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JON SOPEL: Donald Trump is cutting an increasingly isolated, solitary figure after election loss

When Donald Trump flew to meet Kim Jung Un for their historic meeting in June, 2018, the one thing I'm told the president obsessed about aboard Air Force One on the flight to South East Asia was what it would all look like. 

Where would the first handshake take place? Would they walk out together? Where would they enter? What would be the backdrop? Where would the cameras be positioned? Would they be at eye level or would it be a 'top shot'?

Spool forward two years, to a few weeks ago when the president was seriously ill in the Walter Reed naval hospital with coronavirus. After a disastrous news conference by his medical team, the president decided he would need to take charge. He has always thought he is his own best communications director and press officer. 

So, he sat in a board-room within the presidential suite at the hospital, still highly infectious, and addressed the American people. Not a hair was out of place, which meant of course, his stylist – presumably head to toe in PPE - had gone in and done his complicated hair-do for him.

This president cares about image. A lot. Not just what he looks like and how he comes across, but also those who seek to represent him. His first press secretary in the White House, Sean Spicer, was told to lose weight and buy better fitting suits. 

When John Bolton was being considered as National Security Advisor, one of the minuses was his moustache, that Trump loathed. He shouted at his chief of staff to get out of the Oval Office during a TV interview because he coughed. 

They restarted the interview with the president telling the ABC film crew what camera angle to take, and how to frame the shot. From his Apprentice years, he understands television and the importance of the visual.

When he's not been on the golf course, the president has been locked up inside the White House – dividing his time between the residence and the West Wing

So one can only begin to imagine what the president has made of the shambolic and often surreal, chaotic scenes that have played out it in his name since the election.

On the day that Joe Biden past the magic number of 270 votes in the electoral college with victory in Pennsylvania, the president had announced to his 80+ million Twitter followers that there would be an important news conference from his legal team at the Four Seasons, Philadelphia. 

But as journalists made a bee-line to the 5-star property, so it was left to the hotel to point out that this crucial news conference was taking place at – umm - Four Seasons Total Landscaping, a small garden centre in a run-down shopping mall, which was next door to a sex shop, and across the street from the crematorium.

Perhaps the most bizarre aspect of these past three weeks, however, has been Donald Trump himself. He has remained more or less hidden from view.

When he's not been on the golf course, the president has been locked up inside the White House – dividing his time between the residence and the West Wing. For days now there have been no events marked on his schedule. 

He is apparently spending long periods in the private dining room, next to the Oval Office. One of the big changes he has brought to this room is to install a giant screen along one wall.

There, he watches TV. Not Rupert Murdoch's Fox News any longer – they've become almost as bad as CNN to his mind; but Newxmax and OANN, channels that are essentially a presidential fanzine. 

He also spends his time in there looking at copious newspaper cuttings, and seeking the counsel of his friends – discussing his next move. And what happens after January 20th when he is out of office.

The president is cutting an increasingly isolated, solitary figure. His daughter, Ivanka and son-in-law, Jared Kushner think the legal fight has been a major embarassment. Melania, for the most part stays well away from the West Wing. 

And as the president orders up a regular supply of burgers, fries and diet coke from the White House kitchen, he is often eating alone – sometimes raging and firing out impulsive tweets, other times strategising on the phone with his old muckers, seeing what can be salvaged from this.

In all politics, and Washington politics particularly, power drains away quickly. So the president is now surrounded by an ever shrinking circle of ultra-loyalists, who may not be the brightest and best – but are telling him what he wants to hears. 

While the brightest and best, who may want to deliver uncomfortable truths, are maintaining a distance, so that if everything blows up they don't get hit by shrapnel. Who was it who said that all political careers end in tears?

Democrat Joe Biden will take over the presidency in the new year following this month's election

As I said at the outset, this president has always believed he is his own best spokesman.

But for over three crucial weeks he didn't answer a single question from reporters. He has scarcely been seen; he has made the odd desultory comment – but then walked off without answering a single question.

Which is probably just as well because his legal team were promulgating some pretty far-fetched conspiracy theories to explain away Donald Trump's election defeat. 

One of the lawyers, an imposing woman called Sidney Powell, advanced the theory that the president had lost in Georgia because of a conspiracy involving – and I hope I have remembered all of this correctly – the Venezuelans, the Cubans, the Chinese, George Soros, a former mayor of Chicago and Hugo Chavez – who's been dead for 7 years now. The voting machines used in the state apparently had the software altered to not count Donald Trump's votes.

And all of these people were in cahoots with the people running the Georgia election, of course.

When it was pointed out that those in charge of the Georgia ballots were fervent, Trump supporting Republicans, that was brushed aside by saying they'd been bribed by the aforementioned conspirators. No evidence was provided.

The next day Ms Powell went on a right-wing fringe TV channel to announce she would be wreaking biblical vengeance against the state of Georgia, would 'blow it up' and unleash the kraken monster.

This Monday came a press release from the Trump campaign announcing that she'd been dropped the legal team. Too outlandish.

On the same day that Sidney Powell was fired, a number of swing states confirmed their results, and the Pennsylvania Supreme Court rejected the latest Trump legal manoeuvre.

On Thursday night, Thanksgiving evening he did – finally - answer a few reporters' questions. Asked if he would agree to leave the White House if the electoral college vote went against him, he said: 'Certainly I will, certainly I will and you know that.' But he gave every impression that conceding is not what he is contemplating.

'It's going to be a very hard thing to concede because we know there was massive fraud,' he said, repeating the same allegation that has been made without proof.

I can't see Donald Trump, America's 45th president on inauguration day standing next to the 46th, smiling benignly as Joe Biden delivers his inaugural address, writes JON SOPEL

Word is he does knows it's all over, but there are two things he won't do. Friends say he will not admit that he's lost, and he won't say sorry.

We got as close as maybe we're going to get to a concession earlier in the week. He ordered the machinery of the transition to be switched on – which will see Joe Biden receive the same daily security briefing the president does.

Via tweet – how else – the president continued to speak defiantly, insisting he will prevail. But he has set in train a process that only has one destination: Joe Biden taking over the reins of power.

How to make sense of the way the president has behaved since the November 3rd election – has there been method, or has it been madness? There may have been madness from his legal team. They are not the A team, it has to be said. Many White House officials around realised this was a lost cause, and have kept their distance.

But there is method and calculation from the president.

Though Democrats would love to present this election as a repudiation of Trump and Trumpism, it is anything but. Donald Trump got millions more votes in 2020 than he did in 2016; his base is alive and well – and expanding.

And so the president is doing his all to undermine confidence in the result. By spreading these unfounded theories about how the election could have been stolen is resonating with huge numbers of his supporters. The president has been laying the groundwork for this since well before polling day. Arguing with little evidence that postal votes would lead to massive fraud. Eight years ago he was railing against voting machines.

It will keep his base angry and fired up. And it will reinforce the vice like grip the president has on the Republican Party. When he is able to call on so many supporters in the country, who is the senator who's going to tell him he's wrong?

And so to an intriguing and not in the least far-fetched possibility. Let us briefly go back to the late 19th century and a man called Grover Cleveland. He became America's 22nd president in 1885, but lost the subsequent election to Benjamin Harrison. 

However, he ran again, becoming the 24th president after being out of power for four years. The only American president to serve two non-consecutive terms

I can't see Donald Trump, America's 45th president on inauguration day standing next to the 46th, smiling benignly as Joe Biden delivers his inaugural address. 

But I can see him plotting his run for 2024, to right the injustice of what he will call the 'stolen election' of 2020; to once again Make America Great Again – to return as America's 47th president.

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