Why a Trump loss in No­vem­ber could still be de­struc­tive

Cecil Whig - - FRONT PAGE - Dana Mil­bank

— All Amer­i­cans should be alarmed by Don­ald Trump con­fi­dant Roger Stone’s sug­ges­tion that Trump claim Hil­lary Clin­ton is try­ing to steal the elec­tion.

Assert­ing that there is al­ready “wide­spread voter fraud,” Stone said Trump should say that “if there’s voter fraud, this elec­tion will be il­le­git­i­mate … we will have a con­sti­tu­tional cri­sis, wide­spread civil dis­obe­di­ence, and the gov­ern­ment will no longer be the gov­ern­ment.” In an in­ter­view with the con­ser­va­tive out­let Bre­it­bart, Stone con­tin­ued: “I think he’s got to put them on no­tice that their in­au­gu­ra­tion will be a rhetor­i­cal, and when I mean civil dis­obe­di­ence, not vi­o­lence, but it will be a blood­bath.”

WASH­ING­TON

A blood­bath. Rhetor­i­cally speak­ing, of course.

If you have any doubt that Stone has Trump’s ear, two days later Trump said, “I’m afraid the elec­tion is go­ing to be rigged,” and he went on to warn of voter fraud.

Some are com­forted to know this elec­tion ends in three months. But a Trump loss in No­vem­ber — which seems in­creas­ingly likely — could be only slightly less de­struc­tive than a Trump vic­tory. At best, his fol­low­ers would re­gard the Clin­ton ad­min­is­tra­tion as il­le­git­i­mate from Day One and use what­ever le­gal means they can to pre­vent gov­ern­ment from func­tion­ing. At worst, they will con­clude that their white-male dom­i­nated Amer­ica is lost for­ever — and take ex­tra-le­gal mea­sures to pro­tect them­selves.

Amer­i­cans take for granted peace­ful trans­fers of power. But if the los­ing side de­clares the gov­ern­ment il­le­git­i­mate and talks of blood­baths, some- thing else could oc­cur.

Six­teen years ago, af­ter the con­tentious 2000 re­count, Al Gore gave a gra­cious con­ces­sion speech that in­voked Stephen Dou­glas’ words to Abra­ham Lin­coln: “Par­ti­san feel­ing must yield to pa­tri­o­tism. I’m with you, Mr. Pres­i­dent, and God bless you.”

“This is Amer­ica. Just as we fight hard when the stakes are high, we close ranks and come to­gether when the con­test is done,” Gore said. “We will stand to­gether be­hind our new pres­i­dent.”

Can any­body imag­ine Trump say­ing those words af­ter a Hil­lary Clin­ton vic­tory?

Trump’s sup­port­ers are primed to sus­pect con­spir­acy — all the more so now that they see Trump sink­ing in the polls. At a Trump rally in Vir­ginia this week, af­ter Trump told the crowd, “We’re run­ning against a rigged sys­tem,” the Trump back­ers I sam­pled at ran­dom all thought the elec­tion could be stolen.

Dawn Quires told me that FBI di­rec­tor James Comey didn’t rec­om­mend charges against Clin­ton be­cause he “doesn’t want to get shot in the back like oth­ers.” James Scar­bor­ough said court de­feats for voter-ID laws were ev­i­dence of a rigged elec­tion. And Con­nie Jag­ger rea­soned that a Trump de­feat would nec­es­sar­ily mean a stolen elec­tion be­cause Trump’s crowds are big­ger than Clin­ton’s.

This fal­lacy — that the win­ner is de­ter­mined by crowd size rather than the 125 mil­lion bal­lots cast — makes Trump back­ers think a le­git­i­mate Clin­ton vic­tory is im­pos­si­ble. “Trump in trou­ble? 10,000 peo­ple in Jack­sonville!!!!” some­body named Eric Swen­son emailed me Thurs­day. “Pa­thetic me­dia, cor­rupt to the core.”

Mix that para­noia with the propen­sity for vi­o­lence seen at Trump events, and you can see where this could go af­ter Nov. 8.

At a Trump rally in Penn­syl­va­nia this week, a video posted by Pen­nLive shows Trump sup­port­ers shov­ing, throw­ing to the ground and blood­y­ing the nose of a demon­stra­tor.

A video mon­tage pub­lished this week by the New York Times cap­tures the rage at Trump ral­lies: Trump sup­port­ers pro­claim­ing racism, xeno­pho­bia, misog­yny and vi­o­lence against Pres­i­dent Obama and Clin­ton; and var­i­ous scenes of push­ing and shov­ing of de­mon­stra­tors.

Slate’s Ben Mathis-Lil­ley has a tally of 20 vi­o­lent in­ci­dents at Trump events by Trump sup­port­ers, and pro­test­ers, in­clud­ing pro­test­ers hit with pep­per spray by Trump back­ers, and in­stances of de­mon­stra­tors be­ing sucker-punched, shoved and choked.

Trump has en­cour­aged such ac­tiv­ity by of­fer­ing to pay the le­gal fees of the vi­o­lent, by liken­ing demon­stra- tors to ter­ror­ists, by sug­gest­ing a demon­stra­tor “should have been roughed up” and say­ing “knock the crap out of them” and “I’d like to punch him in the face,” among other things.

Trump has iden­ti­fied Clin­ton as a crim­i­nal and the devil. Would his most ar­dent back­ers just pos­si­bly as­sume he would fa­vor vi­o­lence against a gov­ern­ment run by such a per­son?

The rage will only in­crease if Trump con­tin­ues to sink in the polls and — as is his pat­tern when in trou­ble — he con­tin­ues to get more and more out­ra­geous. “I worry that all he knows how to do is dou­ble down,” Sen. Jeff Flake of Ari­zona, a Repub­li­can critic of Trump, told me this week. “They’re out of op­tions.”

Not en­tirely out of op­tions. There’s still the rhetor­i­cal blood­bath. Or worse.

Dana Mil­bank is a syn­di­cated colum­nist. Con­tact him at danamil­bank@wash­post.com.

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