by Walter Brasch
Donald Trump, losing to Hillary Clinton in every major national poll, long ago brilliantly figured out how to continue to rally his base. Instead of dealing with issues, he attacks Clinton, the mass media, and calls the election rigged.
The campaign rhetoric has been one not of issues but of personalities. Hillary Clinton calls Trump unfit to be president, so Trump retaliates by accusing her of being unfit. Most of their television ads are attack ads. In personal appearances, their speeches focus upon what’s wrong with the other candidate not what their own presidency will be about. The last time a presidential race was this vicious may have been in 1800 when Thomas Jefferson was challenging President John Adams.
The Trump strategy is to make outrageous statements, talk over his opponent or anyone who questions his pseudo-facts, and then quickly change the topic to avoid having to present any evidence. That strategy was apparent during the three televised debates when he bobbed and weaved around questions. His entire campaign the past year has been loaded with lies, innuendoes, and attacks not only upon Clinton but also upon his fellow Republicans. Analysis by the independent Politifacts shows that that during the campaign, only 15 percent of Trump’s statements were true or mostly true. Politifacts determined that 51 percent of Clinton’s statements while campaigning were true or mostly true.
Several top Republican leaders, including Presidents George H.W. Bush and George W. Bush, refused to go to the Republican National Convention after it was obvious Trump had enough votes to be the party’s nominee.
Between the convention and the last of three debates with Clinton, evidence began piling up that Trump, while married, groped and fondled women; evidence also exists that he committed adultery during his first two marriages. A videotape has him using foul and obscene language about women, and then claiming it was “locker room talk.” But when he tried to defend himself, the best he could do was to state that one of his accusers was too ugly for him to fondle. And yet he believes that no one respects women more than he does.
One of the reasons he is behind in the polls, says Trump, is because of a corrupt media. As with everything in his campaign, he presents no evidence to back up his claim. But it is the media that helped propel him to the Republican nomination by giving him significant more air time and newspaper ink than any other candidate, and by not questioning or digging deep into the truth of his public statements.
In the third debate, Trump said there is widespread voter fraud, which benefits the Democrats. A data analysis by the Brennan Center for Justice at New York University School of Law reveals not widespread election fraud but that such allegations are highly exaggerated. The numbers are in the hundreds not the millions that Trump alleges.
Trump claims he knows—absolutely knows—that the Democratic National Committee and the Clinton campaign have conspired to deprive him of the presidency. He bloviates, gestures, and hopes to blow down the brick house of elections, but has provided no evidence. To expand his conspiracy claims, he says he will not concede the election—or, maybe, he will concede the election—if he loses. But, then again, he is keeping that decision a secret.
He claims rigged elections were used during the primaries to throw his Republican rivals off their strategy. He claims Ted Cruz stole the election in Iowa. He claims the election in Wisconsin was rigged. The further the separation from likely voters casting the ballots for Clinton instead of Trump—or even Gary Johnson of the Libertarian party or Jill Stein of the Green party—the more animated Trump becomes.
His hyperbole and paranoia extend beyond his political life. Trump previously declared that balloting for the Emmys is rigged, and that his show, “The Apprentice,” should have won an Emmy several times. The Academy of Television Arts & Sciences, and its 20,000 members, disagreed with Trump’s opinion.
Trump’s tactic is resonating with his hard-core base that see conspiracy and deception in every corner—in workplaces, in government, and under their beds. They are willing to be led by a demagogue who identified the many seeds of alienation and dissatisfaction, and watered and nurtured those seeds of discontent to amplify the people’s problems. In following Trump they have placed blinders upon themselves and see a reality and an explanation that Trump throws right back at them.
[Dr. Brasch, an award-winning journalist, has covered government and politics for four decades. His latest book is Fracking America: Sacrificing Health and the Environment for Short-Term Economic Benefit.]