Donald Trump never accepted losing in his business life. Even when he very clearly lost. He simply declared victory and moved on. (If you don't believe me, watch PBS's terrific “The Choice 2016.")
His rhetoric over the last 10 days suggests he is preparing to follow that very blueprint in November. Over and over again of late, Trump has indulged in the idea of a broad-scale global conspiracy being organized to keep him from being elected. And he has repeatedly used language describing the election as “rigged” by a Democratic Party and complicit media playing dirty pool.
At a rally on Friday in Greensboro, N.C., Trump leaned into his “rigged” premise.
“This whole election is being rigged,” Trump told the roaring crowd. “The whole thing is one big fix. One big ugly lie. It’s one big fix.”
Given that rhetoric, it's difficult for me to imagine that in 25 days time, if he comes up short to Hillary Clinton, Trump will simply concede the election. He is actively fomenting the idea that the results on Nov. 8 will be invalid no matter what they say because of the “rigged” nature of the whole process. He is priming the pump among his supporters to never accept that he actually lost but instead had it stolen from him by the Democratic-media complex, which couldn't deal with the truths he was telling.
Trump, despite the hopes of many Republicans, isn't going to simply disappear on Nov. 9. This is someone whose entire life has been in pursuit of an ever-bigger spotlight. Trump now has the biggest spotlight in the world on him. He isn't the sort to willingly walk off the stage at the moment he has achieved what he's always wanted. And so, whether or not Trump actually believes the election is rigged against him (it's not!), he has several self-serving reasons to continue to push the idea to and through Election Day.
Trump, I think, has two options for his future in politics, assuming he loses this fall. The first is that he works to keep his bloc of voters together post-election and forms some sort of conservative alternative third party that aims to bash Republicans and Democrats in roughly equal measure. The other is that he starts a conservative media/broadcasting company in an attempt to monetize the loyalty his supporters have for him and the anti-elites, anti-party message he has been pushing throughout the campaign.
Neither of those options is served by acknowledging defeat at the hands of Clinton and shuffling off. Both are made more appealing — from a commercial perspective — by never conceding, by insisting that the race wasn't lost, it was taken.
Trump has shown that he is a master of grievance politics in this race. He now seems to be setting up the greatest grievance of all for the voters who support him: that their votes don't matter because Hillary Clinton and all of her media enablers have already determined the outcome of this election.
Is that dangerous for democracy? You bet it is.