Donald Trump’s latest disqualifying comment concerned the actual voting process on the upcoming Presidential Election. Coming off a horrible week, when the wheels of his campaign were flying off, Donald Trump had this to say about the upcoming election:
“I’m afraid the election is going to be rigged.”
That a Presidential candidate from a major political party uttered a statement like this is simply reprehensible. The electoral process, and by extension, the legitimacy of the government itself is based on trust – the trust of the people in the electoral system. A specious charge of a ‘rigged’ election by a major candidate is irresponsible because it needlessly erodes the people’s trust – trust that must exist for the system to be able to operate at all.
Take the Presidential election of 1960, between Richard Nixon and JFK. Until Bush vs. Gore, it was the closest election in American history – and it is likely the only contest where cheating may have affected the result. But when told that the Kennedy wins in Illinois (8,800 vote margin) and Texas (46,000 votes) may have been tainted by the major Dailey’s Chicago machine and LBJ’s Texas machine, Nixon declined to complain. His reason? Throwing the result of a presidential election into turmoil with allegations of fraud would destabilize the country.
But say, you ask, don’t political candidates contest election results all the time? Of course they do. But here’s the difference. They do it after the contest is over. And they almost never make generalized claims devoid by specific allegations. What every competent candidate does is to ensure that his scrutineers and observers are in place at as many polling places as possible. These people are instructed to record the discrepancies they see and to challenge any irregularities they witness. And if an election is close, the campaign takes the compiled list of irregularities to a judge and asks for a recount. The judge then orders a recount, or an investigation, or finds the complaint spurious. That is how it is supposed to work. The system of scurtineers and judicial oversight is one of the checks and balances within the system to help keep things fair.
I will give you an anecdote from a friend with a long history of political involvement. In an alderman race in Toronto - this would be going back 40 years or so – the alderman-candidate he supported lost by one vote. Yes, you heard me – one vote. So, the losing campaign asked a judge for a recount. The judge in turn asked what irregularities they had observed that would justify his granting a recount. They said they had none (they neglected to instruct their scrutineers to record any they may have witnessed) but they felt that a recount was warranted because of the closeness of the result. The judge declined the request, explaining that a mere dissatisfaction with the result is not enough to justify judicial intervention. To justify a recount, at least one specific complaint about wrongdoing in the process was needed. My friend told that story to every batch of new scrutineers he trained. His larger message was that complaints about voting irregularities are irrelevant if they are unsupported by evidence.
This is not the first time Donald Trump has made specious charges about a rigged election. The first time was after he got shellacked in the Wyoming and Colorado primaries where won no delegates. He lost because those states have a complicated caucus process that requires a strong ground game, one that Ted Cruz had and that Trump completely lacked. Instead of acknowledging his error and congratulating the winner like a good sport, he screamed that the system was ‘rigged’, and that it was undemocratic because he received no delegates. Surely, there must have been Trump supporters in those states, he charged (conveniently ignoring the fact that he won every delegate in the Florida primary in spite of the fact that the other candidates collectively won more than 50% of the vote).
That he himself believed these charges to be without merit can be seen from the fact that the Trump campaign did not legally contest the result of either state primary, nor did it make any specific complaint at any time. It was clear that Trump’s only purpose in his empty allegations was to tarnish his opponent’s entirely fair victories.
Though I had supported Ted Cruz until that point, I was not yet turned overtly hostile to Donald Trump. But after that disgraceful incident, the scales fell from my eyes. Donald Trump wasn’t merely less preferable than Ted Cruz. I was beginning to see that he is morally unfit to be President.
A widespread belief among the framers of the US Constitution was that a republic can be maintained only by a moral people. Among the many things this means, it means that the people contesting an elections have a moral duty to not be sore losers. Tracking and reporting specific irregularities and wrongdoings is fine. So is fighting for justice for yourself. In fact, doing so is your patriotic duty. (For this reason I think Nixon was wrong in not challenging the results of Texas and Illinois.)
But to call the fairness of an election into question simply because you don’t like the results – or because you had a bad week on the stump - is the height of bad sportsmanship. It is also fundamentally dishonest, irresponsible, and unpatriotic.