"The chaos and confusion is the strategy."
That's according to Julie Pace, Washington bureau chief for the Associated Press, who on Wednesday published an analysis of President Donald Trump's refusal to accept his loss to President-elect Joe Biden; instead, Trump is spreading lies and filing lawsuits that challenge the election results, fire up his base, and attack U.S. democracy.
The effort by Trump and his allies to "sow discontent and doubt among his most loyal supporters" won't keep him in office, Pace posited, "but it could both undermine the new president's efforts to unify a fractured nation and fuel Trump in his next endeavor, whether that's another White House run in 2024 or a high-profile media venture."
Even some Republicans who spoke to Pace on the record admitted that Trump's recent behavior "is all about maintaining his ego and visibility," in the words of Judd Gregg, a former Republican governor and U.S. senator from New Hampshire. "He's raising a lot of money and he intends to use it," Gregg added of the outgoing president.
While high-profile GOP lawmakers like Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., and Senate Judiciary Chairman Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., are backing Trump's refusal to concede, Pace reported that "some Trump allies acknowledge privately that using the courts to actually reverse Biden's victory isn't the point of their efforts."
In addition to bolstering Trump's future in politics, entertainment, or both, some Republican strategists and lawmakers see Trump's tantrums and court battles as key to keeping his base engaged ahead of a pair of runoff elections in Georgia scheduled for January, which will determine which party controls the Senate, Pace noted.
The AP analysis followed reporting from CNN that on the foreign policy front, "the Trump team has prepared legally required transition memos describing policy challenges, but there are no discussions about actions they could take or pause."
The Trump team's goal, according to one unnamed official, "is to set so many fires that it will be hard for the Biden administration to put them all out."
CNN's report touched on Trump policies related to Afghanistan, China, Iran, Yemen, arms sales to Gulf states, and Israeli settlements in illegally occupied Palestinian territory — and how moves on each before Biden's inauguration, planned for January 20, may impact the incoming administration. Regarding the fire-lighting approach:
It's a strategy that radically breaks with past practice, could raise national security risks, and will surely compound challenges for the Biden team — but it could also backfire. Analysts and people close to the Biden transition argue the Trump team may act so aggressively that reversing some of its steps will earn Biden easy goodwill points and negotiating power with adversaries.
In other areas, they say the Trump team may be confusing style with substance — that the difference between Trump and Biden isn't a matter of the end goal, such as a departure from Afghanistan or a nuclear-free Iran, but simply a matter of how each leader wants to get there.
"The idea that Biden is some sort of softy doesn't correspond with many things," said Trita Parsi, executive vice president of the Quincy Institute for Responsible Statecraft. Pointing to the same baseline goals for a nuclear-free Iran, a withdrawal from Afghanistan, and a way to manage the relationship with an increasingly assertive China, Parsi said, "The Biden administration is likely to continue many policies, but just with a different style."
Charles Lister, a senior fellow at the Middle East Institute, told CNN that he thinks "by seeking to accelerate the process of achieving some of his big foreign policy promises in the next couple of months, Trump is trying to indicate to his base that if he's elected again, he'll continue to do exactly as he promised."
While it is unclear whether Biden, who turns 78 on Friday, will seek reelection in 2024 or an ousted Trump, now 74, will seek a delayed second term in four years, concerns continue to mount about the consequences of the president's response to his defeat.
"It's painfully clear that the next two months before Joe Biden's swearing-in will be all about Trump's petty vengeance and the Republicans building on resentments," Michael Winship wrote Thursday in a column for Common Dreams. "Given what Trump's been up to since Election Day (and his sordid history embracing birtherism and other canards), it feels as if these eight weeks will be a concentrated Reader's Digest version of his entire administration, fueled with spittle, bile, ignorance, and cupidity."
"As insane and silly as it all seems, we cannot drop our guard for an instant," he warned. "We'll need to remain vigilant; they are doing everything they can, no matter how illegal and repugnant, to stay in power. When they finally are forced to vacate, they'll leave behind a scorched earth the new Biden administration will struggle to coax back to life."
Critics of the current administration are also alarmed about the head of the General Services Administration, Trump-appointee Emily Murphy, blocking Biden's team from accessing key resources by so far refusing to sign off on the election results — despite warnings that, given the coronavirus pandemic, a rocky transition risks American lives.
"A seamless transition is necessary to ensure that the incoming administration is prepared to confront the COVID-19 pandemic from day one," said Dr. Peter G. Lurie of the Center for Science in the Public Interest, one of dozens of experts who signed a letter sent to the GSA chief on Thursday. "Administrator Murphy must fulfill this responsibility immediately, as every extra day of delay can only add to the death toll."
With the bodies stacking up — as of Thursday evening, Covid-19 had killed over 251,000 Americans — and Trump "wrecking the government on his way out," Ryan Cooper offered some advice to the evolving Biden administration at The Week.
"First, root out the Trump stooges," he wrote. "Every one of his political appointees should be fired as soon as replacements can be found, and there should be a wide-ranging audit of other employees hired during the last four years. Consistent with civil service rules, Trump loyalists should be removed from the lower ranks where possible."
Cooper also urged Biden to "go big and fast" to address the various crises the country faces — from the pandemic and wealth inequality to the climate emergency and centuries of racial injustice — learning from the "extreme administrative sluggishness" of the Obama administration, for which Biden was vice president, as well as Trump's demonstration of "how much can be accomplished with sheer shameless belligerence."
"Ask for neither permission nor forgiveness," he advised. "Instead get your people into their jobs by hook or by crook, drown the reactionary hacks on the federal courts with a blizzard of executive orders and administrative rulings, get things up and running fast to establish beneficiaries and put enemies on the back foot, and if you lose a case, change the reasoning slightly and do the same thing again."
"It's hard indeed to imagine Joe Biden doing any of this," Cooper confessed. "But if he cared to accomplish any of his agenda, whether it's piecemeal reforms or something more aggressive, fixing the broken government is a necessary precondition."