Fighting Election Results, Trump Employs a New Weapon: The Government

“We have not seen any president in history lose re-election, refuse to concede defeat and take actions that threaten the abuse of presidential power to keep himself in office,” said Michael Beschloss, a prominent presidential historian. “Here, Donald Trump is yet again in a historical category of his own — and this time, it is ominous for democracy.”

Richard Norton Smith, who wrote a biography of Herbert Hoover and is writing one on Gerald R. Ford, two of the nine, recalled Hoover’s anger at the man who beat him, Franklin D. Roosevelt, and their frosty car ride to the inauguration in March 1933.

“But the point is Hoover, however embittered he was over F.D.R.’s unwillingness to cooperate, as he defined the term, shared the same car, just as he had welcomed the Roosevelts for the ritualistic pre-inaugural tea the night before,” Mr. Smith said. “They might despise one another, but their personal animosity was outweighed by their commitment to the democratic process.”

The parallel often cited is when Vice President Al Gore pushed for recounts in Florida in 2000 to overcome a slim lead by his Republican opponent, Gov. George W. Bush of Texas. But Mr. Gore was not the incumbent, and President Bill Clinton did not direct the administration to intervene, although it did withhold transition resources from Mr. Bush until the fight was resolved.

“We were so darn careful not to use any government resources, funds, staff or even a paper clip,” said Donna Brazile, who was Mr. Gore’s campaign manager.

In Florida, Mr. Gore had a plausible chance to change the outcome of the election, given that he was down by only 327 votes in a single state after the automatic machine recount. Mr. Trump, by contrast, is behind by tens of thousands of votes in multiple states that would have to switch, which has never happened on that scale.

“The big difference,” Ms. Brazile said, “is this feels like a major P.R. campaign being waged in the courts to sully the voters where Trump lost or underperformed versus shaping a much larger narrative that this election was so-called rigged.”

Reporting was contributed by Michael D. Shear from Wilmington, Del., and Helene Cooper and Alan Rappeport from Washington.