Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump’s favorite bully pulpit seems limited only by the 140-character limit.
And lately, Trump has been taking to the pulpit to cast aspersions on the validity of the election.
“Of course there is large scale voter fraud happening on and before election day,” he tweeted Monday, Oct. 17. “Why do Republican leaders deny what is going on? So naive!”
The fear many people take from Trump’s rhetoric is that, in the view of some of his more ardent supporters, the election will be invalidated and the eventual winner (according to recent polling, that’s most likely to be Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton) will be an illegitimate president.
(This is especially troublesome given that we’ve recently endured eight years of accusations that President Barak Obama was not born in the United States, undermining the legitimacy of his presidency — speculation that was fueled in no small part by Trump himself.)
Be this as it may, Trump’s accusations may actually have another result: they may mean that he loses even worse than he otherwise would.
Let me explain.
This is the point in the election cycle where candidates typically shift from winning over undecided voters, who statistically have a low likelihood of even voting at all at this point in the campaign, and focus on mobilizing their base, or the voters who have made up their minds and now must be persuaded to actually go and cast their vote. It’s one thing to make a decision, it’s another to go wait in line and deal with poll workers to make your decision matter.
And history has demonstrated that voters are actually less likely to participate in an election if they believe it is illegitimate or if they think the outcome is a foregone conclusion. That is to say, a candidate that is doing very poorly ahead of the vote may actually do even worse on election day because his or her supporters don’t feel like he or she has a chance, so they don’t make the effort to go vote. Or, in the case of rigged elections, voters may feel that casting a ballot would somehow legitimize the election, so they stay away from the polls.
So if the efforts are actually to drive voter turnout, Trump is doing himself a severe disservice. Those who support him, even in the most hotly contested states that he needs to win the election, may feel that the outcome is already in Clinton’s hands or that shadowy machinations are at work to steal the election for Clinton. If either is the case, why bother participating in the political contest?
Meanwhile, Clinton is continuing to maintain a strong lead in national polls as well as several important state polls, and expanding her campaign to traditionally strong red states like Arizona where she sees an opportunity to make inroads, if not for herself than for candidates down the ballot that could help her wrap up a Democratic Congress.
So while Trump continues to bluster, his supporters continue to grow more enraged — and less likely to vote come November.