Poll: Cruz leads O'Rourke by 3 in Texas Senate race
Trump casts doubt on electoral system
Trump has predicted at almost every rally this past week that the election could be "rigged" against him. He's labeled the numerous polls showing him trailing Clinton as "phony" and warned that voter fraud could steal the election from him.
The new tack comes days after a top Trump confidante warned Breitbart News there would be a "rhetorical bloodbath" if the powers that be denied the GOP presidential nominee a fair election and laid out a plan for Trump to begin to delegitimize the election results months before the first ballots are even cast.
"First and foremost is the inoculation, which is what Trump is doing, to put people on notice that if there is substantial evidence, or minor evidence, of voter fraud, and it's a close race, he will challenge the results," Trump ally Roger Stone told The Hill, adding that Trump could do so by either filing a lawsuit or encouraging "mass protests."
"Trump is a fighter. Trump is a brawler. Nobody is going to steal this election from Trump and have him go on his way."
Those warnings have sent a chill through both sides of the aisle and among independent observers alike, who have expressed concern about the implications of sewing distrust in America's democratic system.
"It's a pretty dangerous thing to say in the sense that if people don't believe in the validity of election results, that could create instability and a lack of faith in the democratic process," said Geoffrey Skelley, a political scientist at the University of Virginia.
"That would be bad for the country and bad for the legitimacy of the next government, whichever party wins."
But so far, Trump has followed Stone's script. He brought up voter fraud in a Monday interview on Fox News's "Hannity." And top campaign aide Paul Manafort closed the workweek on Fox by questioning the Justice Department's ability to ensure fair elections.
Stone said that he's discussed the issue with Trump before but wouldn't divulge whether the two talked about it ahead of the nominee's shift in campaign rhetoric.
The timing of the comments from Trump - in the midst of yet controversial stretch for his campaign - has prompted some to view it as him posturing to save face in the event of a loss in November.
Republicans have been up in arms over his criticism of the family of a fallen soldier and his decision Tuesday to refuse to endorse House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.), which he later reversed. As that anger has boiled over, polls have confirmed a significant bounce for Clinton following the Democratic National Convention. She now leads by 7 points in the RealClearPolitics average of national polls.
"They are setting up a 'throw your hands in the air' scenario, saying that winning the election is just unattainable because it's rigged in favor of Hillary Clinton, therefore preserving the support of millions of voters that like him to keep them motivated for another race or whatever comes in the future," GOP strategist Ron Bonjean said.
Other Republicans dismissed Trump's claims entirely, arguing that his biggest stumbling block is his own campaign missteps.
"I'm beginning to think it is rigged and Trump is a Clinton plant. If he was, what would he do differently this week?" Josh Holmes, a former aide to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), said sarcastically in an email.
Trump's posturing drew a rebuke from President Obama on Thursday, indicative of Democrats who have warned the candidate's actions are dangerous. Noting that many states have Republican-controlled election boards, Obama bristled when asked about Trump's accusations.
"That's ridiculous, that doesn't make any sense, and I don't think anybody would take that seriously," Obama said.
"I've never heard of somebody complaining about being cheated before the game was over, or before the score is even tallied."
But in Bonjean's view, while many Republicans would dismiss claims that the entire system is rigged, recent rulings undercutting state voter ID laws could provide Trump with an opening to land some of his punches.
Federal courts have ruled against laws in Texas, North Carolina and Wisconsin, rulings that Stone agreed could help Trump argue his case.
Republicans have long preached that the laws are necessary to ensure the security of the ballot box, waging many successful fights to pass laws mandating that people bring identification to vote.
Democrats have accused their rivals of suppressing the vote of liberal-leaning minorities who are less likely to have identification, and academic studies have not found widespread evidence of voter fraud.
Whether Trump will continue to beat this specific drum remains to be seen. But if he does, the attacks could leave a lasting mark on how Americans view the core principle of voting.
Citing the number of people convinced by Trump's questions about Obama's birthplace, Skelley said he wouldn't be surprised if Trump's comments have an impact on a "decent number" of people no matter who wins.
"There are subject areas where claims made by people like Trump have fund receptive ears, and this could be another case of that," he said.
"This election cycle probably hasn't been good for trusting government and institutions. The news was already pretty bad on that front, so the fact that this is making things worse is probably not good news for the country as a whole."