Donald Trump on election night was like “Mad King George, muttering, ‘I won. I won. I won,’ ” according to one close adviser, who spoke to The Washington Post for a remarkable recap of the 20 days since the election.
More than 30 senior administration officials, members of his legal team, campaign aides and advisers told the paper of his increasingly unhinged attempts to overturn the election result, and how those left within the White House humoured him.
Those around the president after 3 November were “happy to scratch his itch,” the close adviser said.
“If he thinks he won, it’s like, ‘Shh, we won’t tell him.'”
Of the ensuing legal strategy, a senior administration told the paper that the theory was: “Just roll everybody up who is willing to do it into a clown car, and when it’s time for a press conference, roll them out.”
The paper confirmed that, on the night of the election, Mr Trump was enraged by Fox News being the first network to call Arizona for Joe Biden – a call which ultimately proved correct – and that he ordered his son-in-law, Jared Kushner, to ring Rupert Murdoch and demand a retraction.
In the days that followed Mr Trump surrounded himself by people who told him what he wanted to hear, the paper reported, such as campaign pollster John McLaughlin, who told the president of a poll he had conducted after the election that showed Mr Trump with a positive approval rating and a majority in the country who thought the media had been “unfair and biased against him”.
“Trump scrambled for an escape hatch from reality,” the authors write.
Thanksgiving was spent for the first time at the White House, further insulating him from the real world. He played golf in the morning and spent part of the day calling advisers to ask if they believed he really had lost the election.
“You really have to understand Trump’s psychology,” said Anthony Scaramucci, a longtime Trump associate and former White House communications director, who has now distanced himself from the president.
“The classic symptoms of an outsider is, there has to be a conspiracy. It’s not my shortcomings, but there’s a cabal against me. That’s why he’s prone to these conspiracy theories.”
Perhaps most telling is the number of insiders who have tried to distance themselves from the spectacle.
There was no mention in The Washington Post story of Mike Pence, the vice president, nor his daughter Ivanka.
The Trump campaign had arranged for deputy campaign manager Justin Clark, Justin Riemer, the Republican National Committee counsel and others to make plans for post-election litigation.
The two men had readied a series of law firms across the country for possible recounts and ballot challenges
The self-declared “elite strike-force” team of Rudy Giuliani, Jenna Ellis and Sidney Powell – since dropped – were not involved.
“Literally only the fringy of the fringe are willing to do pressers, and that’s when it became clear there was no ‘there’ there,” a senior administration official told the paper.
Many of the other lawyers felt that Mr Giuliani seemed “deranged” and ill-prepared to litigate, a source said.
Mr Giuliani and Ms Ellis were “performing for an audience of one,” and Mr Trump held Mr Giuliani in high regard as “a fighter” and as “his peer.”
On 13 November, Mr Giuliani and Ms Ellis staged what a senior administration official called “a hostile takeover” of what remained of the Trump campaign.
Mr Trump called Mr Giuliani from the Oval Office while other advisers were present, including Mr Pence; White House counsel Pat Cipollone; Johnny McEntee, the director of presidential personnel; and Mr Clark, the deputy campaign manager who had laid the legal foundations for the challenges.
Mr Giuliani, on speakerphone, told the president that he could win and that his other advisers were lying to him about his chances. Mr Clark called Mr Giuliani “an expletive,” the paper reported, and said he was feeding the president bad information.
The following day, 14 November, Mr Trump tweeted that Mr Giuliani, Ms Ellis, Ms Powell and others were now in charge of his legal strategy.
Ms Ellis arrived at the campaign’s Arlington headquarters and told employees that they must now listen to her and Mr Giuliani, the paper reported.
“They came in one day and were like, ‘We have the president’s direct order. Don’t take an order if it doesn’t come from us,'” a senior administration official recalled.
Mr Clark and Jason Miller, an aide to the president, objected and so Ms Ellis threatened to call Mr Trump – to which Mr Miller replied: “Sure, let’s do this,” said a campaign adviser.
Ultimately Mr Giuliani and Ms Ellis were victorious.
On 23 November the president reluctantly allowed the General Service Administration to approve the release of funds for the Biden transition team, and grant them permission to speak to government officials.
Permission was granted, however, after Mr Trump’s aides told him that it didn’t mean he had to give up his legal fight, or concede.
The president has vowed to fight on but, with the electors meeting on 14 December to officially name Mr Biden the president-elect, it is seen as a futile fight.