Opinion writer

(AP Photo/ Evan Vucci)

THE MORNING PLUM:

Donald Trump once again escalated his “rigged election” rhetoric at a rally in Wisconsin last night, and many observers are now warning that if he keeps it up, the smooth functioning of our democracy could be undermined, not just by lack of voter confidence in the integrity of the outcome, but also by outright disruptions on Election Day.

This is a bit like warning that an arsonist may end up succeeding in reducing his target to ashes.

It is now becoming clear that the prospect of undermined public faith in the election’s integrity, and even disruptions on Election Day, is not an unintended byproduct of Trump’s snowballing claims of a rigged election. Rather, making these things happen is very likely the explicit goal of those claims.

In Wisconsin, Trump again alluded to a plot to “rig the election at the polling booths”:

Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump held a rally Oct. 17 in Green Bay, Wis. (The Washington Post)

 

“People that have died 10 years ago are still voting. Illegal immigrants are voting,” Trump said. “So many cities are corrupt, and voter fraud is very, very common.”

Trump also quoted from a recent Pew study finding that over 1.8 million deceased individuals are still listed as voters. “I have a feeling they’re not gonna vote for me,” Trump said of that 1.8 million. “Of the 1.8 million, 1.8 million is gonna vote for someone else.” (This study actually urged voting reforms that would maximize participation, which Trump is trying to discourage, but put that aside for now.)

The claim that “illegal immigrants are voting” is of a piece with Trump’s recent assertion that the Obama administration is allowing them to “pour” over the border to vote in the presidential election. This, combined with Trump’s ongoing warnings of rampant voter fraud, and his calls to his supporters to monitor polling places “in certain areas” (read: nonwhite areas), appear to be part of an ongoing strategy to turn the election into a big sh*t show in the final stretch. As Trump’s own advisers have suggested, making the last days of the election as ugly as possible could help depress the enthusiasm of Hillary Clinton’s supporters, perhaps dragging down turnout.

But Democrats think Trump’s whole scheme goes further still: They think Trump is making an explicit effort to encourage disruptions on Election Day, because the specter of such disruptions could itself depress turnout. As one Democratic lawyer put it: “If you wind up spending a lot of time talking about election fraud and law enforcement, you’re generating a message that can have a very discouraging effect on the electorate.”

Disruptions on Election Day, should they happen, could also serve another obvious objective harbored by Trump. As many have already observed, Trump has spent months preparing to tell his millions of followers that the election was stolen from them, should Clinton win, and will also likely tell them that Clinton is an illegitimate president. Disruptions and possibly violence would further the impression of a messy Election Day that could help him make that case.

No one really knows what Trump is thinking. But it’s not unreasonable to speculate that Trump is ultimately trying to cast our entire democratic process as illegitimate, laying the groundwork to press this argument long after Election Day.

“What he is doing has many objectives, such as suppressing turnout and undermining the legitimacy of a Clinton presidency,” Democratic strategist Simon Rosenberg argues to me. “Whether there is also a more malevolent motive — to wound our democracy itself — remains to be seen.”

If so, you can draw a line from Trump’s claim during his convention that only “I alone can fix” our system — which was widely denounced as a fundamentally undemocratic sentiment — straight to his current claims that the election is rigged against him.

The Clinton campaign, perhaps not wanting to play into Trump’s effort to create the impression of a looming Election Day mess, is sticking to a public line emphasizing that everything will go smoothly, with record turnout. If Clinton does win, this, despite Trump’s best efforts, is probably what will end up happening. And Trump’s rantings will look increasingly marginal and buffoonish as we move past this ugly election and, hopefully, on to better times ahead.

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* CLINTON LEADS IN ANOTHER NATIONAL POLL: The new NBC News/Survey Monkey Tracking Poll finds Clinton leading Trump by 51-43 in the head-to-head match-up, and by 46-40 in the four-way. And as always:

Men without college degrees support Trump by an 18-point margin, 52 percent to 34 percent. But men with college degrees go for Clinton over Trump by 12 points, 48 percent to 36 percent.

