In total, the number of people that would have to be involved in the various conspiracies Trump has embraced would certainly number in the thousands, potentially running from the head of the government's central bank and a member of the Cabinet to Census Bureau surveyers, FBI forensic specialists and the guy who checks the voting machines in your county.
The Federal Reserve
What the agency does: Among other things, the Federal Reserve is responsible for setting the federal funds interest rate. Loosely translated, that rate applies to loans made between financial institutions in certain contexts and, by extension, affects how quickly or slowly the economy is growing. Last December, for the first time since the recession, the Fed raised rates, slightly, with the goal of keeping the growth of the economy steady.
The Trump theory: Trump says the Fed is manipulating the rate for another reason: to help Clinton.
This is perhaps Trump's most frequently offered conspiracy theory. He offered it on Wednesday night, in fact, telling an audience at a roundtable in Nevada that the Federal Reserve is "like a political organization."
"They're keeping interest rates at a point where they don't want to see what's going to happen if they raise interest rates with respect to the stock market," Trump said, according to a transcript from CBS's Sopan Deb. That's a bit muddled, but the point is that the Fed is keeping rates low to keep the economy humming — but when the rates are raised again, the economy will stall. During the debate, he said, "The Fed is doing political — by keeping the interest rates at this level.... When they raise interest rates, you're going to see some very bad things happen, because the Fed is not doing their job."
What this would take: When Trump makes this claim, he usually centers his critique on Fed chairwoman Janet Yellen. But it takes a vote of the entire board of the Fed to approve or reject interest rates. When rates were raised last December, 10 people voted on the decision. It's not Yellen on the phone with President Obama acting unilaterally. In other votes since, there's been dissent about whether to increase rates.
At Marketwatch, Kenneth Rogoff explained why Trump's idea was not "completely crazy," but he didn't think it was accurate. If Yellen is trying to help Clinton, he wrote, "why has she been trying in recent months to talk up longer-term rates by insisting that the Fed is likely to hike rates faster than the market currently believes?"
The FBI and the Department of Justice
What the agency does: The FBI, part of the Department of Justice, investigates crime. You probably knew that. That task includes having recently worked to figure out how Hillary Clinton's email server was set up, when and how confidential information passed through it and whether Clinton should be prosecuted. In a statement in July, FBI Director James B. Comey said she shouldn't.
The Trump theory: Trump's theory is that Clinton got a pass from the FBI for political reasons. He's raised questions about Bill Clinton's ill-advised meeting with Loretta E. Lynch, who heads the Justice Department (and thus oversees the FBI). Trump accused Hillary Clinton of offering Lynch a bribe. He said the FBI didn't try hard enough to recover deleted emails from Clinton's server. After Comey's announcement, Trump tweeted that the "system is rigged." He implied that Comey was helping to cover up a crime committed by Clinton.
What this would take: There are various levels of conspiracy theories embedded here.
At the uppermost level, Trump is suggesting that the head of the FBI and a Cabinet member are so corrupt that they either spontaneously or because of the promise of personal benefits refused to investigate Hillary Clinton fully.
That trickles downward. Trump suggested that individual FBI agents were deliberately failing to recover emails. He told an audience at a rally last month that "I don’t think they tried too hard to get them." That suggests that the FBI broadly was involved in an effort to help smooth the path for Clinton. (He has also, though, argued that Clinton "acid-washed" her server to eradicate her emails, which isn't actually a thing.) There were almost 50 agents involved in the investigation. Not all would have had to be part of a politically motivated conspiracy, but some clearly would.
Following critiques from Trump and others, Comey wrote a note to FBI staff. It read, in part:
[T]here are two aspects to this: (1) our judgment about the facts and prosecutive merit; and (2) how we decided to talk about that judgment. I tell them that the difficult decision was actually the second part, not the first. At the end of the day, the case itself was not a cliff-hanger; despite all the chest-beating by people no longer in government, there really wasn't a prosecutable case.
Another thing it's important to note: The FBI's investigation of Clinton's email server was by no means politically helpful to her.
The FBI by itself
What the agency does: The FBI also produces data on the number of crimes committed in the United States each year. That data is compiled from reports submitted by state and local agencies and is released annually.
The Trump theory: During the Republican convention, Trump focused on the idea that crime was rampant in the United States, demanding a strong law-and-order stance to address it. When media outlets (including ours) pointed out that FBI data showed a long-term decline in violent crime, Trump's then-campaign-manager Paul Manafort half-jokingly suggested that the FBI's numbers should be considered suspect, given how the FBI had already given Clinton a pass on the email server.
What this would take: At the time, we pointed out that this was ridiculous. The FBI simply compiles data from 18,000 agencies around the country. Where is the FBI tipping the scales? In the spreadsheet? Does it have 18,000 agents leaning on Sheriff Brown in Coconino County? All of the data is published online. No one ever noticed that there were hundreds of murders each year that didn't get collected?
When the FBI released new data for the year 2015, it actually showed that murders had increased — thanks to spikes in a few cities. Crime overall was flat.
The Department of Labor
What the agency does: The Department of Labor's Bureau of Labor Statistics compiles figures on unemployment rates in the United States, a key metric for gauging the health of the economy.
The Trump theory: Trump has repeatedly argued that the "real" unemployment rate is far higher than the 5-percent-or-so it's been at since Trump announced his candidacy. He's said that unemployment is actually over 40 percent, for example. His son, Donald Jr., has said that the numbers are "massaged to make the existing economy look good." It has echoes from the 2012 campaign, when businessman Jack Welch suggested that "Chicago guys" were manipulating the numbers.
Saying that one should include other people in the count of those not working is one thing. (Adults who have left the workforce due to retirement or disability aren't included in the unemployment rate, for example, because they aren't looking for work.) But suggesting that the numbers are manipulated is another thing entirely.
On its website, the BLS explains how it calculates unemployment rates. The short version is that the government conducts a complex series of surveys of the residents of 15,000 households a month, rotating households in and out of the survey to get a broad picture of the state of the American economy. This survey isn't specific to the BLS; it's run by the Census Bureau. Meaning that at some point between the interview conducted with a household and the monthly report on unemployment, someone or some people in the government would have to tweak the results substantially enough to move the unemployment numbers downward. Doing this monthly without detection would be a remarkable accomplishment.
What they do: Election officials run elections in the United States, usually at a county level.
The Trump theory: Trump has regularly argued that people can come in and vote 10 times in the November election or that the results in Pennsylvania might be suspect because of voter fraud. To some extent, this is a theory about criminals running rampant and voting several times without anyone catching on — a theory for which there's no evidence. On Trump's website, though, he also asks for help to "stop Crooked Hillary from rigging this election" — implying that there's a widescale effort to commit fraud, which would almost certainly require complicity from the people running the elections.
What this would take: It would take a lot.
It would take: A good estimate of the results of voting at a county level, complicit actors in counties that could tilt the scales to ensure victory in a state, flawless knowledge of which registered voters weren't already planning to vote in November, the ability to evade the various checks that exist to prevent fraud (as explained here) and the ability of everyone involved in this to stay quiet indefinitely.
This, like each of the theories outlined above, is far more unlikely than likely. Trump is trailing Hillary Clinton for much simpler reasons: The economy is improving, crime is not out of control, and more Americans prefer her candidacy.
What's rigged against Trump at this point is the electorate.