DeSantis and Bondi disappear as Trump’s election challenges grow desperate and chaotic

The president’s last gasps include conspiracies about Dominion voting machines, used without a problem in Florida, a state he won.
Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis and Kimberly Guilfoyle smile as President Donald Trump speaks during a campaign rally at Orlando Sanford International Airport, Monday, Oct. 12, 2020, in Sanford, Fla.
Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis and Kimberly Guilfoyle smile as President Donald Trump speaks during a campaign rally at Orlando Sanford International Airport, Monday, Oct. 12, 2020, in Sanford, Fla. [ EVAN VUCCI | AP ]
Published Nov. 20, 2020|Updated Nov. 21, 2020

President Donald Trump, his progressively desperate legal challenges floundering from a lack of proof, welcomed two high-ranking Michigan Republicans to the White House on Friday as he zeroed in on a new strategy to subvert the election.

The latest maneuver would have Republican legislatures in critical states overrule the will of their voters and certify a different slate of electors than the ones chosen by the popular vote.

If the move sounds familiar to Floridians and Fox News viewers, it’s because Gov. Ron DeSantis was one of the first and most prominent elected officials to suggest it. Speaking on The Ingraham Angle two days after the election, DeSantis urged Trump to “fight on” and pushed legislatures to take matters into their own hands.

“Under Article II of the Constitution, presidential electors are done by the legislatures and the schemes they create and the framework,” DeSantis said. “If there’s departure from that, if they’re not following the law, if they’re ignoring the law, then they can provide remedies as well.”

The comment landed like a grenade in an oil field. And DeSantis, a close political ally of the president, disappeared almost immediately after throwing it.

The Republican leader has kept a low profile since that interview with Laura Ingraham. As Trump advanced a series of frenzied, last-ditch lawsuits to overturn the results in multiple states, DeSantis avoided reporters, emerging only for a brief interview on The Weather Channel before Tropical Storm Eta’s approach.

As Trump’s legal efforts have been defeated in court, repeatedly, DeSantis has been silent. His Twitter feed instead includes announcements about the coronavirus vaccine and an extension of the state’s red snapper season.

DeSantis was even mum Friday when Michigan’s Senate Majority Leader Mike Shirkey and House Speaker Lee Chatfield landed in Washington, D.C., to consider the idea he first floated two weeks ago.

DeSantis isn’t the only Florida Republican to publicly pull back after taking an early role in questioning the election outcome. Former Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi became the public face of Trump’s fight to stop the counting of ballots in Pennsylvania. But she, too, has since faded away.

The day after the election, Bondi stood alongside Trump lawyer and former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani outside a Philadelphia vote-counting center to decry what they said was fraud. But Bondi was nowhere to be seen Thursday on Capitol Hill when Giuliani once again stood before cameras to lay out a bewildering array of vast conspiracies related to the 2020 election. Bondi did not respond to messages requesting comment.

In a 90-minute animated performance, Giuliani — gesturing wildly as an unidentifiable dark liquid streaked down his cheeks — accused Democrats of orchestrating a multi-state hijacking of the election to help Joe Biden win the presidency. It involved, Giuliani concluded without evidence, “Venezuela, Cuba, and likely China,” as well as tech industry giants and every day poll workers.

Former Mayor of New York Rudy Giuliani, a lawyer for President Donald Trump, speaks during a news conference at the Republican National Committee headquarters, Thursday Nov. 19, 2020, in Washington. (AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin)
Former Mayor of New York Rudy Giuliani, a lawyer for President Donald Trump, speaks during a news conference at the Republican National Committee headquarters, Thursday Nov. 19, 2020, in Washington. (AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin) [ JACQUELYN MARTIN | AP ]

Giuliani often referenced supposed problems with Dominion Voting Systems, a company that provides voting machines to counties in states across the country. The company has become a frequent target of conspiracy theorists who allege Dominion vote tabulators deleted millions of ballots, or had coding that caused some votes to switch from Trump to Biden. These criticisms have been widely debunked.

Unmentioned by Giuliani is that Dominion machines were also used by some states where Trump won, including in 18 Florida counties. Dominion is one of only two approved voting system vendors in Florida.

