AS TRUMP’S NUMBERS slump, and Hillary’s surge, the worst elements of the American Right are mobilising in his defence. The Republican Party’s most notorious political saboteur, Roger Stone, is urging Trump to prepare his followers for a “rigged” election. And Trump is listening. To the alarm of election observers and commentators of every political stripe, Trump has taken to dropping the “R” word into his recent stump speeches.
“November 8th, we’d better be careful, because that election is going to be rigged,” he told American television viewers on Monday, 1 August, “and I hope the Republicans are watching closely, or it’s going to be taken away from us.”
Fears are growing in the Democratic camp that the prospect of losing to Hillary fills Trump with such terror that, rather than concede defeat, he will not shy away from doing irreparable damage to America’s 240-year-old system of representative democracy.
Roger Stone, who has a portrait of Richard Nixon tattooed on his back, is nothing if not explicit. In an interview with Alex Jones (a far-right extremist broadcaster and conspiracy theorist) he issued a chilling warning to Trump’s opponents:
“Well you have to let them know in advance that you’re not going to stand for it. That if there’s any solid evidence of election irregularities you’re prepared to challenge her swearing in and create a constitutional crisis.”
Or something much worse. According to the BBC’s Anthony Zurcher:
“In a podcast last week, long-time Trump advisor Roger Stone said that if the election results in November don’t match opinion polls, the Republican nominee should challenge the validity of the election and warned that the unrest could end in a “bloodbath”. “If there’s voter fraud, this election will be illegitimate,” he said. “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.”
Threats of a similar nature were made in the lead-up to the Republican Convention. Even if, back then, they were directed at the leadership of the Republican Party itself! Historically-speaking, such overt references to political violence are alien to the presidential election process. At the state and local level of American government, however, “election irregularities” are commonplace.
Stone’s reference to “voter fraud” is telling. For nearly a decade Republican-controlled state legislatures have been passing legislation specifically designed to make it harder for voters more likely than not to support the Democratic Party to both register to – and cast – their vote. The standard political justification for these so-called “voter suppression” laws is the alleged incidence of fraudulent voting. Expert examination of such claims has pronounced them groundless. Proven examples of voter fraud in the United States are extremely rare.
The strongly contested presidential election of 2000 is, however, proof that, even at the presidential level, things can go very badly wrong with the election process. The irregularities surrounding the Florida vote were legion – including strong prima facie evidence of Bush family involvement (in 2000, George W. Bush’s brother, Jeb, was the Florida Governor) in a comprehensive plan to suppress the participation of the state’s African-American voters.
A more reckless and less patriotic Democratic Party presidential candidate than Al Gore might have done considerably more to prevent the 2000 election being stolen from him. His party had, after all, won the popular vote by a comfortable margin, and election day exit polls had shown him ahead (albeit narrowly) in Florida. Rather than call his followers into the streets, however, Gore allowed the US Supreme Court to determine the outcome of the election. By the narrowest of margins, the Court voted to declare Bush the winner.
Can Donald trump be relied upon to go quietly if the election is won narrowly (or even decisively) by Hillary Clinton? Or will he goad the losing side of the most heavily-armed citizenry on earth into substituting their bullets for their ballots?