In the most horrifyingly memorable moment of last night’s presidential debate, Donald Trump refused to say that he would recognize the results of the election if he lost, saying that he would “look at it at the time” and “keep you in suspense.”
Trump’s top surrogates quickly tried to do damage control by claiming, absurdly, that Trump’s position was comparable to Al Gore’s actions in 2000, when the Democratic nominee waited for a recount and a Supreme Court verdict before conceding the race. But what Trump was doing was nothing like that: Instead, he was signaling to his base that they should be prepared to reject the result of the election even if the results are clear.
In fact, when Trump tried to explain why he thought the election would be “rigged,” his main argument was that his opponent, Hillary Clinton, “shouldn’t be allowed to run” because she’s “guilty of a very, very serious crime.” Trump apparently doesn’t believe in either election results or the justice system.
What’s most troubling about Trump’s remarks is that they come in the context of right-wing activists, including at least one connected with his campaign, preemptively promising civil disobedience or worse if Trump loses.
This summer, longtime Trump friend and informal adviser Roger Stone told the pro-Trump outlet Breitbart News that the GOP nominee should start planting seeds of doubt about the election results, paving the way for “a constitutional crisis, widespread civil disobedience” and even a “bloodbath” if he loses:
“I think we have widespread voter fraud, but the first thing that Trump needs to do is begin talking about it constantly,” Stone said. “He needs to say for example, today would be a perfect example: ‘I am leading in Florida. The polls all show it. If I lose Florida, we will know that there’s voter fraud. If there’s voter fraud, this election will be illegitimate, the election of the winner will be illegitimate, we will have a constitutional crisis, widespread civil disobedience, and the government will no longer be the government.’”
“If you can’t have an honest election, nothing else counts,” he continued. “I think he’s gotta put them on notice that their inauguration will be a rhetorical, and when I mean civil disobedience, not violence, but it will be a bloodbath. The government will be shut down if they attempt to steal this and swear Hillary in. No, we will not stand for it. We will not stand for it.”
Matt Bevin, the Republican governor of Kentucky, got at something similar in a speech to last month’s Values Voter Summit, saying that it may only be possible for America to survive the election of Hillary Clinton through the shedding of blood of “patriots” and “tyrants”:
Pat Buchanan has similarly suggested that a Trump loss in November could lead to violent revolution.
Dangerous ideas about the illegitimacy of democratically elected officials that were once mostly associated with far-right militia movements have been quietly fed by the GOP for years. Now they are being shouted from the presidential debate stage.