For several months, Donald Trump has been complaining that the election is going to be rigged in order to prevent him from winning. Of course, he has no evidence to support that claim. One investigation after another has found that voter fraud is not a major issue — certainly not enough to change the results of a national election. But, as we have seen, Donald J. Trump is not one to let facts get in the way of the story he wants to tell. So it came as a surprise to some that when asked in Monday’s debate whether he would accept the results of the election, Trump replied that he would. And it will probably surprise no one that he is now walking back that statement.
In an interview with The New York Times, Trump was less definite when asked if he would accept a Hillary Clinton win as the legitimate will of the people. He said,
“We’re going to have to see. We’re going to see what happens. We’re going to have to see.”
That comment came on the heels of a Detroit campaign rally in which Trump once again complained about voter fraud, telling the crowd that illegal voting is a big problem and that “nobody has the guts to talk about it.”
The charge of rampant voter fraud committed by Democrats and their allies has become a commonplace rallying cry for Republicans since the election of Barack Obama. They just couldn’t believe that America elected a black president, so in their minds there had to be something afoot. And similar logic is probably at work this time, with many people refusing to accept the possibility that Americans would elect a female president.
In Trump’s narcissistic mind the issue all revolves around him. “Everybody loves me, I’m the greatest, so if I lose there has to be something crooked going on,” seems to be what he is thinking.
By reviving this line, and by threatening to refuse to accept the result of the election, Trump is setting the stage for unrest and possibly violence on election day and afterward. We have seen repeated examples of his supporters who have physically attacked protesters at Trump rallies. We have heard him follow unproven charges about voter fraud with calls for his followers to monitor polling places on election day.
Remember what happened with Mitt Romney in 2012? At first he refused to concede, apparently in disbelief that he had lost the election. When he did admit defeat it was in the most grudging of manners, making a brief five-minute statement. And Romney was a sane candidate. What could happen on election night if Trump steps to the microphone and accuses Clinton and Democrats of massive voter and/or election fraud could be very ugly.
I’m not the only one raising this possibility. In August, an unnamed Trump supporter quoted in Politico, said he could not imagine Trump giving a concession speech.
“If he loses, [he’ll say] ‘It’s a rigged election.’ If he wins, he’ll say it was rigged and he beat it. And that’s where this is headed no matter what the outcome is. If Donald Trump loses, he is going to point the finger at the media and the GOP establishment. I can’t really picture him giving a concession speech, whatever the final margin.”
The word “concession” isn’t in Trump’s DNA. And he has gathered supporters from among the most potentially violent segments of our society. Remember his remark about “Second Amendment people” doing something about Hillary? Trump’s spin machine tried to explain that away as a call for gun rights advocates to vote in the election. But others weren’t so sure.
Based on what we have seen in this campaign, a Trump loss has the potential to bring about a prolonged period of civil unrest, which could easily turn violent. We may be seeing a situation setting up in which America loses no matter who wins the presidency.
Featured image via Spencer Platt/Getty Images