In two rallies over the weekend, Trump told his followers that Clinton is planning massive voter fraud in “certain areas” (and asked them to serve as vigilante election monitors on his behalf). It’s so clear that a Clinton victory is only possible if the vote is rigged in her favor, in fact, that Trump told the New York Times on Friday he may not concede after all.
This kind of thing has happened once too often to be a coincidence: Whenever things are looking especially ominous for Trump’s hopes of winning the presidency, he starts telling his supporters that victory is about to be stolen from underneath their feet.
That a vote for Trump is the last chance his supporters will have to save the republic before Hillary Clinton distorts it into something absolutely unrecognizable.
That it may already be too late.
Of course, it’s no coincidence that Trump is encouraging paranoia in this atmosphere: Conditions certainly seem to be conspiring against him (even if the government isn’t).
No matter his eventual motivation for questioning a Clinton victory — whether he really believes that’s what will happen, or because he thinks it’s a good marketing strategy for securing fans’ loyalty — he is (once again) idly jackhammering at the bedrock of democracy: the willingness to accept when your opponent has won.
When the Times published pages from Trump’s 1995 tax returns on Saturday night, the candidate was delivering a speech at a campaign rally in Pennsylvania.
The campaign attempted to have Trump respond to the Times onstage at the rally by reading a short statement. Instead, they unleashed a torrent of Trumpian ad lib (captured by Jenna Johnson for the Washington Post) — ending in a bit of exaggeration that would embarrass most self-respecting used car salesmen:
“You have 38 days to make every dream you ever dreamed for your country come true,” Trump said. “Do not let this opportunity slip away or be wasted. You will never ever have this chance again. Not going to happen again. … You have one magnificent chance.”
It sounds ridiculous and downright absurd.
Cynicism or manic hope
It’s not clear which of these reactions — cynicism or dangerous, manic hope — Trump intends to inspire. But at least some of his followers are feeling the latter: They’re convinced that Donald Trump is the last best chance to destroy the irredeemably corrupt status quo before it can be set in stone.
Except that’s what Trump is telling them to do. He’s reanimating the idea (last floated during Clinton’s last period of polling dominance, after the Democratic National Convention) that a Clinton win would be proof the election was “rigged.”
Trump quietly abandoned the “rigged election” theory when it began to look possible that he might actually win. But over the weekend — after the first presidential debate and Trump’s post-debate meltdown — it’s cropping up in stump speeches again. On Friday and on Saturday, Trump urged followers to get together in groups and go “monitor” polling places in “certain areas” to make sure that no voter fraud was occurring.
“Go to your place and vote,” he said Saturday, “and then go pick some other place, and go sit there with your friends and make sure it’s on the up and up.”
But if what Trump is telling his followers is bad, what he’s telling the press is arguably worse.
[Trump] even indicated that he was rethinking his statement at their last debate that he would “absolutely” support her if she won in November, saying: “We’re going to have to see. We’re going to see what happens. We’re going to have to see.”
Trump is crazy enough to think that candidate whose most common campaign activity is watching and critiquing cable news genuinely does believe Hillary Clinton is training fraudulent voter squadrons in cities around the United States, and that she might win the election by means so obviously illegitimate that it’ll be his patriotic duty not to concede to her.