It’s time to start discussing what we’ll need to do when Trump loses.
Vox published an Andrew Prokup story this morning saying that whomever leads the polls at this point in the election, wins the popular vote. 538 has her at an 86% favorite. That number is going to fluctuate and the final tally may be closer—although I have my doubts—but Hillary is going to win. At this point, any sane Republican has to count on a black swan event—a terrorist attack; an assassination attempt on Clinton—to change the race in Trump’s favor. Some people are counting on Julian Assange to be their unlikely savior, but I doubt this; aside from the issue of allowing an Australian hiding from the Swedes in an Ecuadorian embassy in London to affect us, I just don’t see what email they could have that would shift the election that much.
Meanwhile, Trump supporters are living happily in their bubble, aided and abetted by right-wing websites, slanted news organizations, and Trump himself. The polls are phony, the election is rigged. You don’t need to imagine the delegitimization effort; it’s already in progress.
The problem is that there are three considerations that need to be taken into account.
1) This is happening after an unprecedented era of Republican obstruction already. Trump supported but by no means started or is personally responsible for the birther movement that claims that Obama was never really president. The Senate has set a new record for blocking a Supreme Court nominee. We’ve already seen how GOP Congresspeople were forced to respond when a small percentage of the party became Tea Party activists; how will they respond when the majority of their base are Trump voters?
2) It’s been said many times, and I’ve said it myself: we need a blowout Hillary victory to repudiate Trump’s vision of America. As I write this, Clinton is winning in Arizona and Georgia, and competitive in South Carolina. Her campaign is making overtures in Utah. The blowout is certainly in the making.
But this won’t cause Trump supporters to dry up and blow away. His true believers are being fed a steady diet of messages how he’s a winner and Hillary’s a loser. If all they watch is Fox News and all they read is Breitbart, they can be forgiven for believing this. November 9th will come as a horrible and sudden shock.
3) Finally, we have to consider Trump himself. Because we’re all assuming that he, like every failed presidential candidate, is going to go away if he loses.
Of course he won’t.
Trump is a narcissist; I can think of several disparaging adjectives I could add to that descriptor, but I’ll leave it at that to gain agreement with a wide audience. For the past 14 months, he’s been dosing on the purest form of heroin imaginable for such a condition; a medieval absolute ruler did not get the level of global adulation and attention that the media and Internet can provide to someone in its spotlight today.
On November 9th, that spotlight shuts off, for both the winner and the loser. Only the actual president gets anywhere near the sort of attention a presidential candidate gets, and even then, the spotlight is dimmer and more easily distracted. For normal, emotionally healthy, losing candidates, the transition is utterly crushing.
For Trump? God can only begin to imagine. Some people theorize that he constantly ramps up his attacks and crazy statements in public because he thinks that it will help him win. Some people think he does this because he can’t stand a moment of being out of the center of attention. I think both are true.
So what he’s going to do and say starting on November 9th beggars the imagination, because I literally don’t have the capacity to imagine it. I didn’t imagine he would say half of what he’s already said. And we’re still three months away, while he’s still enjoying the spotlight.
At a minimum, what I think we need to expect is a massive delegitimization of the election and the presidency, with substantial shade thrown at Congress as well if the Democrats retake part or all of it. (In that sense, a complete win could be disastrous; imagine believing that your presidential candidate was going to win, only to wake up to find that the opposing party, led by a murdering crook, has taken all three branches of government?) But the minimum is not what we should expect.
Every indicator of Trump’s motivation, incentives, and personality indicates that he’s going to do whatever he can to keep the same spotlight on him, with the same intensity. A shadow government, run from the environs of Trump TV? Sure. Endless lawsuits in every state? Why not? Actual calls for civil disobedience and insurrection, as opposed to the veiled “I was joking” attempts to date? Absolutely, right up to the line of what’s legal, and possibly beyond them. Who would prosecute?
If you believe, as I do, that he got into this as a money-making enterprise, and that fame is what generates his money, he has zero reason not to do any of these things. If you believe, as I do, that he is utterly convinced of the truth of his obvious leadership qualities and the slanting of the election against him, this isn’t a prediction, it’s par for the course.
The question is what we can do as a nation to prevent the worst of what will come after.