop any step toward certifying results. The state appealed to the Pennsylvania Supreme Court.
In Arizona, when attorneys for a woman in the Phoenix area dropped a case that said the team failed to record her ballot because she completed it with a county-provided Sharpie marker, the Trump campaign filed its own lawsuit repeating some of the same complaints. When that lawsuit was to be dismissed, the woman’s attorneys filed another to relive her arguments and demand that she be allowed to resubmit her ballot. All three cases have now been dismissed.
“The legal process seems to be going well, but the Trump campaign has made clear its desire to hamper the system whenever possible,” said Lisa Marshall Manheim, a law professor at the University of Washington.
Richer reported from Boston. Associated Press journalists Maryclaire Dale in Philadelphia, Scott Bauer in Madison, Wisconsin; Jacques Billeaud in Phoenix and Steve Karnowski in St. Paul, Minnesota, contributed to this report.