Editor’s Note: Timothy Stanley, a conservative, is a historian and columnist for Britain’s Daily Telegraph. He is the author of “Citizen Hollywood: How the Collaboration Between LA and DC Revolutionized American Politics.” The opinions expressed in this commentary are his.
Tim Stanley: Trump seems to be preparing for the possibility he'll lose by suggesting reasons, like the media being against him
Stanley: By casting legitimacy of election in doubt, he undermines democratic process, lays ground for bitter division
Donald Trump is preparing to lose. I don’t mean that he definitely will be defeated or that he consciously thinks, “It’s all over.” Rather, his rhetoric betrays a shift in psychology.
Until recently it was all, “I’m going to win.” Suddenly he’s coming up with reasons why he might not.
Reason number one: The Democrats will cheat. In Ohio, he said the election might be “rigged.” In Pennsylvania, he said the only possible way he could lose the state is if individual Democrats “vote five times.”
Trump is famous for saying something sincerely only to insist later on that he was being sarcastic – so take note of how deadly serious he sounded. He said: “The only way we can lose, in my opinion – I really mean this, Pennsylvania – is if cheating goes on.” Not a hint of satire in that.
“Crooked Hillary Clinton is being protected by the media,” Trump complained on Twitter, adding, “If the disgusting and corrupt media covered me honestly and didn’t put false meaning into the words I say, I would be beating Hillary by 20%.”
At this point it’s necessary for me to break away from writing this to laugh. Seriously?
The opposite is true: Trump would be 20 points ahead if the media stopped covering him. Why? Because Clinton is probably the weakest nominee the Democrats have chosen since 1856. The only reason why the Republican nominee isn’t beating Mrs. Benghazi is because he is Donald Trump.
Donald Trump's rise
His choice of issues might be pertinent to many in the electorate; there may be good grounds for conservatives to have picked an anti-establishment figure. But Trump is imploding – making unforced errors right out in public view that can’t be spun as positives or “sarcasm.”
Even Trump’s powers of delegation, which supposedly will protect America from his foolishness should he be elected, are in doubt. His campaign supremo, Paul Manafort, is under fire for what the Democrats call “troubling connections” with Russia after a New York Times report suggests money was earmarked for him by Ukrainian plutocrats.
The media may be making more of The Donald’s difficulties than Clinton’s, but it’s his lack of discipline and poor judgment that gives them something to report. Turning a camera on someone and recording what he says to a rally of several thousand isn’t “lamestream media” bias. It’s journalism.
But, says Trump, the rallies are YUGE. Indeed they are. They always are.
But remember that a few days before the 1984 election, Democtraic nominee Walter Mondale drew a crowd of 100,000 people in New York. Mondale mentioned the polls and his fans booed. The size of the crowd suggested he was a winner! Yet a few days later, Mondale lost New York state to Ronald Reagan by 54-46%, and the country by 59-41%.
Crowds are like mirrors: candidates look into them, see a reflection of their hopes, and fall in love with their own image. In an interview with Mike Huckabee, another fan, Trump complained that the TV cameras never pull away from his face and show the size of his rallies – adding that there is so much “love” on display.
It may well be true that Trump has built a real connection with his followers. But they are deluding each other in thinking that this campaign appeals to casual voters watching at home. And in their delusion, the only explanation for bad poll numbers that makes any sense is that the Democrats and the media are colluding to steal the election.
It doesn’t have to be this way. One can embrace a zen-like approach to defeat. Mondale actually knew he was going to lose by the time of his convention, and decided to aim for some moral victories, such as choosing a female running mate. George H.W. Bush, heading into the 1988 Republican convention far behind Michael Dukakis, agreed to put himself into the hands of his managers and run an aggressive campaign that focused on the Democrat’s weaknesses. Bush won handily. Discipline can turn things around.
By contrast, the New York Times reports that Trump is “sullen and erratic,” refusing to compromise, and “grumbling about how he was better off following his own instincts.” Not only does this match other reports about his stubborn personality but it also matches his outrageous behavior in public.
All of this affirms one of the public’s biggest concerns about him – that Trump doesn’t have the temperament to be president. He lacks either the coolness under pressure or the wisdom to recognize that general election campaigns have to be different from primary campaigns.
Truly believing that the real culprit is a conspiracy prevents candidates from making necessary adjustments. Why would they? They’ve subconsciously accepted defeat and might as well go down in flames. But by doing this, Trump lays a trap for the nation after November 8. His is casting the legitimacy of the eventual result in doubt.
If he does lose, there’s a risk that his supporters will lose faith in the democratic process too. That way leads to bitterness and division. That way leads to the potential for violence.