Several news stories yesterday and today, including this one from the Washington Post, have reported on Trump’s most recent tirade not aimed at the Gold Star Kahn family: his dark warnings that the upcoming election looks to be “rigged.”
Translation: I might not win. And if I lose, the only acceptable explanation is that I was robbed.
Evidently, most of the “rigging” is being done by media outlets that–outrageous bias!–are reporting the things Trump says.
Trump’s effort to de-legitimize the (small-d) democratic process and the (big-D) Democratic candidate won’t surprise anyone who has watched the two-year-old that is Donald Trump. Any loss, any slight, is met with belligerence and the equivalent of a child’s “not fair” whine.
If this insistence that only a Trump victory would be “fair” were simply one more manifestation of Trump’s immaturity and narcissism, we could just add it to the list of self-destructive behaviors exhibited by this deeply-flawed candidate.
But although this particular line of attack is unlikely to convince anyone outside his rabid base, it could–like so much of Trump’s snake-oil– further destabilize American politics, and undermine the legitimacy of a President Clinton.
Trump and his supporters have now said in a series of new public remarks that the outcome of the election is likely to be “rigged.” Yesterday, on the campaign trail, Trump said: “I’m afraid the election’s going to be rigged. I have to be honest.”
Meanwhile, longtime Trump confidant Roger Stone is explicitly encouraging Trump to make this case to his supporters. “I think we have widespread voter fraud, but the first thing that Trump needs to do is begin talking about it constantly,” Stone told a friendly interviewer, adding that Trump should start saying this: “If there’s voter fraud, this election will be illegitimate, the election of the winner will be illegitimate, we will have a constitutional crisis, widespread civil disobedience, and the government will no longer be the government.”
Stone also said: “I think he’s gotta put them on notice that their inauguration will be a rhetorical, and when I mean civil disobedience, not violence, but it will be a bloodbath.”
This attack is eerily akin to situations where a wife who has filed for divorce is murdered by her estranged husband, who says “if I can’t have you, no one can.” The Trump campaign is threatening that if he can’t win, he will create enough doubt about the legitimacy of the electoral process to ensure that the winner is unable to govern.
This isn’t new. It’s a continuation of a tactic employed by those who simply could not accept the reality that an African-American had been elected President. The “birther” movement–with which Trump was heavily involved–was an effort to de-legitimize President Obama, an effort to paint him as a pretender.
Ironically, while the Democrats have certainly not been angels, most recent electoral “rigging” has been done by Republicans.
The GOP has long used allegations of voter fraud to justify efforts to suppress the votes of constituencies most likely to vote Democratic. (During the last few weeks, courts have invalidated voter ID laws in four states, noting that these laws have been carefully targeted to suppress the votes of African-Americans, Latinos, and poor people.)
In-person voting fraud has never been a genuine problem; its incidence is, in the words of one election scholar, “vanishingly small.”
Given the GOP’s persistent efforts to game the system through Voter ID laws and gerrymandering, not to mention the shenanigans in Florida that gave us George W. Bush, it takes some chutzpah to characterize Donald Trump as the victim of election “rigging.” (But if there is one quality Trump undeniably has, it’s chutzpah.)
If the election is close, Trump’s supporters–already divorced from reason and reality–will believe he was robbed, and while that belief may not lead to Stone’s “bloodbath,” it will certainly hobble efforts to restore productive bipartisanship.
If, however, he loses by a landslide–an outcome devoutly to be desired–that conspiracy theory won’t gain traction.
We need to help generate that landslide.