Donald Trump laid the groundwork, consciously or not, for his current presidential run six years ago, when he jumped onto the birther lunacy. It seems likely that Trump himself, like a lot of people who are or were birthers or birther-curious, wasn’t stupid and/or delusional enough to actually believe that Obama was born in Kenya. (Although it’s always dangerous to flout the explanatory power of Trump’s Razor).
For such people, the birther thing was always a form of symbolic politics: Obama isn’t really an American, for the obvious reason that black people, other non-whites, Muslims, etc. etc. aren’t really Americans, except by sufferance, or very partially and tenuously. Claiming that Obama was literally a foreigner was just a kind of twisted metaphor for the idea that America is a white country, which generously tolerates some number of semi-or-not-really-Americans in its midst.
Now some very mean and irresponsible people might term this kind of thinking “racist,” but an idea that is held by an unknown but pretty obviously large percentage of real Americans can’t be racist, because that would imply that American racism, which admittedly existed in some places in America at one time, wasn’t largely if not completely eliminated by the
War of Northern Aggression, Jackie Robinson, the Civil Rights Act of 1964, The Cosby Show.
Moving right along, somewhere in Trump’s pre-frontal cortex the realization arose that the amazingly widespread and totally-not-racist idea that Obama wasn’t really an American indicated that it might well be possible to win the GOP nomination by simply taking it as a given that real Americans are white Americans, and that political decisions taken without the support of a majority of white Americans are illegitimate by definition.
Now that this plan has come to fruition, Trump is laying the groundwork for making a subtle claim that a failure to elect him president would mean the election was rigged. See if you can detect that implication somewhere in the quote below:
“I’m afraid the election is going to be rigged, to be honest,” Trump told supporters in Columbus, Ohio.
Asked later by Fox News host Sean Hannity to explain the remark, Trump said “I’ve been hearing about it for a long time,” and he suggested voter fraud by saying that four years ago, “you had precincts where there were practically nobody voting for the Republican.”
It’s true that Republicans have been very disingenuously pushing the ‘voter fraud’ con for years, especially as the power of minority voting has grown over the last two decades. However, as bad as that has been, there’s a major difference. Republicans to date have almost always used bogus claims of ‘voter fraud’ to rev up their troops and build support for restrictive voting laws, largely focused on minority voters. A number of those laws have been overturned by federal courts in the last week. A notable case was North Carolina where the Court found that the changes were intentionally designed to limit voting by black North Carolinians.
What Republicans politicians have virtually never done was use this canard to lay the groundwork for rejecting the result of a national election. This is Donald Trump, not a normal politician. You should not be surprised if he refuses to accept the result of an electoral defeat or calls on his supporters to resist it.
The other point goes to the raced nature of all voter suppression legislation. They focus overwhelmingly on claims that African-Americans commit rampant vote fraud in “inner cities” and that immigrants, particularly Hispanic immigrants do the same. These are of course two of Trump’s main group enemies. Combining the animosity he has already stoked among his followers toward these groups with the claim that they will now try to “steal” the election through fraud is nothing less than striking a match in a gas filled room.
Whether Trump is starting to lay the groundwork for contesting the election on claims of widespread voter impersonation fraud or some kind of broader effort for election officials to falsify results, we’re entering a dangerous new phase of the 2016 election campaign.
The parallel with the birther nonsense is that what claims of “voter fraud” are really about is not actual voter fraud, which as Marshall has documented exhaustively is extremely rare, but a deeper sort of “fraud,” which is the wrenching away of America from real Americans by the Others, and their white enablers who dominate Democratic party elites, i.e., the race traitors. That’s what Trump’s entire campaign is about, and that’s what the movement that will unfortunately survive him will continue to be built around by politicians far more skillful and less overtly clownish and thuggish than Trump himself.