The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Opinion Donald Trump begins contemplating the unthinkable: He might lose

GOP nominee Donald Trump tells supporters in Columbus, Ohio, that he worries the Nov. 8 election "is going to be rigged." (Video: The Washington Post)
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Is it possible that Donald Trump has begun to contemplate his own political mortality? Is it possible that Trump, who had previously boasted to GOP primary audiences that he would beat Hillary Clinton “easily” — has begun to contemplate the possibility that he might lose the presidential election?

It is perhaps not a coincidence that Trump has suddenly stopped tweeting about polls (which are now showing Clinton taking a meaningful lead) at precisely the moment that he is escalating his efforts to cast doubt, in advance, on the legitimacy of the general election’s outcome.

Trump and his supporters have now said in a series of new public remarks that the outcome of the election is likely to be “rigged.” Yesterday, on the campaign trail, Trump said: “I’m afraid the election’s going to be rigged. I have to be honest.”

Meanwhile, longtime Trump confidant Roger Stone is explicitly encouraging Trump to make this case to his supporters. “I think we have widespread voter fraud, but the first thing that Trump needs to do is begin talking about it constantly,” Stone told a friendly interviewer, adding that Trump should start saying this: “If there’s voter fraud, this election will be illegitimate, the election of the winner will be illegitimate, we will have a constitutional crisis, widespread civil disobedience, and the government will no longer be the government.”

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Stone also said: “I think he’s gotta 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.”

There is something very wrong with Donald Trump

There’s been a lot of chatter on twitter to the effect that Trump is trying to delegitimize his potential loss in the eyes of his supporters. But I think this goes further than that: It’s also about delegitimizing the Hillary Clinton presidency, should she win.

Indeed, it bears recalling the GOP convention itself was to no small degree framed around this idea. The chants of “lock her up” at the convention, which were specifically encouraged and assented to by speakers on the stage, were at bottom about precisely that. Although a variety of investigations have failed to produce evidence of any criminal behavior by Clinton, those egged-on “lock her up” chants are about keeping hope alive, a hope that can be sustained deep into a Clinton presidency, if it comes to that. As Brian Beutler has argued, there’s a direct line from Trump’s birtherism to the “lock her up” chants — both are about denying the fundamental legitimacy of the opposition, in the most recent case in advance of her potential ascension to the presidency.

Now Trump and his top supporters have taken this a step further, explicitly saying that the process by which Clinton will have been elected, should she win, will itself be illegitimate.  It is obvious that Trump will only amplify this idea if the polls continue to show that he is probably going to lose, and that Clinton is probably going to prevail.

Given that a sizable bloc of GOP voters is apparently willing to agree with Trump on pretty much everything, it’s plausible that a sizable bloc of them will be open to being convinced that the outcome of the presidential election was illegitimate — and that Clinton, should she win, is not legitimately the president. Trump will presumably have something of a national following after this is all over — one that remains deeply in thrall to Trumpism’s nativism, protectionism, white nationalism, and all-around deranged conspiracy-mongering — and it’s not hard to imagine Trump continuing to speak to that following by castigating President Clinton’s illegitimacy.

Paul Ryan and Mitch McConnell and other GOP leaders should be asked whether they think it is appropriate for Trump to be trying to convince millions of his supporters — millions of Republican voters — that the outcome of the presidential election is shaping up as a potentially illegitimate one.

Dear GOP leaders: It’s not too late to dump Trump


* CLINTON GETS A BOUNCE, ANOTHER POLL FINDS: The new NBC News/Survey Monkey Tracking Poll finds Clinton now leading Trump 50-42 among registered voters nationally, which is up from a one point race last week. With the minor party candidates factored in, she leads 42-38.

The HuffPollster averages now put Clinton up by nearly five points. Remember, though, this bounce could fade.

 * BIG MAJORITY SAYS TRUMP IS NOT PREPARED: A new CBS News poll finds that 61 percent of American voters say Trump is not prepared for the presidency and that 63 percent say he lacks the right temperament for it. By contrast, 60 percent say Clinton is prepared and 57 percent say she has the right temperament.

Meanwhile, 58 percent say Clinton would provide “strong leadership,” while only 51 percent say that about Trump. But Trump keeps telling us he is “strong” and that Clinton is “weak.” How can this be?

* TRUMP’S UNFAVORABLES ARE STILL OFF THE CHARTS: The new CNN poll, which finds Clinton leading Trump 52-43 nationally, also finds that Trump is viewed unfavorably by 67 percent of women; 73 percent of young voters; 68 percent of white college graduates; 71 percent of moderates; 82 percent of nonwhites; and even 51 percent of whites and 55 percent of men.

If conventions are partly about broadening a candidate’s appeal, the GOP gathering wasn’t exactly a resounding success.

* CLINTON GAINS ON FOREIGN POLICY: Some more interesting findings from the new CNN poll:

Clinton has widened her edge over Trump as more trusted to handle foreign policy (59 percent Clinton to 36 percent Trump, up from a five-point split following the GOP convention) and has pulled even with Trump on handling terrorism (48 percent each — Trump was +11 after the GOP convention) and the Islamic State (48 percent Clinton to 47 percent Trump — was a 13-point Trump lead after the GOP convention).

But Trump has vowed to crush the enemy effortlessly while magically avoiding any nettlesome entanglements abroad. How could that argument possibly fail?

* LEFT PRESSURES CONGRESS TO PROBE RUSSIA TAMPERING: The liberal group CREDO Action is launching a new campaign to pressure Congress to investigate the possibility that Russia is trying to influence the outcome of the presidential election.

Keep an eye on this, as there may be more to come.

* TRUMP BROADENS THE MAP — FOR DEMOCRATS: A new Landmark/Rosetta Stone poll finds Clinton and Trump deadlocked in Georgia, at 45-45. Obviously there is no way to know how real this will be this fall. But it’s at least a possibility now that Democrats could put Trump on defense in multiple states that should be completely safe for Republicans.

(Update: Our colleague Philip Bump reports that the Utah poll that I had previously cited in this bullet point — which was written about in a local news story that I had linked to — actually doesn’t exist. I’ve removed the mention.)

* HILLARY RAISES $90 MILLION: Just in from the Clinton campaign:

Hillary Clinton had her best fundraising month of the campaign in July, bringing in nearly $90 million for Hillary for America and the Democratic Party. Her campaign began August with more than $58 million in the bank. HFA’s average donation for the month was just $44 and about 54 percent of donations in the month of July came from new donors.

This once again suggests that the Clinton team could dramatically outspend Team Trump, an advantage that will really kick in this fall, particularly if big GOP donors continue sitting out the presidential race.

* TRUMP’S LATEST WRETCHED ATTACK ON KHIZR KHAN: BuzzFeed flags Trump’s latest, from an interview with an Ohio TV station. After allowing that the Khans’ son was a “hero,” Trump was asked about his position on border security, and replied:

“It’s a very big subject for me. And border security’s very big. And when you have radical Islamic terrorists probably all over the place, we’re allowing them to come in by the thousands and thousands. And I think that’s what bothered Mr. Khan more than anything else. And I’m not going to change my views on that.”

So Mr. Khan attacked Trump because he doesn’t want to allow terrorists into the country. Nice. Republicans backing Trump now must contemplate the fact that there may be no limit to how low he can sink.