In a campaign overflowing with accusations from the Republican presidential nominee, perhaps the worst yet is just now infecting the country. Donald Trump is working, purposefully and relentlessly, to convince people that the election, itself, is rigged against him. He is doing this without a shred of evidence beyond his own collapse in the public’s estimation.
The likeliest explanation is that he needs a diversion to excuse his transformation into that which he dreads most: a loser. And to accomplish that, he is willing to destroy Americans’ confidence in their own elections.
He doesn’t suggest how that stupendously complex rigging might work – each state, after all, controls its own elections – or who, beyond “the media,” could be responsible for it. He just says it, again and again.
Trump’s irresponsibility not only seeks to undermine the results of the election – and with it the crucial American tradition of a peaceful transfer of power – but also to risk disturbances at polling places around the country. He has called for his supporters to monitor the polls for fraud, as though any of them are actually trained for that or would know what to do if they were to come across it.
What is more, history shows that even professionals are unlikely to come across it. Voter fraud of the sort his “monitors” might think they see – people voting more than once or without being registered – is about as rare as a one-eyed unicorn. Trump’s call can have two possible outcomes: dangerous confrontations at polling places and intimidation of people attempting to exercise their right to vote.
It’s a potential crisis in the making and one that Republicans will have to take the lead in averting. Already, some are making efforts. Trump’s own running mate, Gov. Mike Pence of Indiana, said on television Sunday that he and Trump “will absolutely accept the result of the election.” Trump has not only refused to make a similar commitment, he continues to repeat his irresponsible allegation.
House Speaker Paul Ryan also said he had confidence that the states would conduct fair elections. Other Republican leaders are also speaking up in defense of the American electoral system, but it’s not enough.
More leading Republicans need to speak up in defense of what remains a marvel of democracy. That is especially true of those who otherwise support Trump but who understand the threat he is now leveling at the nation. That specifically includes Rep. Chris Collins, R-Clarence, Rep. Tom Reed, R-Corning, and Trump’s top supporter in Western New York, Carl Paladino.
None of these men is naive and all have to know the long-lasting damage such baseless allegations can cause and, in fact, are meant to cause. Along with prominent Republicans around the country, they need to help protect the system – one that they are part of – from these irresponsible allegations.
There have been many moments during the campaign when Republicans could have – and in some cases, did – walk away from Trump, whether it was his comments on Mexicans or prisoners of war or, most recently, women or any number of other provocations.
This time, though, there can be no turning away. When the party’s candidate seeks to undermine the entire edifice of American democracy, it’s patriotism, not party, that needs to take the day.