Politico's Eli Stokols asks the obvious question: when Trump loses in November (hopefully) what happens when his months of "rigged election" rhetoric causes him, and his tens of millions of followers, not to concede or to recognize Clinton's win?
The implications—short- and long-term—are serious. Interviews with more than a dozen senior GOP operatives suggest growing panic that Trump’s descent down this alt-right rabbit hole and, beyond that, his efforts to de-legitimize the very institutions that undergird American democracy—the media and the electoral process itself—threaten not just their congressional majorities or the party’s survival but, potentially, the stability of the country’s political system.
“We’ve never had a presidential candidate who has questioned the legitimacy of an electoral outcome nationally,” said Dan Senor, who was a foreign policy adviser to Mitt Romney’s 2012 campaign. “This does take us to a whole new world if the actual presidential candidate is questioning the legitimacy of this process, and the damage to our democracy could be substantial.”
In 2008, even as some on the far right questioned Barack Obama’s legitimacy as president based on false suggestions he was not born in America, McCain conceded quickly. Most notably, after the Supreme Court’s 2001 Bush v. Gore decision, countless Democrats complained that the result was unjust—but Al Gore and Joe Lieberman did not.
“Among the values most necessary for a functioning democracy is the peaceful transition of power that’s gone on uninterrupted since 1797. What enables that is the acceptance of the election’s outcome by the losers,” said Steve Schmidt, the GOP operative who was John McCain’s campaign strategist in 2008.
“Here you have a candidate after a terrible three weeks, which has all been self-inflicted, saying the only way we lose is if it’s ‘rigged’ or stolen—in a media culture where people increasingly don’t buy into generally accepted facts and turn to places to have their opinions validated where there’s no wall between extreme and mainstream positions. That’s an assault on some of the pillars that undergird our system. People need to understand just how radical a departure this is from the mean of American politics.”
Should Trump opt not to concede after a loss or deliberately roil his supporters and spark uprisings by refusing to accept the legitimacy of the election results, he would still have little recourse to alter a significant electoral victory for Clinton. Only if the election were close, hinging on one or two states where there were alleged voting irregularities, could Trump seriously contest the result in court.
But beyond who wins the White House in November, many Republicans fear that Trump’s efforts to diminish people’s confidence in mainstream media, fair elections and in politics itself will have a lasting impact.
When even Steve Schmidt, the man behind McCain's decision to choose Sarah Palin as his running mate, thinks Trump is way out of line, something is seriously wrong. Not that Schmidt doesn't deserve a lot of blame for continuing the GOP down the path of delegitimizing elections and elevating the current bonkers Alt-Right to its place running the GOP or anything.
But if even Schmidt realizes Trump is well over the line, perhaps Republicans should ask themsleves how they plan to fix the cancer on American politics that their party has become, and that starts with getting rid of people like Trump, and the people who enabled him.
That of course won't happen. Maybe it will after Trump's followers decide to take a few Second Amendment remedies to resolve their impending wipeout in November. For now they can take comfort that in some swing states, there are Republicans registering to vote, or something.
For the rest of us, the watch continues. Greg Sargent figures this is all a play for Trump's white nationalist TV news network anyway, and he's probably right.
TrumpTV, the white network for the white time.