Don’t get me wrong, there’s always been a disturbing element of xenophobia/racism/antisemitism/Islamophobia underlying Donald Trump’s popularity, and Trump has never been entirely just comic relief, but the longer this goes on and the more unhinged he appears, the less funny his absurdity and stupidity have gotten. The whole Trump phenomenon tipped from “funny” to “curious” to “scary” for me as it became clear how many of his most ardent fans are just straight-up white nationalists, but I could still get a good laugh out of Trump himself. But now even Trump personally is starting to pass “funny” en route to “frightening,” and he took a major lurch in that direction yesterday:
Donald Trump on Monday said he’s “afraid” the November election “is about to be rigged,” stoking mistrust of the system that he has fostered among his supporters.
The GOP nominee consistently complained of a system “rigged” against him as an “outsider” during the primaries. Now, with less than 100 days until the general election, Trump is again expressing doubts about the legitimacy of the process.
“I’m afraid the election’s gonna be rigged. I have to be honest,” Trump said.
It’s not surprising that Trump has started talking about the election being rigged as his poll numbers have started ticking down again. But with all due respect to ThinkProgress’s Adam Peck and to other reporters who’ve covered this as “Trump Already Making Excuses for Losing in November,” that’s not really what he’s doing. Oh, that may be what he thinks he’s doing, but the real effect of this kind of talk, from Trump and his walking dumpster fire surrogates, will be to radicalize (well, further radicalize) those white nationalists into a frenzy if Trump should lose, on the grounds that his loss was somehow “illegitimate.”
As far back as the elections of 1796 and (especially) 1800, at the core of America’s ability to survive political transitions has been the iron-clad principle that when a candidate loses, he or she concedes and moves on, and his or her supporters, albeit grudgingly, do the same. If there’s some ambiguity about the result you might turn things over to the courts, but once the courts have ruled, that’s the end of the process. You don’t prime your supporters to believe that the election has been stolen from them, and you don’t call on them to take drastic action if you lose. The last time a large constituency outright rejected the results of an election we spent the next ~five years fighting a civil war about it. Trump, whether he means to or not, is now undeniably laying the groundwork for his supporters to reject the outcome in November if it doesn’t go their way.
This is incredibly dangerous. It’s an implicit threat: “Nice country you got here. Sure would be a shame if something was to happen to it, like me not getting elected.” Maybe now would be a good time for all those principled Republicans who have nevertheless lashed their dinghies to Trump’s discount luxury yacht to rethink their support and denounce–ahahahahahaha what the hell am I thinking?
Will it work? I don’t know. Many people I’ve seen supporting Trump are so far beyond the pale already that I won’t hazard a guess as to what they’ll do if they feel like they’ve been cheated out of the election. But there’s a very high likelihood that, at a time when the Republican Party is obsessed with the idea that voter fraud is rampant (it’s not, and laws ostensibly meant to prevent it are really just about disenfranchising minorities), it won’t take much for his most diehard supporters, the ones who hang on his every word no matter how many of those words are demonstrable lies and/or inaccuracies, to believe that he’s telling the truth when he says the election was stolen.