Democratic operatives are worried that Green Party candidate Jill Stein's effort to recount votes in Pennsylvania and Wisconsin, where Trump won narrow victories over Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton, could end up boosting President-elect Trump and distracting their party from a desperately needed rebuilding effort.
The Democrats hope to regain competitiveness in the Rust Belt after suffering surprise losses there fueled by the defection of white working class voters who supported Democratic candidates for decades. They worry that the possibility of elevating Trump's image through pointless recounts, and giving him in effect another win, is not a good first step.
"We should all want to know the final count of this election, which was closer than many people realize, and identify any voter suppression or irregularities that are subverting our democracy," Rodell Mollineau, a Democratic operative who previously advised Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid, said Monday in an interview.
"However, by waiting two weeks, we have undermined our credibility with the public and will be seen as sore losers," Mollineau added. "And the last thing Democrats should be doing is giving the American people any reason to feel sympathy for Donald Trump."
Stein might not care.
During the campaign, the leftwing Green Party nominee accused Clinton of being a warmonger and said she saw little difference between Trump and the Democratic nominee. Stein has raised $6.5 million to pay for recounts — far more than she brought in for her long shot White House bid.
Trump defeated Clinton in the Electoral College 306 to 232; the threshold for victory was 270. The president-elect landed on top by winning Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin, good for 46 electoral votes in states a Republican nominee had not won since 1988, 1988 and 1984, respectively.
T.J. Rooney, a former chairman of the Pennsylvania Democratic Party, said his party needs to stop re-litigating Trump's surprise win over Clinton and focus on rebuilding.
Rooney's only caveat is that Trump himself went on a Twitter rant criticizing Stein's recount and accusing Clinton of winning the popular vote because of fraudulent votes takes some of the pressure off of the Democrats. That the recount effort apparently irritates Trump is another side benefit, Rooney said, as is Trump's own claim that there were "millions" of illegal voters.
"Is this what we need to be talking about? No," Rooney said. "The president-elect gave [the recount] a lot more credence and credibility in that, if there are millions and millions of illegal votes cast, surely some will be in Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin."
In Wisconsin, where Trump won by 0.8 percentage points, individual counties have been directed to devise plans for a recount after Stein took advantage of the state's election laws to pursue one. In Pennsylvania, where he won by 1.1 points, Stein is requesting votes be tallied again in more than 100 of the commonwealth's 9,100 precincts.
Pennsylvania told Stein it's too late for a recount, and Stein responded by suing the state.
Neither Clinton's campaign nor President Obama is questioning the results of the election. However, both are being supportive of the concept of recounting the vote in states where the vote was close, and the Clinton campaign joining Stein's effort in Wisconsin.
Other states with close margins include Michigan (Trump +0.2 percent); Florida (Trump +1.1 percent); and New Hampshire (Clinton +0.3 percent.) Clinton's leads Trump in the popular vote by more than 2 million, with more votes to count, mainly in California.
Recounts, even in Michigan, are unlikely to alter the results. "There's no reason to believe that the loser is going to pick up the majority of the votes," Republican elections lawyer Charlie Spies said.
But in some areas of the country, the recount has sparked debate about the legitimacy of the election. In California, where votes are still being counted, Republicans say Trump has a point, and that fraud may well exist.
Harmeet Dhillon, the Republican National Committeewoman from California, told the Washington Examiner on Monday that the state policy on providing driver's licenses to illegal immigrants opens up the vote in her state to fraud. She also questioned the security of the state's voter registration website.
Dhillon said the state party isn't making any specific allegations of fraud. But its lawyers are reviewing the results, particularly in the race for a state senate seat in Southern California. "The fact that we're still counting ballots… is embarrassing," Dhillon said.
Secretary of State Alex Padilla, a Democrat, said Trump's accusations of voter fraud in California are without merit, motivated only by sour grapes that he lost the popular vote.
"It appears that Mr. Trump is troubled by the fact that a growing majority of Americans did not vote for him," Padilla said in a statement. "His unsubstantiated allegations of voter fraud in California and elsewhere are absurd. His reckless tweets are inappropriate and unbecoming of a President-elect."
Kyle Feldscher contributed to this report.