After four weeks in President Trump’s tenure, he is perhaps most unleashed – and, as events of recent days have shown, at the most unpredictable point of his presidency.
He remains the most powerful person in the world, but focuses on the one area where he is unable to get what he wants: a way to avoid leaving his post as a loser.
He spends his days looking for hope, if not actually reversing the election results, then at least building a cohesive case in which he has been robbed of a second term.
As he emerged from his relative isolation in recent days, he should propose out of the blue to blow up the bipartisan stimulus package, driving a wedge through his party and granting mercy to a raft of allies and supporters, mostly outside the normal process of the Department of Justice.
Otherwise, it has been confiscated in the White House and has hosted a number of conspiracy theorists and die-hard supporters who bring forward ideas like contesting the election result in Congress and even invoking martial law to give some of them government jobs.
He is almost entirely excluded from the leadership of the nation, despite the coronavirus infecting Americans at record rates. In the face of an aggressive cyberattack Russia almost certainly carried out, to the extent it had one, its response has been to downplay the damage and contradict its own top officials by suspecting that the culprit may indeed have been China . He played almost no role in negotiating the stimulus bill, which was just being passed by Congress before working at the last minute to disrupt it.
It’s not clear that Mr. Trump’s recent behavior is anything but a tantrum, attention-seeking, or form of therapy for the man in control of a nuclear arsenal – although an alternative, albeit non-profit, view is that there is a strategic basis for doing so is a run full of complaints in 2024.
If nothing else, Washington will be particularly scared for the next 27 days.
This article is based on interviews with more than a dozen current and former government officials, Republicans, and allies of the President.
Most of his advisors believe that Mr Trump will leave the White House one last time by January 20th. The pardons he announced on Tuesday evening suggest that he will be happy to use his powers aggressively until then. But how far he will go to undermine the election results, actually refuse to leave the White House, or spark a wave of unilateral political decisions in his final weeks is difficult to see.
Even so, his erratic behavior and detachment from his duties are deeply concerned by even some of his most loyal helpers and advisers.
For now, Mr Trump has told advisors that he is willing to stop listening to Sidney Powell, the attorney who approached him with a conspiracy theory about the elections, and the likes of Patrick Byrne, the former CEO of Overstock.com. who attended a wild, nearly five-hour meeting in the Oval Office and then last Friday at the President’s residence.
However, current advisors have described a daily struggle to keep Mr Trump from indulging in his impulse to listen to those who tell him what he wants to hear. And former advisers say the most worrying problem is the gradual disappearance of the core group of West Wing aides who, often together, could consistently lead him to turn away from risky, legally dubious and dangerous ideas.
“The number of people telling him things he doesn’t want to hear has decreased,” said former national security adviser John R. Bolton, who had a very public breakup with Mr. Trump and was vocal about objecting to the president’s brawl against losing his election.
Mr Trump has reached out to advisers like Peter Navarro, a trade advisor who has tried to gather evidence of election fraud to back up his boss’s claims. And he listens to Republicans insisting that Vice President Mike Pence could influence the election during the normally routine process of ratifying the election early next month, when that is not realistically possible.
There is talk among Republicans on Capitol Hill of taking action against one of his supporters who might try to disrupt this process, one possibility that arises from it the importance of the president to Alabama Senator-elected Tommy Tuberville to plaster the works.
However, it is not certain that Mr. Tuberville will grant the president’s wishes, and even if he does, there is a possibility that Senator Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, the Republican majority leader, could step in to prevent such a move. Mr McConnell has already urged his caucus not to object if the results are confirmed as this would force others to publicly vote against the president.
Even in the best of times, Mr. Trump has sought – and asked for – reinforcements from people outside the White House to support whatever his aides go through with.
But in the White House, Mr. Trump turns on his closest allies. He has complained to allies that Mr Pence, ridiculed for unshakable loyalty for the past four years, should do more to defend him. And he’s angry that Mr. McConnell recognized Mr. Biden as the election winner.
This week, Mr Trump had an assistant send a chart showing the timing of his approval from Mr McConnell, which was overlaid on poll data to claim he was responsible for Mr McConnell’s re-election this year – a claim made by political professionals would deny – and claim that the majority leader is ungrateful for his help.
And on Tuesday night, Mr. Trump tweeted a broadside against the Senate leadership by attacking Mr. McConnell and the majority whip, Senator John Thune of South Dakota, who had said any challenge to ratifying election results would go like a shot dog. “
At the Justice Department, the public and emphatic rejection of the need for special advisers to investigate electoral fraud by Attorney General William P. Barr and Hunter Biden on Monday appeared in part to be intended to isolate his short-term successor Jeffrey A. Rosen from further presidential pressures on those fronts .
Privately, allies who stood by as Mr. Trump and weeded others by purge of allegiance and rejected criticism that the president has authoritarian tendencies are voicing their concerns over the next four weeks.
Mr Barr, whose last day of work is Wednesday, has told staff that he has been alerted by Mr Trump’s behavior over the past few weeks. Other advisors have privately said they feel exhausted and look forward to the end of their term.
For those who remain, the days have been dreary endeavors, with government officials forced to spend time either completing the president’s call for electoral fraud or attracting his wrath.
As Axios reportedPat A. Cipollone, the White House attorney who asked Mr. Trump to stay away from proposed maneuvers, such as federal officials taking control of voting machines to inspect them, has become the target of the president’s anger.
Mr. Trump has mockingly characterized Mr. Cipollone, calling his own mentor, the extremely ruthless and unscrupulous attorney Roy Cohn, as what a White House attorney should strive for.
White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows has objected to some of the President’s requests, such as the appointment of Ms. Powell as special adviser to investigate electoral fraud. However, on Tuesday he also took a trip to Georgia to investigate ballot security measures. Mr. Meadows, a former member of the House of Representatives, also relied on the efforts of his old colleagues to challenge the vote in Congress. This could deter the president from delving into Ms. Powell, which many Republicans see as destructive to their party.
Other advisors are simply absent at a time when the president is particularly insecure.
The president’s son-in-law and senior adviser, Jared Kushner, had been out of the country for long periods of time since election day, traveling the Middle East to do deals that boost his own qualifications. He has responded to people seeking his help from Mr. Trump by saying the president is his children’s grandfather, implying that there are limits to what he can do to help.
Mr Trump has spent his days watching television, calling Republicans for advice on challenging the election result and urging them to defend him on television. As always, he turns to Twitter for support and vent his anger. He hasn’t played golf since the weather got colder and is in the White House in the monastery, shuffling from the residence to the Oval Office.
Many Trump advisors hope that his planned trip to his private club in West Palm Beach, Florida, Mar-a-Lago, will allow him a change of scene and perspective. He is due to leave on Wednesday and stay during the New Year break, though some aides said he could still choose not to.