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.”

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