Elitism vs. populism

(E minus 8) When two fuzzy questions about the fiscal problem were asked in the waning minutes of the third presidential debate, neither candidate had the time or inclination to seriously address them. Very little was said about this part of the debate afterwards; too bad, as lack of budget discipline is perhaps the top domestic problem our country is facing. Presidential candidates “grilled” on debt & entitlements, 10/24/16.

Meanwhile, inordinate attention was paid to another matter, namely Donald Trump’s answer to a question about his willingness to accept the election results if he didn’t win. Transcript,

WALLACE: Mr. Trump, I want to ask you about one last question in this topic [fitness to be president]. You have been warning at rallies recently that this election is rigged and that Hillary Clinton is in the process of trying to steal it from you. Your running mate, Governor Pence, pledged on Sunday that he and you — his words — “will absolutely accept the result of this election.” Today your daughter, Ivanka, said the same thing. I want to ask you here on the stage tonight: Do you make the same commitment that you will absolutely — sir, that you will absolutely accept the result of this election?

TRUMP: I will look at it at the time. I’m not looking at anything now. I’ll look at it at the time. What I’ve seen — what I’ve seen is so bad. First of all, the media is so dishonest and so corrupt, and the pile-on is so amazing. The New York Times actually wrote an article about it, but they don’t even care. It’s so dishonest. And they’ve poisoned the mind of the voters. But unfortunately for them, I think the voters are seeing through it. I think they’re going to see through it. We’ll find out on November 8th. But I think they’re going to see through it.

Wallace urged the candidate to reconsider his answer, which supposedly contradicted the “peaceful transition of power” tradition in this country after hard fought election campaigns. Trump doubled down instead, promising to “tell you at the time. I’ll keep you in suspense. OK?”

Critics charged that Trump’s response showed disdain for our system of government, and even hardcore supporters saw it as a major gaffe. Dick Morris: Trump won debate, but lost election on not accepting results, Todd Beamon, Newsmax.com,

Donald Trump "may have totally blown" his candidacy during the last presidential debate Wednesday when he refused to say whether he would accept the results of the Nov. 8 election if Hillary Clinton won, political strategist Dick Morris told Newsmax TV. “That comes very close to challenging the Constitution. "People will be very frightened about a presidential candidate that might or might not be willing to accept the results of an election.”

But before accepting this interpretation, we would suggest consideration of three points:

A. Wallace’s question was a set-up – Trump has certainly been talking about the election being “rigged,” citing not just alleged media bias but also vulnerabilities in the voting system that could potentially tip the election in his opponent’s favor. See, e.g., Donald Trump: Illegal immigrants are voting “all over the country,” David Sherfinski, Washington Times, 10/18/16.

“You look at certain areas of the country in terms of the voters and the booths and everything else and what’s taking place, and illegal immigrants voting and people that have died 10 years ago voting,” Mr. Trump told Fox News Monday. “I am talking about past elections,” he said. “When you look at the voter fraud, when you look at illegal immigrants voting all over the country, when you look at people who died 10 years ago.” *** “But we have voters all over the country where they’re not even citizens of the country, and they’re voting,” he said.

As for the remedy, Trump has called for Republicans to turn out, observe activity at polling places, and challenge suspicious activity. There is little evidence, however, of plans to organize such an effort. Donald Trump’s call to monitor polls raises fears of intimidation, Trip Gabriel, New York Times,

. . . as Mr. Trump casts doubt on the integrity of the presidential election, there are no signs of a wave of Trump poll watchers building. Like much else about his campaign, his call to “get everybody to go out and watch” the polls seems to be a Potemkin [village] effort, with little or no organization behind it.

Furthermore, Trump had never suggested unwillingness to abide by the 2016 election results. So when Wallace asked whether Trump would “absolutely accept the result of this election,” the question was obviously rhetorical (asked for the purpose of making a statement versus seeking information).

Perhaps the goal was to force Trump to reveal himself. If he gave the requested assurance, he would be seen as all bluster and no substance, and if he didn’t this could be taken as evidence that he was potentially dangerous.

