Donald Trump, in characteristically muddled and haphazard fashion, said he thought the election might end up “rigged” (if he lost). Therefore, he would not endorse the November 8 result if he found that fear confirmed — unless, of course, in Jacksonian fashion, he managed to win.
All hell broke loose, from both the Left and principled conservatives, that Trump’s allegations had somehow undermined the American electoral process itself.
Questioning the integrity of election votes was a national pastime in 1824 (“corrupt bargain”), 1876 (“compromise of 1877”), and again in 1960. Bitching over losing, of course, is not the same thing as armed insurrection in the fashion of 1860, when furor erupted over Lincoln’s election.
Any candidate, whether feeding conspiracies or out of genuine concern for electoral misconduct, can say whatever he or she wishes, without the deleterious national consequences that pundits decry. Bad sportsmanship and manners are not synonymous with constitutional subversion.
In 2004, the trope that Ohio was rigged and thus cost John Kerry the election was standard liberal boilerplate. An embittered Kerry was the sore loser that Trump will be if he comes up short. Kerry’s friend columnist Mike Barnicle was quoted years later of Kerry’s inability to accept legitimate defeat: “For a long period, after 2004, every time he even half fell asleep, all he saw was voting machines in the state of Ohio.”
Let us hope that Trump does not become as unhinged as Al Gore became — for years, the former vice president could not speak publicly without screaming in vein-bulging style, and seemed to be obsessed by George W. Bush in Carthago delenda est fashion.
Indeed, in the last week after the Trump blunderbuss declaration, an entire mini industry has emerged, chronicling prior examples of Democrats questioning election results or alleging past evidence of voting fraud.
It would, of course, have been wiser for Trump to worry out loud about localized corruption, rather than to suggest in conspiratorial fashion that a nationwide cabal was devoted to rigging the election. But then again, we have rarely seen anything like the recent disclosures of pathetic efforts at massaging the vote. Trump’s sin was one of magnitude, not of mischaracterizing the intent or culpability of his opponents: He is right that many wish to corrupt the voting, but hardly certain that in the key battlegrounds they are powerful enough to sway an entire state’s vote count.
Recently disgraced and resigned Democratic operatives, who were in the pay of the Democratic National Committee (and one of whom was a very frequent visitor to the Obama White House), boast on tape not only of disrupting Trump rallies by bought and staged violence but also of busing non-resident voters into Ohio to affect the vote count; they further brag that their dirty tricks are longstanding practice. When voting fraud is an act of pride rather than criminality, something has gone terribly wrong.
Is the charge of voting subversion confined to Trump?
It is now a standard Democratic talking point that Vladimir Putin is trying to rig/warp/undermine the election for Trump by turning over to WikiLeaks hacked DNC and Podesta e-mails. Hillary, at the recent Al Smith dinner, pointed to Trump’s supposed Putin connection by suggesting that Trump reads Russian.
When voting fraud is an act of pride rather than criminality, something has gone terribly wrong.
Yet, contrary to Hillary’s debate assertions, there is still no concrete evidence identifying the Russians as the ultimate source of the WikiLeaks, even though they may well be the most likely culprit. And even if it were true, we still don’t know whether Putin is trying to help Trump or just hurt the U.S. in general — in accordance with his serial post-reset angry behavior at Obama (sanctimonious sermons to the Russians without projecting strength is a disastrous combination and has earned the present administration Russian contempt).
If Hillary Clinton were to lose the election after an especially catastrophic disclosure from WikiLeaks, we could fairly assume that her supporters — or she herself in 2002 fashion — will cry foul and claim again the election was rigged.
Trump was not quite paranoid in his rants: We cannot remember a chairperson of either political party who was caught boasting to a presidential candidate’s team that she had caught electronic wind of debate questions in advance and would be willing to disclose that fact to the candidate, thus undermining the integrity of the entire debate system. In any other year, the clearly unethical conduct of Donna Brazile (“From time to time I get the questions in advance”) in undermining the debate process would have won far more media outrage than Donald Trump’s rhetorical excesses about rigged elections.
