What will Trump’s diehards do if he loses?
Divided Republican Party is a more likely outcome than post-election violence
HERSHEY, PA.— John Shingara will be unhappy if Donald Trump doesn’t win, but he already knows how he’ll keep the movement alive. He’ll go to McDonald’s. Shingara, 67, is a member of the Oath Keepers, a right-wing militia group, and he has a plan for “civil disobedience.” If Trump loses the presidential election on Tuesday, he will drive into the drive-thru lane of a restaurant he thinks is employing an illegal immigrant.
“You park the car in the drive-thru lane and you lock the keys in it,” he explained outside Trump’s Friday rally in Hershey, Pa., where he was part of the stage-assembly crew. “You call 911 and say, ‘There’s an illegal working here, the McDonald’s owner should be arrested for hiring an illegal.’ People think there’s nothing they can do? There’s an example of what they can do.”
Trump still has a real chance to beat Hillary Clinton. But polls and early voting data indicate he is more likely to be defeated. Which has raised a question his loyal army is trying to avoid thinking about: Where do they turn if he loses?
Interviews with three dozen supporters this week, at rallies in Michigan, Florida and Pennsylvania, suggest three things: a base in denial about Trump’s chances, a difficult struggle to reintegrate them into a non-Trumpified version of the Republican Party and at least a remote possibility of post-election violence.
“If people end up getting crazy — and I don’t say that in hopes that it happens, the last thing I want is violence — you gotta remember, our forefathers, they were the violent extremists people told you about. They weren’t peaceful,” a small-business owner in a “F*ck ISIS” cap who gave his name as John Shoes, 33, said at Trump’s rally in a suburb of Detroit.
There was no sign, though, of a brewing insurrection. Unlike Trump himself, most of his fans acknowledged that he could lose fair and square. Should that happen, said Jeff Smith, 57, in Hershey, “We just keep working and take care of our families and try again in four years.”
The entity that should fear civil war is not America but the Republican Party. There was widespread antipathy among Trump’s voters to an institution that came around only begrudgingly to a demagogic and erratic former Democrat whose platform is sporadically conservative at best.
While more than four-fifths of Republican voters are now backing him, many of his most ardent supporters are registered independents, irregular voters, or Republicans who have come to loathe the party establishment.
If Trump loses, said Henry Sondey, 67, “I think we’re going to be looking for a third party. I do.”
“All the Republicans I know are pretty fed up with what we have now,” said Sondey, a tool-and-die maker in Michigan. “They’re just a watered-down Democratic Party. Go along to get along. Always talking about bipartisanship.”
“I’m fed up with the Republicans. They kind of showed their ass this time. I’m not even voting down-ballot (in Congressional races). They couldn’t support Trump, I’m not going to support them,” said Linda Kowalski, 65, a Ford retiree nearby. “I’ve always been registered Republican. Not any more. I’m going independent.”
Trump’s heterodox populist platform — a hard line on immigration and trade, a soft touch on government programs like Social Security, professed skepticism of foreign intervention — attracted devotees who have no interest in the traditional Republican offering of fiscal austerity and military hawkishness.
Chris Maloney, a computer programmer, said he supported Trump mostly for his “non-interventionism.” If Trump doesn’t win, he said, he didn’t know where he would find a home.
“It’s a problem,” said Maloney, 54, in Hershey. “I just hope the party gets the message, but obviously they haven’t. Everybody, all the vultures, the hyenas from the wings, are smelling blood.”
Despite the polls, which show Clinton with a national lead of two points, none of the people interviewed said they thought it was likely Trump would lose. Their estimates ranged from “very close” to, more frequently, “big win”; many bought Trump’s false claim that the polls were “rigged” by a biased media.
“You look at the crowds at these rallies. I believe there’s a groundswell behind Donald Trump. Unless there’s a lot of corruption, I believe he’s won the election,” said Arthur Mason, 72, retired from engineering, as he surveyed the packed gym near Detroit.
Trump may have a long-lasting influence on the party even in defeat. New York magazine has reported that his team is thinking about how to “monetize” his political brand, perhaps by starting a “Trump TV.”
That would be expensive, and the Trump of recent years has been more of a licenser of his name than a major risk-taking investor. But there is a news outlet ready-made to carry the banner of Trumpism well beyond Election Day: Breitbart, the website run by the chief executive of Trump’s campaign. Trump’s effect on the party and its voters may long outlast his candidacy.
“I think by the mere fact that you have people standing up, it’s kind of already won. You have a populace that’s awake now,” Shoes said. “He’s not the answer, dude. He’s the response by the people who are going to provide an answer.”