Donald Trump alleged in recent days that the election is being “rigged” against him as part of a coordinated effort among national media outlets, the political establishment, and Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton.
And many of his surrogates have taken the rhetoric even further, even as critics say their charges could be dangerous and leave lasting damage to the electorate’s faith in the voting process.
Introducing Trump at a rally in New Hampshire on Saturday, Sen. Jeff Sessions, who sits on the Senate Judiciary Committee, told a New Hampshire crowd that Trump’s opponents were “attempting to rig the election.”
Many of his top campaign allies, meanwhile, fanned out across cable news on Sunday to explain and support Trump’s doubts about the legitimacy of the election.
In a Sunday interview on ABC’s “This Week,” former House Speaker Newt Gingrich asserted that media outlets were “attempting to rig the election,” quoting a conservative blogger who described the election as a “coup d’etat.”
“This is not about election officials at the precinct level. This is about last Friday, when the networks spent 23 minutes on the Trump tape, and less than one minute on Hillary’s speeches revealed in WikiLeaks,” Gingrich said, referring to alleged transcripts of Clinton’s speeches to Goldman Sachs that appeared in the organisation’s release of campaign emails.
Still, Gingrich supported Trump’s request for supporters to monitor polling places. He cited a suggestion myth based on inconclusive evidence that local officials in Chicago and Texas tipped the 1960 presidential election in then-Sen. John F. Kennedy’s favour.
“You look at Philadelphia, you look at St. Louis, you look at Chicago. I’m old enough to remember when Richard Nixon had the election stolen in 1960, and no serious historian doubts that Illinois and Texas were stolen. So to suggest that you don’t have theft in Philadelphia is to deny reality,” Gingrich said.
When host Martha Raddatz confronted Gingrich with House Speaker Paul Ryan’s assurance of the election’s legitimacy, Gingrich dismissed the current speaker’s claims. He said Ryan was from Wisconsin, where “they actually have honest elections.”
Yet former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani also laid out the case for potential election fraud in Democratic-controlled urban areas, saying that “if it’s a 1-to-2-point race, it could make a difference in a few places.”
“There are few places — and not many in the swing states — there are a few places where they are notorious for stealing votes,” Giuliani said. “Pennsylvania, Chicago — there are places where a lot of cheating has gone on over the years,” Giuliani alleged.
He added: “If you want to tell me that I think that the elections in Philadelphia and Chicago are going to be fair, I’d have to be a moron to believe that.”
Giuliani also argued that Democrats in “inner cities” voted in place of deceased voters, claiming that “dead people generally vote for Democrats, not Republicans.”
“They control the polling places in these areas. There are no Republicans. It is very hard to get people there who will challenge votes. So what they do is leave dead people on the rolls, and then they pay people to vote [as] those dead people.”
“I’ve found very few situations where Republicans cheat,” he added. “They don’t control the inner-cities like Democrats do.”
Recent studies have yielded few instances of modern voter fraud in the US.
A 2014 investigation by Loyola Law School professor Justin Levitt found just 31 cases of voter impersonation. Levitt also authored a 2007 report that found using death rolls to inflate votes on a broad scale was not a common practice in modern US elections, and indeed many investigations into alleged cases have exposed clerical errors rather than purposeful misconduct.
Not every prominent member of the Trump campaign was ready to chalk up a potential loss to election fraud.
Indiana Gov. Mike Pence, Trump’s running mate, said on Sunday’s “Meet The Press” that though he believed that the election was “being rigged by the national media,” the campaign will “absolutely accept” the election results.
“The American people will speak in an election that will culminate on November the 8th. But the American people are tired of the obvious bias in the national media. That’s where the sense of a rigged election goes here,” Pence said.
Trump is no stranger to public doubts about electoral legitimacy. In the immediate aftermath of President Barack Obama’s reelection in 2012, he vented in a lengthy Twitter session and called for a “revolution” amid what he called a “total sham and a travesty.”
For its part, Clinton’s campaign has condemned Trump’s comments.
In a statement Saturday, campaign manager Robby Mook dismissed Trump’s assertions as “shameful attempts to undermine an election weeks before it happens.”
“Campaigns should be hard-fought and elections hard-won, but what is fundamental about the American electoral system is that it is free, fair and open to the people. Participation in the system — and particularly voting — should be encouraged, not dismissed or undermined because a candidate is afraid he’s going to lose,” Mook said.
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