We knew this was coming.
At a rally yesterday, Donald Trump said: “I’m afraid the election is gonna be rigged, I have to be honest.” And in the evening, secreted in Sean Hannity’s Fox News cocoon, he said it again: “November 8, we’d better be careful, because that election is going to be rigged. And I hope Republicans watch closely, or it’s going to be taken away from us.”
The guy certainly stays in character (or lack thereof). His brand is built on being a Winner; the last thing he can abide is being tagged a Loser. And now that he faces the very real prospect of losing his first foray into politics, his only play is to pre-spin defeat by channelling “Citizen Kane.”
In that seminal film, 75 years ago, a megalomaniacal New York mogul lost a big race. The editors at his newspaper had hoped to run the headline KANE WINS. But they had also ginned up an alternative front page, just in case he lost. And they went with it: FRAUD AT POLLS!
Because naturally there was no way the great man could conceivably lose fair and square. And that’s clearly Team Trump’s ‘tude; if he loses, it means he was cheated. Which is why Roger Stone, one of Trump’s unhinged surrogates, conjured the specter of “voter fraud” the other day on a right-wing radio show. He told the host: “In this day and age, a computer can do anything. These voter machines are essentially a computer. Who is to say they could not be rigged?” And the host predictably gasped, “This stuff is going to horrify most voters. I mean, this is amazing.”
Actually, this is very disturbing. It means that Trump is prepared to reject the results of the presidential election, to school his credulous fans in the belief that “crooked” Hillary stole what was rightfully his — and theirs. Don’t be surprised if he dispatches a squad of lawyers to challenge the vote tallies. He has been poisoning the civic discourse for more than a year, so why should we assume he’ll stop in November?
Actually, Trump rolled out the “rig” spin last Friday, when he complained about the three scheduled autumn debates. It’s amazing how so many lies can get packed into a single tweet: “As usual, Hillary & the Dems are trying to rig the debates so 2 are up against major NFL games. Same as last time with Bernie. Unacceptable!”
Guess what: “Hillary & the Dems” don’t schedule the autumn debates. The bipartisan Commission on Presidential Debates — which was created in 1987, which has no affiliation with any campaign — schedules the autumn debates. And they booked the ’16 dates nearly one year ago, on Sept. 23, 2015 — seven months before the National Football League announced its autumn ’16 schedule.
I get why Trump would love to weasel out of the debates. Clinton is likely to stomp him silly, and his policy ignorance will likely be exposed long before the initial meet-up ends. So his only option is to claim in advance that the debate process is rigged, in the hopes of pre-rationalizing a retreat. Which foreshadows what he said yesterday about the election itself — that it’s rigged, in the hopes of pre-rationalizing a defeat.
And I get why he’s making excuses about November. According to Gallup, 51 percent of Americans say they’re less likely to vote for Trump after watching or processing his Republican convention; only 36 percent say they’re more likely to support him. Gallup has been asking that post-convention question since 1984, and this is the first and only time that a freshly anointed nominee has ever posted net negatives. Apparently Melania’s plagiarism and her husband’s 75-minute bellowfest were not boffo at the box office.
Yes, I get why he’s making excuses about November, given the fact that he’s getting hammered about his treatment of the Khan family by everyone from the Veterans of Foreign Wars to the conservative deputy page editor of The Wall Street Journal (Bret Stephens: “Trump’s smear of Ghazala Khan is despicable. And if you don’t agree, you’re despicable”); that his former ghostwriter, Tony Schwartz, wants to change the title of his book from “The Art of the Deal” to “The Sociopath”; that a national Republican operative named Sally Bradshaw has quit the party because, in her words, “I can’t look my children in the eye and tell them I voted for Donald Trump”; and that Max Boot, a foreign policy adviser to three Republican candidates, is warning that “if an unapologetic ignoramus wins the presidency, the consequences will be no laughing matter.”
But it’ll be no laughing matter if he loses the presidency and yells FRAUD AT POLLS! — because, tragically and pitiably, his followers are inclined to believe anything he says.
Heck, we’re getting a foretaste right now. Some followers already believe the smears being circulated about the Khans — that the grieving father is a terrorist agent, the usual stuff. Here’s a random Trumpkin, a 73-year-old lady, commenting yesterday on camera: “He doesn’t even live in this country …. there’s a whole bunch of stuff on the Internet about this gentleman that everybody is talking about.”
The reporter corrected her: “I’m sorry, he lives here.”
The lady replied: “That’s not what the Internet is saying.”
Just imagine what “the Internet” will say if her hero loses in November — and what these people are prepared to believe. That scene in “Citizen Kane” always gets laughs. The scene we’re living is serious.