Meet the new Donald Trump, same as the old Donald Trump.
The Republican nominee’s disinformation campaign continued apace during Wednesday night’s debate, as Trump refused to guarantee he would accept the November 8 election results and suggested, again and without evidence, that the contest was “rigged” against him.
This follows a week of increasingly alarmist claims that the “distorted media,” along with the Clinton campaign, “Saturday Night Live” and “many polling places,” have banded together to commit “large scale voter fraud” and deliver what Trump now clearly expects to be an Election Night disappointment.
Though his efforts to undermine confidence in the American voting system are unprecedented among major party candidates, a look back at 2012 – when Trump was a cheerleader for Mitt Romney – tells us a lot about his 2016 tactics.
Trump began that Election Day with a flurry of familiar complaints. He called out President Barack Obama on Twitter for playing basketball – “That is why our country is in trouble!” – and then blamed the Chinese for creating “the concept of global warming.”
But as the day wore on, the paranoia set in.
At 2:26 p.m., he tweeted a Fox News story reporting that members of the New Black Panther Party were intimidating voters in Philadelphia and Cleveland.
Two minutes later, Trump was warning of a “very dangerous pattern developing across (the) country by Obama supporters,” this time linking to allegations by the Michigan Republican Party that a poll watcher in Detroit had been threatened with a gun.
By about 3 p.m., he started in on the conspiracy theories.
“More reports of voting machines switching Romney votes to Obama,” Trump tweeted, imploring followers to “pay close attention to the machines, don’t let your vote be stolen.”
“Make sure to verify the voting machine does not switch your vote,” he said in his next post. “If you have any problems, notify the poll workers.”
After a smattering of complaints – “Wrong! – about Obama’s campaign schedule, Trump issued another warning at 3:26 p.m.: “If you experience any harassment or heckling at the polling places from Obama supporters,” he said, “make sure you report it immediately.”
Major news outlets began calling the race for Obama a little after 11 p.m., when the polls closed in California. Trump initially reacted to the news with resignation, tweeting, “Well, back to the drawing board!”
But only 11 minutes later, he was calling for public insurrection.
“We can’t let this happen,” he tweeted at 11:29 p.m. “We should march on Washington and stop this travesty. Our nation is totally divided!”
What happened in the meantime?
The deleted tweets tell the story.
Preserved here by New York Magazine, we see Trump begin to lash out at the Electoral College, calling it “phoney” and declaring (sic) “the loser one!” Obama, he said in another post, had “lost the popular vote by a lot and won the election.”
“We should have a revolution in this country!” Trump blared.
Obama, of course, had not lost the popular vote. Rather, the tallies from out west and some urban centers had not yet trickled in. The incumbent would surpass Romney in the total vote count about two hours later.
But in the meantime, Trump enjoyed 15 minutes of madness:
11:30 p.m.: “Lets fight like hell and stop this great and disgusting injustice! The world is laughing at us.”
Then another deleted tweet: “More votes equals a loss…revolution!”
11:33 p.m.: “This election is a total sham and a travesty. We are not a democracy!”
11:39 p.m.: “Our country is now in serious and unprecedented trouble…like never before.”
11:43 p.m. “Our nation is a once great nation divided!”
11:45 p.m. “The electoral college is a disaster for a democracy.”
Trump would step back from the ledge before midnight and, in something like a concession to reality, call on the Republican-controlled House of Representatives to amp up its legislative battle with the White House.
“Another four years – not good for the country,” he wrote the next day, “but we’ll have to live with it!”
And then, at 2:03 p.m. on November 7, 2012, the magic words:
“We have to make America great again!”
Editor’s Note: This story, which originally was posted before the final presidential debate, has been updated to reflect the latest news.