Hillary Clinton is not likely to lose the presidential election. If the polls are precisely correct, she wins. Polls commonly, even across a large sample, end up a few points off the mark. But if they are off in one direction underestimating her support or off across states in varying directions, she also wins. Only if they are off in underestimating Trump’s support across several key states will Trump win – and that seems especially unlikely given Trump’s underinvestment in a ground game. But given the size of her lead in the polls, that is still not such an implausible scenario that nobody should be prepared for it to happen. Nate Silver’s final forecast at 538, for example, has Trump with a 28.6% chance of winning – a better than one in four chance.
Yet for all the calls from Democrats on Republicans to convince GOP voters to accept the outcome of a Clinton win, there’s been almost no effort on the Democratic side to prepare their voters to accept a Trump victory as a legitimate outcome of the democratic process. Quite the contrary. Nobel Prize-winning New York Times columnist Paul Krugman, as usual, leaps to the front of the line with yesterday’s column entitled “How to Rig an Election,” a sample of which should give you the flavor:
The election was rigged by state governments that did all they could to prevent nonwhite Americans from voting…The election was rigged by Russian intelligence, which was almost surely behind the hacking of Democratic emails…The election was rigged by James Comey, the director of the F.B.I…The election was also rigged by people within the F.B.I…. pro-Trump agents have clearly been talking nonstop to Republicans like Rudy Giuliani and right-wing media…The election was rigged by partisan media, especially Fox News…The election was rigged by mainstream news organizations, many of which simply refused to report on policy issues…The election was rigged by the media obsession with Hillary Clinton’s emails…
Tellingly, Krugman closes by complaining that if Hillary wins, “Republicans will, of course, deny her legitimacy from day one” – but unsurprisingly, after a litany of reasons why a Trump victory would be “rigged,” he never suggests that Democrats (or Krugman himself) wouldn’t or shouldn’t deny Trump legitimacy from day one.
Krugman’s complaints are all legitimate topics for discussion and complaint, but he is very seriously overheated here, and attempting to prepare his readers to reject any result that gives Trump the win. And he is hardly alone. Comey’s letter a few weeks ago was met with howls that Comey was throwing the election in violation of the Hatch Act (a Democratic PAC actually filed a complaint with DOJ to that effect). Former DNC Chair Howard Dean all but accused Comey of treason, thundering that the FBI Director “put himself on the same side as Putin”. Many others followed suit.
The annual Democratic hyperbole about “voter suppression” has been off the charts as well. It’s not new – in July 2004, John Kerry darkly lectured the NAACP about “a million disenfranchised African Americans and the most tainted election in history”. But despite obvious reasons why everyone expected Hillary Clinton to be less exciting to black voters than Barack Obama, there’s been a concerted effort to take the Krugman tack of invoking “Jim Crow” and insisting that any falloff in African-American voter turnout must be “voter suppression” due to voter ID laws, marginal reductions in early voting and purges off the voter rolls of names and addresses of people who can no longer be located at their listed address. The hysteria over early voting is particularly silly, given that many deep-blue states don’t even have it, and it’s hardly “voter suppression” to simply ask people to vote on Election Day.
Whatever you think of the merits or sins of laws aimed at reducing early voting and the like – and there are fair complaints against some of the GOP’s efforts in these areas – the reality is that there’s no evidence that any of them have any significant impact on turnout, and certainly not enough to justify the supercharged rhetoric. Even Vox had to concede that studies have regularly found that voter ID laws have no significant effect on turnout (the one GAO study suggesting they did was pretty far from an apples to apples comparison), and the peer-reviewed research has likewise found that early voting actually reduces turnout. Democrats are annually scrounging to come up with actual examples of people who were actually prevented from voting. Yet, Democrats and liberal commentators are uniform in hyping the impact of “voter suppression” on any possible Trump win, with no corresponding cautions about accepting the result.
