Donald Trump has finally settled on his re-election message. He tried a number of alternatives before settling on the 2020 rallying cry. He first tried to advance the fantasy that Joe Biden was some how corrupted by Ukraine. Then he suggested that Biden was senile. “Make America Great Again, Again” just doesn’t roll off the tongue, especially since the country is closing in on 175,000 COVID-19 deaths with 30 million Americans collecting unemployment benefits in July.
None of that worked so Trump is going for an all-purpose slogan: “the only way we’re going to lose this election is if the election is rigged.” He actually says that and then repeats it.
At least Trump is consistent. Nearly four years ago – October 17, 2016 to be precise – then candidate Trump tweeted: “Of course there is large scale voter fraud happening on and before election day. Why do Republican leaders deny what is going on? So naive!”
Then, of course, a funny thing happened that obviously not even Donald Trump was expecting. He won the election, drawing an inside straight and winning Wisconsin, Michigan and Pennsylvania by a combined 79,464 votes. “Large scale voter fraud” immediately became a mandate to oversee the most corrupt and incompetent presidential administration in American history.
Now, trailing Democrat Biden in every poll and his incompetence in handling the deadly, economy killing, school closing, sports canceling pandemic laid bare for everyone to see, Trump is back on message: the whole thing is rigged against me.
It’s the message of a loser, but even more it is the death rattle of a profoundly damaged and damaging man who, if he has his way, will do his best to torch the single most important foundation of democracy: faith in an election.
It is by now well documented that Trump suffers from “narcissistic personality disorder,” or even more seriously “malignant narcissism,” a condition described by Dr. John Gartner, a 28-year practicing psychologist at Johns Hopkins University Medical School, as “a diagnosis [that is] far more toxic and dangerous than mere narcissism because it combines narcissism with three other severely pathological components: paranoia, sociopathy and sadism.”
Or as journalist Jennifer Senor wrote recently: “The grandiosity of narcissistic personalities belies an extreme fragility, their egos as delicate as foam. They live in terror of being upstaged. They’re too thin skinned to be told they’re wrong.”
Trump will never be able – his world view and narcissism prevent it – from accepting defeat. He’s never wrong, never says he’s sorry, never admits a mistake, so how can he possibly lose? In his mind he can’t, so the election must be rigged.
He began peddling the same line when polls showed him losing to Hillary Clinton in 2016 and now – Trump always repeats his previous tactics – he is salting the ground against a loss to Biden.
Maybe Trump will succeed in drawing the same inside straight that allowed him to lose the popular vote in 2016 by three million ballots, but still win the Electoral College. But let’s assume for a moment that he doesn’t repeat the feat that even he didn’t think possible four years ago.
Donald Trump is not a strategic thinker. But rather he lives to fight another day by fighting today. He has no grand strategy beyond the November 3rd election. The only point is to survive and, of course, to deflect responsibility when, as it inevitably will, his jerry-built house of political cards is blown away.
If the U.S. Postal Service – particularly critical in rural western states – is collateral damage in the Trump effort to delegitimize voting by mail so what? What’s wrong with a little slowdown in grandma getting her diabetes medication if the president can manufacture an excuse for “the election was rigged.”
The American College of Physicians warned this week that, “There are already reports from the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, which fills 80 percent of its prescriptions by mail, that veterans have experienced significant delays in their mail-order prescription drugs. A delay in receiving a necessary prescription could be life-threatening.”
Political campaigns typically try to devise strategies to increase voter participation, but Trump – and increasingly his Republican Party – aim to narrow the electorate, making it more difficult for African American voters in larger cities to vote, limiting polling places and blocking efforts to expand mail voting. The Trump campaign, for example, has sued three heavily Democratic counties in Iowa in an attempt to thwart greater absentee voting.
Trump will continue to sow chaos and division for the next ten weeks. It’s the only approach he knows and elected Republicans, who long ago decided to ride this garbage truck of dysfunction all the way to the landfill, will raise not a peep of concern.
Trump recently demoted, or more correctly fired, his campaign manager – another reprise from 2016 – and hired a guy who has never run a national campaign. When journalist Olivia Nuzzi went looking for evidence that the shake up had energized Trump efforts in must-win Pennsylvania she found none. Events advertised to recruit volunteers didn’t come off or people didn’t show up.
Instead of mounting a campaign that might claw back the standing of a guy who close to 60% of the electorate disapproves, Trumpian advisors, Nuzzi wrote, “seem to think that if they got lucky the last time, and proved the conventional wisdom wrong, maybe they’ll just happen to get lucky again.”
But if they don’t get lucky again Trump has already created his post-November 3rd narrative. The whole election was a farce. The other side cheats. It’s a crime. It’s not legit. “The only way we’re going to lose this election is if the election is rigged.”
And where will America stand then? Can any Trump partisan really imagine that Joe Biden would claim in losing an election that it was stolen from him?
Can any American imagine that if Donald Trump loses in November that he won’t say the election was stolen from him? Heck, he’ll make the claim before the polls close in California.