I’d say he’s gone too far this time, but of course he hasn’t. For Donald Trump there is no such thing as “too far.”
I really had planned on giving US politics a rest in this space for a couple of weeks, but some things can’t go unchallenged, and one of those things is Trump’s contention that this fall’s presidential election is “rigged” so that he will lose to Hillary Clinton.
As a political scientist and strategist I am no fan of the American system. In the founding fathers’ desire to repudiate all things British they brought in a system that is nowhere near as good as the one they threw out. But it has worked for more than 200 years, which even I will admit is pretty impressive.
No electoral system is perfect, and there is bound to be fraud in all of them from time to time. That has less to do with the system and more to do with fallen humans being involved. I may have some concern about how votes were counted in Florida in the 2000 presidential election, but I can’t prove anything illegal actually took place. (Don’t ask me about the morality of a system controlled by the brother of one of the candidates, that’s another matter entirely. If you ask me about my experience with vote rigging I might make that the subject of a future post.)
So when Trump, ahead of Hillary Clinton in many polls, starts talking about how the system is rigged against him, I have to wonder. Especially when he offers no proof. This doesn’t sound like the musings of a candidate for a major party in a democracy but rather like some third-world loser.
Come to think of it, didn’t he say similar things during the primary process? Yet he won that handily despite being a less than ideal choice in the eyes of the Republican brass. Has he realized he has peaked? Has he convinced himself he can’t convince the American people of the rightness of his cause and his party? Has he suddenly realized that the system will allow him to receive a majority of votes and still lose, as the president is elected not be the people but by the Electoral College?
Several years back I had a conversation with now-retired Canadian Member of Parliament Peter Goldring. As part of his duties he was an official observer at elections in Haiti, Georgia, Azerbaijan and (half a dozen times or more) in Ukraine.
His observation, which probably wasn’t original, was that you could judge the health of a democracy by how the politicians and people reacted when they lost. The peaceful transition of power is essential.
Goldring said that in Ukraine the parties budgeted for the post-vote demonstrations protesting the outcome. Rather than spending all their funds on the campaign, they had money set aside to fund the rallies meant to expose the results as fraudulent. The idea of a free, fair and democratic election seemed to be a shaky one.
With his vote-rigging charges that seems to be where Trump is now. He already promised blood in the streets should he be denied the Republican nomination. That was when his opponents were looking for legitimate ways to find an alternative candidate for a nomination that was not yet settled. They failed – but they were within their rights to try; the rules allowed it.
With his assertions it appears Trump has missed the point. The election is not a coronation. And, perhaps surprisingly to him, not everyone thinks he is the best choice as the next American president. He might not win in November.
But in the absence of evidence, claims of vote-rigging before the first ballot has been cast just sounds like the whining of a loser.