Well, at least most of the time. Repeatedly since Joe Biden was declared the winner Nov. 7, Trump has momentarily acknowledged the likelihood — if not the fact — that Biden will be succeeding him as president later this month.
He did it twice Monday night at an otherwise defiant rally in Georgia.
At one point, he pitched the two U.S. Senate candidates he was there to support — Republicans Kelly Loeffler and David Perdue — as the “last line of defense,” given their losses would hand the Senate to Democrats.
“The damage they do will be permanent and will be irreversible,” Trump said, referring to the two Democratic challengers. “Can’t let it happen. Nothing and no one will be able to stop them. These Senate seats are truly the last line of defense.”
The thing is, though, that would hardly be the case if Trump won. That’s both because Trump would still wield much power as president and because the Senate would stay under GOP control even if it lost both seats. Vice President Pence would break the tie in a 50-50 Senate.
Trump immediately course-corrected, contradicting himself: “Now, I must preface that by saying — because they’ll say he just conceded! — no, no, I don’t think so. So Kelly, if I might add, I think we’re going to win, in which case we’ll be the last line of defense. It’s called veto, veto, veto, veto.”
Despite Trump’s protest, though, those two thoughts can’t coexist. You can’t say Loeffler and Perdue are “truly the last line of defense” and that “nothing and no one” will be able stop Democrats if they lost and then say there will be another way to stop Democrats and that that thing is actually the “last line of defense.”
At another point in the speech, Trump spoke about how a President Biden will interact with North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un.
“I got along very well with Kim Jong Un,” Trump said. “I don’t think that Joe’s going to, based on what I’ve heard.”
That wasn’t the only time Trump has spoken about what will happen when Biden takes office as if it’s a settled issue.
“Now that the Biden Administration will be a scandal plagued mess for years to come …” he began a December tweet.
Trump acknowledged on Dec. 5 that “the next four years” of foreign policy in China and Iran would be under someone else’s control.
“The happiest people in the world right now are the leaders of China. The second happiest are the leaders of Iran,” Trump said. “What we would’ve done in the next four years, we would have been on a footing like nobody’s ever, and now we’re giving it all away.”
In a Dec. 22 address, he talked about what the “next administration” would have to do on coronavirus relief — and again appended a caveat.
“I am also asking Congress to immediately get rid of the wasteful and unnecessary items from this legislation and to send me a suitable bill, or else the next administration will have to deliver a covid relief package,” Trump said, before adding: “And maybe that administration will be me, and we will get it done.”
On Nov. 13, he floated the idea that the country might go into a lockdown. But it was a clear reference to Biden, because Trump explicitly ruled out his own administration doing that.
“Ideally, we won’t go to a lockdown,” Trump said, before adding: “I will not go — this administration will not be going to a lockdown. Hopefully, whatever happens in the future — who knows which administration it will be? I guess time will tell. But I can tell you, this administration will not go to a lockdown.”
Many of these comments are similar — Trump saying something that acknowledges Biden’s win and status as the incoming president and then seeming to catch himself. It’s happened enough times that it’s quite possible it’s done for effect. It’s also possible he’s ad-libbing after being given a script that he decides goes too far in acknowledging Biden’s win.
But it has certainly been a trend. It certainly feeds into the idea that Trump’s election challenge is less about actually overturning that result than setting himself up to claim in the months and years ahead that he never actually lost.