Or perhaps the goal was to maneuver Trump into conceding that he was trailing in the polls and not likely to catch up. Rush [Limbaugh]: Media wanted Trump to admit he will lose, Greg Richter, newsmax.com,

Limbaugh: [E]verybody wanted Trump to admit that he had lost the election last night. That's what they were going for. That's what they wanted today. … If he would have accepted, if he would have announced last night that he was gonna accept the results, the story today would be: “Trump conceded defeat last night.”

B. Trump’s response was not unreasonable – Faced with a “no win” question, the Republican candidate might have been well advised to give a politically correct response. Any resulting loss of face could have been minimized by choosing his words carefully, as for example by saying something like this:

My supporters and I have been working hard to win this race, and we fully expect to prevail over my opponent on November 8. But there’s something much bigger at stake than the personal aspirations of the candidates, and that’s the will of the American people. After the votes are counted, whoever comes in second should acknowledge the outcome and wholeheartedly accept it. Certainly, that’s what I would do under such circumstances, and hopefully Secretary Clinton feels the same way.

An alternative would have been to suggest that (a) the American political tradition was less clear-cut than had been implied, and (b) this hypothetical question could not be answered without more information. Thus, Trump might have responded along the following lines.

My supporters and I have been working hard to win this race, and we fully expect to prevail over my opponent on November 8. But the outcome will likely be determined by the results in a handful of swing states, and some of these races may be very close. If it was reported on election night that Secretary Clinton had beaten me, I would certainly want to know just how close the results were and whether there were any voting irregularities that might have affected them. And if the facts warranted I might choose to demand recounts or pursue legal options as other candidates have done over the years – including Al Gore in the 2000 presidential race.

Although Trump critics might have tried to draw unfavorable conclusions from such a response, we doubt they would have gotten very far. Too many people recall the one-month+ delay in deciding who had been elected president in 2000, and the claim that the Democratic candidate gracefully conceded (after coming out on the short end of a ruling by the US Supreme Court) is belied by the fact that Gore has continued to suggest the outcome was wrong. Last week Hillary agreed [at a joint campaign appearance in Florida] that Gore “won” 2000 election, Larry O’Connor, hotair.com,

As the crowd chanted and Hillary smiled and nodded approvingly, Gore continued his thought process by suggesting that he actually won the 2000 election by warning the young voters to not be in a position “years from now” welcoming Hillary Clinton and saying to her “actually you did win, it just wasn’t close enough to make sure that the votes were counted.”

Although Trump’s rhetoric during the debate did not rule out the possibility of illegal resistance to the election results, he subsequently suggested that only legal challenges would be considered. Donald Trump reserves right to contest election outcome, Reid Epstein & Janet Hook, Wall Street Journal,

DELAWARE, Ohio—Donald Trump on Thursday sought to explain his debate-stage suggestion the night before that he might not accept a loss in November’s presidential vote as legitimate, saying at a rally here that he was simply affirming the ability of candidates to question an election outcome. “I would also reserve my right to contest or file a legal challenge in the case of a questionable result,” Mr. Trump said. “I will follow and abide by all the rules and traditions of all of the many candidates who came before me, always.”

No matter. Having gleefully jumped on Trump’s original remarks, critics generally ignored this clarification and kept alive the charge that he would not support our democratic system. See, e.g., The lap dogs of democracy who don’t bark at Trump, Dana Milbank, delawareonline.com,

Consider Trump’s refusal at last week’s debate to say that he would respect the results of the election, a violation of the indispensable notion of the peaceful transfer of power. *** What Trump said was reckless and dangerous *** And it is absolutely appropriate to “take sides” in a contest between democracy and its alternative.

C. Concerns about Trump’s response were overstated - A recent poll indicates that about half of likely voters have “at least some concern” about election violence. And while Clinton supporters are confident that the democratic process will work (perhaps because their candidate has been leading in most polls), over 40% of Trump supporters are said to believe that a Clinton victory – if that’s the outcome – would not have been won “in a fair manner.” Poll: Majority of voters express concern over possible Election Day violence, Kaitlyn Schallhorn, theblaze.com, 10/26/16.

