Former US President Donald Trump is reportedly telling fans he'll be back in the White House by August, once again obsessing over his defeat in last year's presidential election.
Many thought the 74-year-old had moved on to somewhat greener pastures at his Mar-a-Lago resort, focusing on launching his own social media platform, penning his post-presidential memoir and recruiting MAGA-aligned Republican primary challengers.
While sources told CNN back in April that he was "yearning" to return to Washington, he had "nevertheless come to enjoy his status as a kingmaker of the Republican Party, relishing his ability to disrupt races or elevate pro-Trump figures against dissenters in the party".
Word on the street was that either he or his eldest daughter – or maybe even both on one ticket – were gearing up to run for the presidency in 2024. Until then, banned from social media, the world was looking relatively Trump-free.
Now, though, both The New York Times's Maggie Habermann and The Washington Post are reporting that the former leader of the free world is once again fixating on the election he lost to Joe Biden, having become "singularly obsessed" with overturning the results, despite repeated, failed attempts to do so in the direct aftermath of his loss.
According to Habermann, The Times Washington correspondent, "Trump has been telling a number of people he's in contact with that he expects he will get reinstated by August (no, that isn't how it works but simply sharing the information)".
"It isn't happening in a vacuum. It is happening as he faced the possibility of indictment from the Manhattan DA," she wrote on Twitter earlier this week.
"But he is not putting out statements about the 'audits' in states just for the sake of it. He's been laser-focused on them, according to several people who've spoken with him."
In a report yesterday, The Post said Trump "remains relentlessly focused on the false claim that the November election was stolen from him and is increasingly consumed with the notion that ballot reviews pushed by his supporters around the country could prove that he won", according to people familiar with his comments.
Rebuffing calls from some advisers to just drop the matter and move on, the father-of-five is "fixating" on an ongoing Republican-commissioned audit in Arizona and "plotting how to secure election reviews" in states like Pennsylvania, Michigan, Wisconsin, New Hampshire and Georgia.
Two of his advisers told The Post that he is "most animated" by the efforts in Georgia's Fulton County and Arizona's Maricopa County, while his interest has been fuelled by conversations he's had with a handful of figures who have publicly touted false claims of election fraud.
Among them are One America News network host Christina Bobb, chief executive of the company MyPillow Mike Lindell and Republican Pennsylvania Senator Doug Mastriano.
"Trump has become so fixated on the audits that he suggested recently to allies that their success could result in his return to the White House this year", according to people familiar with his comments.
While some of Trump's advisers have laughed off the comments, deeming them "offhand musings", the January 6 insurrection carried out by his most loyal supporters at the US Capitol – in a bid to informalise Biden's win – means that any suggestion he could "return to the White House" soon should be taken seriously, Vanity Fair's Bess Levin wrote in a piece yesterday.
"The escalating rhetoric by the former president and his backers shows that he is intent on keeping alive the falsehood that the 2020 race was rigged, a claim that critics say has perilous implications for the country and the public's faith in how they select their leaders," The Post said.
A CNN poll in April found that 70 per cent of Republicans still did not believe Biden had won the election legitimately – a stat that Trump has "seized on" as evidence that his audits are warranted.
In a statement on Monday, he wrote that "great work is being done in Georgia revealing the Election Fraud of the 2020 Presidential Election".
"The Left talks about election security but they do not practice what they preach because they are afraid of what might be found," he added.
In recent weeks, advisers said Trump has become "most interested" in the possibility of an election audit in Fulton County, despite the fact one is extremely unlikely to occur.
When advisers try to focus on other issues, The Post said Trump "regularly moves the topic back to the election". Rather than reading the speeches written for him at Mar-a-Lago galas, he'll go off on a tangent, "ad libbing about bullsh*t claims of fraud; and refuses to entertain the idea that he actually lost".
Scheduled to make a video appearance at a June 12 rally hosted by Lindell, Trump has been billed as the "REAL" president.
In the National Review, Charles C W Cooke attested to the fact that, after speaking to an array of different sources, "Donald Trump does indeed believe quite genuinely that he will be 'reinstated' to office this summer after 'audits' of the 2020 elections in Arizona, Georgia, and a handful of other states have been completed".
Rather than being a sign of what's to come, though, Cooke said it merely showed "the scale of Trump's delusion".
"Just how far out there is Trump's theory? Consider that, even if it were true that the 2020 election had been stolen – which it is absolutely not – his belief would still be absurd," Cooke wrote.
"American politicians do not lose their re-election races only to be reinstated later on, as might the second-place horse in a race whose winner was disqualified. The idea is otherworldly and obscene."