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‘There’s no indication it will succeed’: Legal analysts weigh in on Trump team’s election challenges

A Marine is posted outside the West Wing entrance of the White House in Washington on Thursday, Nov. 5, 2020, which means President Trump is in the Oval Office. The president and his allies have united right-wing media and internet trolls with false messaging that legitimate vote counting should stop.
A Marine is posted outside the West Wing entrance of the White House in Washington on Thursday, Nov. 5, 2020, which means President Trump is in the Oval Office. The president and his allies have united right-wing media and internet trolls with false messaging that legitimate vote counting should stop.DOUG MILLS/NYT

President Trump’s defiant rhetoric and unprecedented refusal to accept his election defeat have Democrats and the American public feeling increasingly rattled, but there is little reason to believe his actions will change the results, legal and political experts said Tuesday.

In the past four days, Trump has tweeted repeatedly about unfounded plots to orchestrate his political demise, and with the support of a number of high-profile Republican lawmakers, he has launched a series of long-shot legal challenges in several states aimed at casting doubt on election results, despite no evidence of voter fraud.

“If it succeeded, it would be a coup,” said Charles Fried, a Harvard Law professor and former US solicitor general in the Reagan administration. “There’s no indication it will succeed, or that anybody expects it to succeed.”

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On Monday, Attorney General William Barr authorized federal prosecutors to probe any “substantial” allegations of voter irregularities and election fraud, though no widespread evidence of either has been reported in the election.

This week alone, the Trump campaign filed a lawsuit in federal court in Pennsylvania seeking to stop parts of the state from certifying their election results and block some mail-in ballots from being included in the tallies — while also asking for a recount in Georgia, citing “widespread allegations of voter irregularities, issues with voting machines, and poll watcher access."

But election officials from both political parties have publicly stated that voting went well, and international observers also confirmed that there were no noteworthy irregularities. That includes Georgia’s Republican lieutenant governor, who told CNN this week that he had not been notified of any credible reports of systemic voter fraud in the state. President-elect Joe Biden leads by more than 12,500 votes in Georgia but has not been declared the winner.

Even if some of the legal challenges Trump has launched are successful, the number of affected votes appears far too small to undo the results, analysts said.

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“At the end of the day, in all of these cases, we’re talking about a handful of ballots, none of which are significant enough in number — even if they all went Trump’s way — to overturn the result in a particular state,” said Rachael V. Cobb, chair of the political science and legal studies department at Suffolk University.

Paul M. Collins Jr., a professor of legal studies and political science at the University of Massachusetts Amherst, offered an equally dim assessment of the lawsuits, saying they were filed for “purely political” reasons.

“They see them as a way of delegitimizing the Biden administration and the electoral process itself,” Collins said.

On Tuesday, Biden said that Trump’s refusal to concede was “an embarassment," and that “it will not help the president’s legacy."

But he said it would not impede the smooth transfer of power.

"We’re already beginning the transition,” Biden said. “We are well underway.”

Wendy Schiller, chair of Brown University’s political science department, gave Trump long odds of succeeding in court.

“It remains an extraordinary uphill climb for Trump to overturn the electoral results in four states that Biden has won,” Schiller said by e-mail Tuesday, adding that in Pennsylvania alone “the vote deficit exceeds 45,000 and no one credibly believes fraud could have produced that kind of margin especially in two distinct parts of the state (Philly and Pittsburgh).”

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Trump’s refusal to concede, she said, comes down to two things: politics and governance.

In Georgia, both Republican senators — Kelly Loeffler and David Perdue — will face runoff elections just after the new year, with the outcome determining whether Republicans maintain control of the Senate.

“Everything [Senate majority leader] Mitch McConnell is doing and saying is about keeping the Trump voters enraged enough to get out in full force for those Senate seats,” said Schiller. Republicans “cannot win those two seats without Trump’s core base, and they need high turnout," she added.

Fried called Barr’s recent directive an “empty gesture” and said it was designed "to somehow assuage Trump’s rage and frustration.”

He acknowledged there is an “outside, grim chance" that a Trump-appointed judge will "somehow find some basis for an injunction or a lawsuit, which might throw a monkey wrench into the works.”

But, he added, "that’s a very remote possibility.”

There have been other issues, as well.

On Monday, the General Services Administration held off on formally beginning the transition, preventing Biden’s teams from gaining access to federal agencies in a move that many experts and lawmakers — including Republican Governor Charlie Baker — said could have troubling consequences.

“By refusing to launch the transition process, the General Services Administration is unnecessarily complicating things for the Biden administration," Collins said. “This can affect government stability by delaying the ability of the Biden administration to receive important briefings, including those involving national security, and to start the process of appointing government officials.”

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More pressingly, said Chris Haynes, associate professor of political science at the University of New Haven, it could hamper Biden’s plan “to fight the coronavirus and distribute vaccines.”

”I shouldn’t have to state that the longer we delay fighting the virus, the more people will die and the worse our economy will get," he said by e-mail.

Schiller noted that Biden is well-suited to weather the storm, having won a campaign under trying circumstances that, owing to the pandemic, kept him largely homebound. Trump during the campaign repeatedly joked that Biden was hiding in his basement.

“If Joe Biden can win a presidential campaign from his ‘basement’ he can probably run the country from there, too,” Schiller said. “Let’s hope [he] does not have to for any longer than necessary.”

Laura Crimaldi and Christina Prignano of the Globe staff contributed to this report. Material from the Associated Press was also used.


Dugan Arnett can be reached at dugan.arnett@globe.com. Travis Andersen can be reached at travis.andersen@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @TAGlobe.