Moreover, the recent disclosures substantiate the perennial right-wing paranoia that the national media are not only biased but also in direct communications with liberal candidates in efforts to warp news stories for the purposes of altering the direction of the election. To take a minor example and an even more minor character: What was disturbing about the confessions of Politico’s Glen Thrush that he was seeking pre-approval from the Clinton campaign for his supposedly disinterested reporting was not just his own confession that he had become a “hack” (“Because I have become a hack I will send u the whole section that pertains to u”), but rather his own cognizance that becoming a hack was both wrong and therefore apparently should not be disclosed: “Please don’t share or tell anyone. I did this Tell me if I f***end up anything.” The media are not worried about their lack of ethics — they’re just afraid others will glimpse that they have none.
Finally, for years, readers of conservative magazines have read daily fare about voter fraud. John Fund has written an insightful book and many articles not about localized voting criminality but about stealing elections wholesale on a vast scale; he has analyzed in great detail the dangers of widely cited voter-registration and turnout abuse from Texas to Indiana. A national debate has erupted over voter IDs, with the Democratic position being that a voter should not have to show the same identification that he does when charging clothes at Target or Wal-Mart.
Yet when Trump — however crudely, conspiratorially, and inexactly — takes up this theme, what do some conservatives then do? They have in the past printed dire warnings of election theft, without worrying about the concrete consequences — and now they become hysterical when someone agrees with their wolf calls in light of clear evidence of media collusion and Democratic campaign roguery?
All sense of balance and perspective have vanished.
Just last week, we were treated to still more media and establishment contempt for Trump’s crude and obscene hot-mic banter — but strangely just as the “sex poodle” Al Gore and the hugger of reluctant women, plagiarist, and practitioner of racist banter Joe Biden hit the campaign trail to warn us of Trump’s low-rent character and to dream of punching him out. (“No, I wish we were in high school, and I could take him behind the gym,” Biden mused about Trump. “That’s what I wish.”) Imagine a former VP Dick Cheney boasting of a desire to fist-fight the Democratic nominee, or Reince Priebus bragging in e-mails to the Trump campaign that he had prior knowledge of debate questions, or Corey Lewandowsky boasting that he had hired thugs to disrupt Hillary’s campaign rallies. Because there are no such parallels, instead we get psychodramas about a Venezuelan beauty queen.
Inciting violence by the use of inflammatory language used to be something liberals publicly condemned. But now taking Trump out physically is apparently a progressive dream, as Robert De Niro (“I’d like to punch Trump in the face”) earlier had foreshadowed Biden’s dreams of physical assault. Meanwhile, liberals strain to find the right metaphor for Trump — Mussolini and Hitler being the most common — while some conservatives prefer brownshirts or Stalin.
It remains a curious artifact of this election that many conservatives are outraged far more by Trump’s obnoxiousness, crudity, and rhetorical excesses than they are by Hillary’s concrete record of premeditated criminality and habitual prevarication.
All during this campaign, the NASCAR crowd has been lectured on the dangerous consequences of their ignorance by establishment plagiarists such as Fareed Zakaria, Maureen Dowd, and Doris Kearns Goodwin, by hollow men like John Podesta, sexual scoundrels such as Bill Clinton, and by racist slanderers like Harry Reid — with opportune finger-wagging from the ethically compromised Donna Brazile and fabulists like Brian Williams. Such shrill hypocrisy does not excuse Trump’s transgressions, but it does confirm a general picture that our intellectual and public elite play by different rules from others, and their sanctimoniousness should be ignored.
It also remains a curious artifact of this election that many conservatives are outraged far more by Trump’s obnoxiousness, crudity, and rhetorical excesses than they are by Hillary’s concrete record of premeditated criminality and habitual prevarication — especially given the likelihood that on illegal immigration, defense spending, Obamacare, abortion, the debt, taxes, and regulation, Trump’s published agenda is the far more conservative.
Apparently a vicious, insider liberal establishmentarian poses less threat to the republic that does a more conservative outsider fop.
— NRO contributor Victor Davis Hanson is a senior fellow at the Hoover Institution and the author, most recently, of The Savior Generals.