Even Silver has come in for torrents of abuse from liberals/progressives on the web, not because he’s predicting that a Trump win is likely – he’s not – but simply for saying that one is possible. A flavor of the disenchantment with Silver can be found in this Wired article proclaiming that “2016’s Election Data Hero Isn’t Nate Silver. It’s Sam Wang [Ph.D.]”: “Wang has sailed True North all along, while Silver has been cautiously trying to tack his FiveThirtyEight data sailboat…” Wang, of course, has told liberal readers what they want to hear – that he’ll “eat a bug” if Trump cracks 240 electoral votes. His site projects Hillary with above a 99% chance of winning. Of course, Wang was holding out hope of a late break to a Kerry victory to his readers all the way to Election Day 2004, and in 2014, he wrote on September 9 that “the probability that Democrats and Independents will control 50 or more [Senate] seats is 70%” and described a 9-seat GOP pickup (what would actually happen) as “a clear outlier event.” Wang may end up with the right answer on this election (in which case, he’ll be on the same side as Silver), but the newfound love for him is driven largely by the fact that his predictions are more comforting.
The standard Democratic rejoinder to all this is that Donald Trump is the one who’s been running around the country howling about voter fraud and rigged elections, and of course, Democrats would never call into question the legitimacy of a national election. But to anyone who lived through the 2000 recount and its aftermath – or the 2004 election, for that matter – this is laughable. Leading Democrats still won’t admit that George W. Bush was the legitimate winner of the 2000 election. Al Gore, in his concession speech at the end of the recount fight, accepted only “the finality of this outcome”:
Now the U.S. Supreme Court has spoken. Let there be no doubt, while I strongly disagree with the court’s decision, I accept it. I accept the finality of this outcome which will be ratified next Monday in the Electoral College.
Yale Law Professor Bruce Ackerman decried a “Constitutional coup”. Hillary Clinton, in 2002, told a crowd at a Democratic fundraiser that Bush “merely had been ‘selected’ president, not elected”. Jimmy Carter, in a 2014 interview, insisted that Bush had not actually won the election. Paul Begala tweeted at Ralph Nader in August 2016 that “I’d say what was disgraceful was Ralph running interference for Dubya so Sup Crt could steal the election.” [ed. – item originally said Ralph Reed] Congresswoman Debbie Wasserman-Schultz, who was the Chair of the Democratic Party this year, told an interviewer in September 2016 that Al Gore had really won Florida.
The 2004 election, even after a more decisive ending, was likewise dogged by Democratic conspiracy theories that ran amok. Secretary of State John Kerry, who didn’t concede until the following day, reportedly still believes to this day that Ohio was stolen. You can read this 2005 Mother Jones article for a flavor of the breadth and depth of the conviction on the left that the 2004 election was stolen – the author finally grudgingly concedes, after reviewing the many sources asserting this, that “it remains far from clear that Bush stole the election, and I say that as someone who has written that Bush did steal Florida and the White House in 2000.” Josh Marshall, in 2006, accused Ohio Secretary of State Ken Blackwell of “Helping steal the 2004 election”. Wang was writing in November 2004 about “the ongoing Florida voting fraud controversy,” commenting that “I continue to be deluged by email on the subject of the anomalies in Florida voting in small counties.” Old habits die hard – check out this 2008 Salon article full of conspiracy theories about Hillary Clinton having stolen the New Hampshire primary from Barack Obama, complete with dark musings about Diebold voting machines and calls by Congressman Dennis Kucinich for a recount. In 2015, I had to debunk charges that the Kentucky Governor’s race and the Ohio marijuana referendum were stolen.
As long as Democrats are seeking comfort in analysts who tell them there’s zero chance of a Trump victory, screaming about “voter suppression,” and refusing to come to grips with the fact that they lost national elections fair and square in 2000 and 2004, there’s a serious chance that any Trump victory tonight would be met with rage, conspiracy-mongering and widespread refusal to accept the outcome. Trump has been irresponsible on this issue, as he often is, but other, more responsible Republicans like Marco Rubio and Pat Toomey have cautioned Republicans that the election isn’t rigged and they should accept the outcome. It would be nice if more Democrats followed their lead.