And women without college degrees also support Clinton, by 46-40. But non-college men will alone put Trump over the top!

* CLINTON SEEMS TO HOLD LARGE NATIONAL LEAD: Nate Silver takes stock of yesterday’s batch of national polls showing Clinton up by large margins, and concludes:

Overall, the results are most consistent with a race in which Clinton leads by about 7 percentage points nationally. States in the Midwest and the Northeast for the most part look as they did in 2012, when President Obama beat Mitt Romney by just under 4 points nationally. But, in the West and in the South, where demographic shifts are unfavorable for Trump, Clinton is poised to have the best Democratic performance since at least 1996, if the polls are correct.

Clinton is doing better against Trump in the more diverse states than in the Rust Belt. Yet even there, Trump may not end up outperforming Romney, despite his magical powers with blue collar whites.

* TRUMP COULD SINK TO HISTORIC POLLING LOWS: Politico’s Steven Shepard games out just how low Trump might sink in the national polls, and concludes he might “earn a smaller percentage of the vote than any major-party nominee in at least 20 years”:

In matchups that include third-party candidates, Trump is winning, on average, 39.6 percent of the vote compared to 46.2 percent for Hillary Clinton in the dozen national polls using live-telephone interviewers conducted since September 26….That leaves Trump perilously close to a historic rebuke from American voters for a major-party candidate.

But the election is “rigged,” so it doesn’t count.

* AS LEAD EXPANDS, CLINTON CAMPAIGN FACES DILEMMA: The New York Times reports that the Clinton campaign is juggling two goals: Win by as big a margin as possible; or redirect money to down-ballot Dems:

The double-barreled assault illustrates her priorities three weeks before Election Day. She hopes to hand Mr. Trump a loss so humiliating that it jars him and Republicans, removing any doubt about the wisdom of running on a grievance-oriented platform. But she also is demonstrating to the congressional Democrats with whom she may soon be working that she is also is dedicated to expanding their ranks.

As I’ve reported, Democrats want Clinton to do both, too: it’s about margin and money. And a decisive defeat of Trumpism would be an added plus.

* REPUBLICANS WORRY ABOUT CLINTON IN ARIZONA: The Clinton campaign has announced that they will make a major play for Arizona, and David Drucker reports:

Clinton has pulled ahead in some public and private polling, and Republican operatives based in Arizona concede that her campaign’s decision to invest more than $2 million there down the stretch is a smart move that could pay off….”They expect to win — likely pushing for 46ish percent and a win with a plurality, which is looking more and more likely,” said a GOP strategist who requested anonymity in order to speak candidly about the race.

And of course, even if she doesn’t win, getting Trump to spend precious time and resources in this once-secure state with time running out is alone a positive.

* HOW BAD WOULD TRUMP’S FOREIGN POLICY ADVENTURES GET? The Truman National Security Project is rolling out a new online tool called ¨Choose Your Own Trumpventure,” which allows you to game out the major consequences of a Trump presidency in five areas: The Mideast; relations with Russia; potential trade wars; the wall on the southern border; and rising Islamophobia at home.

The idea is to dramatize the fact that a Trump presidency could have potentially catastrophic international consequences, if we take his own policy prescriptions at his word. Judging by the polls, this is one area in which a majority of Americans is concluding he is unacceptable.

* AND THE TRUMPISM OF THE DAY, I’M-A-WINNER EDITION: Asked by ABC News if Paul Ryan even wants him to win the White House, Trump replied:

“Well, maybe not, because maybe he wants to run in four years or maybe he doesn’t know how to win. Maybe just doesn’t know how to win. I mean, who can really know. But I know I’m in his territory and they are all screaming for Trump.”

One wonders how Trump will handle it if and when those screaming crowds become a distant memory.