Trump claims the election is ‘rigged’
Facing sliding poll numbers and a slew of sexual assault allegations, Donald Trump claimed this week that the election is being “rigged” against him—sparking fears about how he and his supporters will react if he loses on Nov. 8. The Republican nominee repeatedly tweeted and told rallies over the past week that the election was being “stolen” from him through “large-scale voter fraud,” biased media coverage, and a conspiracy of “international banks” and “globalist elites” who want to put Hillary Clinton in office to enrich her donors and erode U.S. sovereignty. He urged his supporters to “watch your polling booths,” particularly in inner-city areas. Election officials warned that Trump’s rhetoric—unprecedented in recent American political history—could lead to racial confrontations at polling places, and President Obama mocked the Republican nominee for “whining before the game’s even over.” A Politico/Morning Consult poll found that 73 percent of Republicans think the election could be “stolen’’ from Trump by “widespread voter fraud.”
Trump’s talk of a “rigged” election came as his campaign was battered by the public statements of 10 women who came forward to accuse him of kissing, groping, and sexually assaulting them. (See Talking Points.) The Republican nominee fiercely denied all the allegations, and claimed the media was airing them as part of a “coordinated effort” with Hillary Clinton’s campaign. At his rallies, a number of Trump’s supporters said they were ready to take up arms if his opponent wins. “I hope we can start a coup,” 50-year-old contractor Dan Bowman told a reporter in Cincinnati. “[Clinton] should be in prison or shot.” David Clarke, a Milwaukee sheriff who spoke at the Republican National Convention, ominously tweeted that it was “pitchforks and torches time.”
On the eve of the third presidential debate—which took place after The Week went to press—Clinton’s lead over Trump in the RealClearPolitics national poll average swelled to 6.6 points. The Democratic nominee also had a substantial lead in most of the key swing states—including Florida, Pennsylvania, and North Carolina— and even drew level in traditionally red Arizona.
What the editorials said
Trump’s “conspiracy theory” is complete and utter “bunk,” said NationalReview.com. The U.S. electoral process is controlled by local officials in 50 states, and “vote counting is heavily scrutinized” by officials of both parties and independent monitors. Yes, “there’s no doubt that the press hates Donald Trump with a passion,” or that “Hillary Clinton is spectacularly unfit for the office of president’’ because of her reckless airing of “state secrets” through private emails. But if she wins, “it will be because she was chosen by the American electorate.”
“This is dangerous demagoguery, even for Trump,” said the Los Angeles Times.
Speculation is mounting that Trump will launch his own cable-TV channel if he loses on Nov. 8, said Ryan Lizza in NewYorker.com. The businessman’s son-in-law, Jared Kushner, has reportedly already held informal talks with media power brokers. (See The U.S. at a Glance.) But cable channels are incredibly hard to build up from scratch, as the likes of Sarah Palin, Oprah Winfrey, and Michael Bloomberg have found out. Moreover, Trump would have to “cough up tens or perhaps hundreds of millions of dollars” to launch his own channel, and he would lose the free publicity he currently receives from Fox News. Trump isn’t going away—but don’t expect “to find Trump TV on your cable box anytime soon.”
The presumption that elections are fair, and that the loser will accept the outcome, is what “makes possible the peaceful transition of power”—it is the “cornerstone” of a stable and functioning democracy. Sadly, Trump is “just recycling the fearmongering about virtually nonexistent voter fraud that Republican state officials and lawmakers have used as a pretext” to pass voter ID laws designed to make it harder for minorities, the poor, and college students to vote.
“No presidential candidate should portray U.S. elections as illegitimate,” said The Wall Street Journal, but spare us the “liberal freak-out.” Sen. Bernie Sanders’ entire presidential campaign was based on the idea that the economy is “rigged.” Sen. Elizabeth Warren mentioned the “rigged system” no fewer than five times in her Democratic National Convention speech. And does anyone really dispute Trump’s claim that the “press corps is nearly unanimous against him”?
What the columnists said
Trump is making “quite a closing argument” for his campaign, said Michael Gerson in The Washington Post. He has “sneered at the looks” of women who have accused him of sexual assault, and promised to throw Clinton in jail if he wins. Now he’s undermining “the reputation of American democracy.” Trump is clearly “completely unmoored from restraining influences,” and is “frighteningly unstable under pressure’’—disqualifying traits in a would-be president. Trump’s warning about “international bankers” conspiring against American sovereignty sounds like “a dog-whistle rendition of The Protocols of the Elders of Zion,” said Eric Levitz in NYMag.com. He’s telling his angriest followers that their America is being “stolen” by dark, foreign forces. What if some of these Second Amendment enthusiasts decide to “emulate their Founding Fathers” and take up arms to overthrow an illegitimate tyrant?
Fears over Trump’s rabble-rousing are overblown, said Ross Douthat in The New York Times. If he loses by a landslide—a strong possibility— his “to the barricades” ranting will look ridiculous, even to his “deepest-dyed supporters.” Besides, Trump’s base largely consists of “senior citizens, not the testosterone-addled young.” How great is their appetite for violent confrontation in the streets?
Nonetheless, the GOP should prepare for the worst, said Noah Rothman in CommentaryMagazine.com. What happens if, on election night, Trump refuses to concede? Or if he claims the result was “falsified and that Hillary Clinton is no legitimate president”? Congressional Republicans and party leaders should be ready to step forward to concede the election to Clinton and ensure a peaceful transition of power. They “cannot allow themselves to be complicit in this act of civic vandalism.”