COLORADO SPRINGS – We are three weeks from the election, and very close to the edge.
Retiree Gerald Miller, a volunteer at Donald Trump’s rally here, is confident his man will win on Nov. 8 – unless there’s foul play.
Miller, wearing an NRA pin and a tea party cap over his long hair, shares Trump’s concern that the election may be “rigged” by the Clinton campaign. “It is enough to skew the election. They can swing it either way,” he said, particularly because Hillary Clinton may have “the FBI working for her” in committing the fraud.
So what happens if Clinton is declared the winner? “Donald Trump is going to holler fraud if he doesn’t win,” figured Miller, who is white and says he has PTSD from “racial violence” he suffered in the military. “I think we’re on the verge of a civil war, a racial war. This could be the spark that sets it off.”
I fear Miller may be right.
Objectively, Trump is in big trouble; master handicapper Stuart Rothenberg wrote for The Washington Post online on Tuesday that Trump’s path to Electoral College victory is “nonexistent” and said he could win fewer than 200 electoral votes.
But I spent a couple of hours before the rally in this indoor show ring talking to many Trump supporters and found them in states of denial and fury. I didn’t find one who expects Trump to lose. To varying degrees, most agreed with Trump that the election process is rigged. And some predicted ominous things if Trump loses – if not violence, a mass rejection of the legitimacy of the democratic process.
Ann Macomber, a Christian, retired teacher and Trump volunteer handing out fliers saying “Hillary Clinton is coming for your guns,” told me the voting system in Colorado has been “infiltrated”: dead people voting, voters with bogus addresses, precincts that report more votes than registered voters. “It’s happening. It’s sad,” Macomber said. “If we lose this election, we can’t trust anything in America anymore. We’re not sovereign.”
Some observers dismiss Trump’s talk of a “stolen” and “rigged” election as just more rantings of a narcissist who can’t accept that he is almost certain to lose. But the talk of election fraud is more nefarious than that and clearly an effort to destabilize the post-election environment.
In early August, Trump consigliere Roger Stone declared that there is “widespread voter fraud” and argued that “if there’s voter fraud, this election will be illegitimate … we will have a constitutional crisis, widespread civil disobedience, and the government will no longer be the government.” In an interview with the conservative outlet Breitbart, Stone said Trump has “gotta put them on notice that their inauguration will be a rhetorical … bloodbath.”
Now the head of Breitbart News is the head of the Trump campaign, and Trump, who had quieted the fraud talk when he was improving in the polls, is raising it more than ever.
“Voter fraud is all too common,” Trump told a few thousand people Tuesday afternoon in Colorado Springs, but if you mention it, he said, “they say bad things about you, they call you a racist.” He scolded Republican leaders for saying “everything is peachy” with the election process and warned that this could be the year “America truly lost its independence.” Warned Trump: “It’s going to be a one-party system. This is your final shot.”
He particularly scolded the press, which “created a rigged system and poisoned the minds of so many of our voters.” But he also found corruption in voter surveys (“I don’t believe the polls anymore”) and in his opponent (“many times worse than Watergate”).
“We won’t let them stop maybe the greatest movement in the history of our country!” Trump said, prompting chants of “USA!,” some foul language shouted at the press corps and, after the rally, a mass chant of “Shame on you!” directed at the press risers.
The candidate’s reckless closing message that nothing is on the level – not Democrats, not the press, not the polls, not Republican leaders, not even the integrity of the voting process – has left many of his supporters prepared to declare the election results illegitimate.
Joseph Salmons, wearing a “Les Deplorables” T-shirt and pin, told me the election won’t end anything. “The movement’s starting. Even if he doesn’t win, it’s gonna tip,” he said.
But tip into what? “I sincerely hope people don’t lose their minds,” Salmons said.
If they manage to keep their cool, it will be despite the best efforts of Trump.
Follow Dana Milbank on Twitter @Milbank.