DeSantis’ administration didn’t respond to a request for comment about Giuliani’s allegations about Dominion. However, Republican and Democrat county election officials from across the state defended Dominion’s machines in interviews with the Tampa Bay Times on Friday and dismissed Giuliani’s remarks outright.

“I listened to a portion of the press conference and I found no facts inside of it. No facts and no proof,” said Shirley Anderson, the supervisor of elections in Hernando County and a Republican.

Anderson stands behind her Dominion equipment, she said. The manual audit her office did last week matched exactly to the totals from her Dominion tabulators, she said.

Though they lack standing, Giuliani and Trump’s legal team are succeeding in raising doubts about the election. A Republican election official in Michigan is considering a push to delay certification of the vote there, citing the Trump campaign’s unsubstantiated criticisms of Dominion.

Recent polls suggest as many as seven in 10 Republicans don’t trust the results, despite Trump’s own director of the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency declaring this the “most secure election in American history.” Trump fired that individual, Chris Krebs, after those remarks.

Tammy Jones, supervisor of elections in Levy County, said people are calling her office, asking her how they can be sure their vote counted, even in instances where they placed their own ballots into the voting tabulators. Levy County uses Dominion machines.

“It makes me sad to think people don’t trust the system,” Jones, a Republican, said.

U.S. Rep. Matt Gaetz, a Panhandle Republican close to Trump, said this week that the president’s strategy is to flip one state that has been called for Biden. Speaking on a podcast hosted by Steve Bannon, a former top adviser to Trump who is now facing fraud charges, Gaetz singled out Georgia as the location where “the dam could break open.”

“Then I think the American people will say, ‘Wait a second. If you lied to us about Georgia then we got to ask you a few more questions about Wisconsin,’ ” Gaetz said. “ ‘If you lied to us about Wayne County, Mich., how are we supposed to believe you on what happened in Fulton County?’ ”

Mark Earley, the elections supervisor in Leon County, called reports about millions of votes being doctored or lost “garbage.”

“It’s demonstrably false,” said Earley, a Democrat. “Yet these people are still out there in the news spouting off all this stuff to the contrary and making people no longer trust that their vote is being counted accurately.”

It’s unclear what support Trump has among Republican state legislatures to assist his efforts to certify different electors. Nor is there is an obvious legal path forward for them to do so.

After their meeting with Trump, Shirkey and Chatfield said in a joint statement that “have not yet been made aware of any information that would change the outcome of the election in Michigan” and they vowed to “follow the normal process regarding Michigan’s electors.”

But Trump’s courting of the two Michigan lawmakers was quickly taken by many as an escalation beyond political theater or publicity stunt. In a tweet Thursday night, Sen. Mitt Romney, a Utah Republican, said of Trump’s pressure on state and local officials: “It is difficult to imagine a worse, more undemocratic action by a sitting American president.” Nebraska Sen. Ben Sasse, another Republican, said the Trump campaign’s “wild press conferences erode public trust.”

Concerns, however, have not been raised by Florida’s two Republican Sens. Marco Rubio and Rick Scott. But Scott in the Washington Post last week dismissed the proposal to have GOP-controlled legislatures approve pro-Trump electors in states Biden won.

“I just think the voters decide,” Scott told the newspaper.

Rubio this week referred to Biden as “president-elect” before qualifying the Democrat’s victory as a “preliminary result.”

Rubio’s office did not respond to a request for comment about Trump’s invitation to the Michigan lawmakers. However, in an interview before the election, Rubio warned that a foreign country could attempt the very tactics that the Trump campaign had deployed.

“If it’s a close election, you then use your influence operation to promote the narrative that in some parts of the county in certain counties, partisan election officials were preventing Democrats or Republicans or people from a certain racial or ethnic makeup from voting, all of that designed to create chaos and questions about the legitimacy of the election,” Rubio told the Washington Post in September. “And that would be their dream. That would be the biggest achievement that any adversary has ever scored against us in an election cycle is to bring us to the point where people honestly believe, half the country believes, that the person who is going to be sworn in was not validly and legitimately elected. "