Donald Trump is right about attempts to rig the presidential election, but he’s dead wrong about who is doing it, why and how – and he knows it.
The reality is it’s a two-track campaign and the riggers are, as he well knows, himself and the Republican establishment he hates so much.
Trump is trying to delegitimize any election that he doesn’t win – a tactic he tried in the primaries until he started winning and then dropped it.
The other track is more serious and will continue after Trump is long gone; it is an ongoing effort by Republican governors and legislatures around the country to keep blacks, Hispanics, immigrants, minorities, the disabled, the poor and other undesirables – read: likely Democrat voters – from the polls.
They do it by limiting the days, hours and locations of polling places for early voting and by requiring various forms of identification. And they do it in the name of a crime that virtually doesn’t exist, according to numerous independent academic and governmental studies: voter ID fraud.
Federal courts around the country have struck down a number of these laws as racially motivated and unnecessary. A Federal Appeals Court ruled North Carolina’s voter ID law was enacted with “racially discriminatory intent.” Similar rulings were handed down in North Dakota, Michigan, Texas, Kansas, Ohio and Wisconsin. Nearly all of the restrictive laws have been enacted by Republican legislatures and governors, including Trump’s running mate, Indiana Gov. Mike Pence. That tells a lot about their true intent.
Trump’s tactic is particularly nefarious, striking at the heart of American democracy.
His rigging charges may be an excuse to justify the election defeat that he seems headed toward.
The notoriously thin-skinned Trump has shown himself incapable of admitting errors or defeat, so he needs a scapegoat. Many, actually. At the top of his list is the media – only one large newspaper has endorsed him so far and that one is owned by Sheldon Adelson, a major campaign contributor.
Others include Hillary Clinton, the Republican establishment, Speaker Paul Ryan, multinational corporations, Saturday Night Live and virtually everyone else who isn’t giving him the obsequiousness he demands.
He sees himself as the victim of a global conspiracy “to plot the destruction of US sovereignty” led by Clinton and “international banks,” an old antisemitic shibboleth reminiscent of The Protocols of the Elders of Zion.
He rants about illegal immigrants and dead people voting, but that is “nearly impossible” because it would require lawyers and poll watchers of both parties and all candidates – including Trump – to be in collusion in thousands of precincts, said The Washington Post Fact Checker. It gave Trump Four Pinocchios for his unsubstantiated and irresponsible charges.
The Republican National Committee may be encouraging the voter repression laws being enacted at the state level, but it wants nothing to do with Trump’s call for vigilante poll watchers.
That’s because federal courts found in 1982 that the RNC had “intimidated, threatened or coerced minority voters” with such tactics, and it was banned from any similar activity for 25 years; if it does what Trump, the titular head of the party as its nominee, is calling for now, that penalty could be extended another 25 years and penalties applied, according to Ben Ginsberg, the former RNC general consul.
When Trump thunders that the election is rigged, he is looking for an excuse to explain his own defeat, but there is more.
When encouraging his followers to be vigilante poll watchers he is telling mostly white working class audiences they know which “other communities” to watch “because we don’t want this election stolen from us.”
The message is clear: if I am defeated it will because blacks, Hispanics, immigrants and Jews conspired to elect Clinton.
One Trumpster, a 61-year-old Ohio man, told The Boston Globe, “I’ll look for... well, it’s called racial profiling. Mexicans. Syrians. People who can’t speak American.”
This voter intimidation and Trump’s refusal to say he would accept the verdict of the voters is also an effort to challenge the legitimacy of Clinton’s presidency – a persistent and irresponsible theme of so many Republicans during the Obama presidency.
Trump has made no secret of his contempt for his own party, but he may not comprehend the collateral damage he is causing.
Most Republican candidates are running away from his “rigging” charges because they know that if Clinton’s election is rigged that would mean their election is, too.
Harvard Professor Steven Levitsky said Trump’s threats to reject the outcome of the vote unless he wins and then to toss his opponent in jail echo “the stuff that we see in Russia and Venezuela and Azerbaijan and Malawi and Bangladesh, and that we don’t see in stable democracies anywhere.”
Trump’s lasting legacy may be an erosion of confidence in American electoral system and democracy, instigated by a thin-skinned, narcissistic demagogue who seems to believe that his only hope of winning involves intimidating voters who oppose him, delegitimizing his opponent and challenging – without a shred of proof – the foundation of American democracy: free and fair elections.
In the process, he is preparing for a continuing post-election campaign to delegitimize the first woman president just as he and so many in his party tried for years to delegitimize the first black president.