The minute Donald Trump sensed that he might lose the 2016 election to Hillary Clinton, he did what any petulant man-child would do—he began claiming that the entire process wasn’t fair, and that if he lost, it would mean the election was “rigged” or “stolen.” This has the immediate effect of assuaging his ego ahead of time, of course, but there’s a much darker long-term consequence, which is the undermining of American democracy. We’ve already seen that Trump’s voters are insanely, tragically credulous, and if he tells them that their votes weren’t counted, and that Clinton’s win wasn’t legitimate, they will believe him. What happens next is anyone’s guess, but it could get ugly—after all, why should anyone respect a false democracy where representative politics are a lie?
Democrats and progressives have long sounded the alarm on this kind of language, but the real surprise now is that even Republicans are calling him out. Politico compiled a few examples today that show the GOP leadership becoming increasingly nervous about what kind of havoc Trump could wreak when he loses:
“I don’t think leading candidates for the presidency should undercut the process unless you have a really good reason,” Sen. Lindsey Graham, a South Carolina Republican who gained little support for his own 2016 White House run, told POLITICO.
“Somebody claiming in the election, ‘I was defrauded,’ that isn’t going to cut it,” said former Sen. Kit Bond, a Missouri Republican who earlier in the campaign endorsed Jeb Bush and then Marco Rubio. “They’re going to have to say how, where, why, when.”
Even Ohio Secretary of State Jon Husted, a Republican, issued a statement denouncing a fake news story purporting to show black boxes full of Hillary votes being transported across the state.
Meanwhile, Trump continues to beat the drum with quotes like, “watch other communities because we don’t want this election stolen from us,” while Mike Pence has said that “people need to be very concerned about voter fraud.” Others still are concerned about Russian hackers infiltrating the process, though in that case, evidence shows that Trump would be the likely beneficiary.
The problem with this late show of integrity is that Republicans have trained their constituents to ignore facts and believe the worst about “liberals” for decades, and now they’re reaping what they’ve sown. Trump’s voters don’t trust the political establishment, and they don’t trust the media, so why would they listen to them now?
And so we press on to election day. The truth of the matter is that there’s no real way to prevent Trump from saying what he’s going to say, and that anyone who expects him to lose with dignity hasn’t been paying attention. We’re forced to trust the sobriety of his supporters to understand when they’re being misled—and that, for obvious reasons, is a scary prospect.