Granted there has been a fair amount of unlawful activity during the campaign thus far, but much of it was aimed at – rather than instigated by – Trump supporters. Here are some examples:

• Maine publicist Betta Stothart admits to stealing 40 Trump yard signs, Jessica Chasmar, Washington Times,

•Democratic heads roll after videos show agitators posted at Trump rallies [this activity was organized by two Democratic strategists, one of whom had visited the White House many times], Valerie Richards, Washington Times,

•Anti-Trump violence sweeps the nation [Trump supporters beaten up or otherwise victimized in public places], Philip Hodges, constitution.com,

•North Carolina headquarters firebombed [and “Nazi Republicans get out of town or else” spray-painted on an adjacent building], Philip Hodges, foxnews.com,
10/17/16. (Leaders of both parties denounced this act; to our knowledge, no suspects have been identified.)

OK, but does anyone seriously believe the Republican candidate for president would be disposed to encourage or condone unlawful activity to protest the election results? We don’t, and Trump’s statement about considering his options “at the time” certainly doesn’t prove much. So one has to wonder why so many observers – Hillary Clinton, members of Congress, CNN, Fox News, Wall Street Journal, New York Times, Washington Post, etc. - have bought into this interpretation.

It’s been suggested that this country’s elite realizes that much of the population no long reveres their ideas or automatically accepts their guidance, for which reason serious trouble is brewing. They hope to squelch the emerging opposition by cutting Donald Trump down to size, but know the problem goes far deeper. An establishment in panic, Patrick Buchanan, Buchanan.org,

The establishment is horrified at the Donald’s defiance because, deep within its soul, it fears that the people for whom Trump speaks no longer accept its political legitimacy or moral authority.

It may rule and run the country, and may rig the system through mass immigration and a mammoth welfare state so that Middle America is never again able to elect one of its own. But that establishment, disconnected from the people it rules, senses, rightly, that it is unloved and even detested.

What kind of issues are the people in power trying to peddle? We reported on some of them – manmade global warming theory, need to regulate the Internet, desirability of deficit spending, rationale for limiting free speech – in this space about 18 months ago. Whoever decides what is true will rule,

And as others have related, the media gloss isn’t limited to policy issues – as has been repeatedly seen during this presidential campaign. The ruling class, John Stossel, townhall.com,

When Clinton wore white to a debate, the Times called the color an "emblem of hope" and a Philadelphia Inquirer writer used words like "soft and strong ... a dream come true." But when Melania Trump wore white, that same writer called it a "scary statement," as if Melania Trump's white symbolized white supremacy, "another reminder that in the G.O.P. white is always right."

Moreover, the frustration of people who don’t like the way this country is headed and are tired of being ignored or disrespected is growing, and it may eventually explode in some manner. Liberal efforts to silence dissenters will not end well, Kurt Schlichter, townhall.com,

Our guy and millions upon millions of others will get angry. Not merely miffed as with the Tea Party, not a bit perturbed as with Trump. Angry. Coldly furious not only that they have been exiled from their own republic but because they have been relentlessly insulted, abused, humiliated – and forced to pay for it all. Because the elite will have made it clear that the system really is rigged against those outside their caste, and that there is no way for people like our guy to be heard merely by trying to be part of the existing political system.

One of the Trump talking points that has particularly roiled the waters is his already discussed claims about the prevalence of voter fraud, which could quite possibly affect election outcomes around the country or even decide the presidential election.

And it’s not just bluster either, because Trump has cited some known facts. Millions of phantom voters on the rolls (people who have died, moved, or been automatically registered to vote by virtue of obtaining a driver’s license even though they aren’t citizens) – vulnerability of electronic voting to hacking - improbably lopsided voting results in some areas – documented cases of dead people who have continued voting.

The other side can’t plausibly claim that voting fraud is OK, so they fall back on two stock arguments for not worrying about it. First, this phenomenon is so rare that it couldn’t possibly affect election results. Second, tightening of existing safeguards against voting fraud would impermissibly suppress voting by lower income people in disadvantaged ethnic groups. See, e.g., Election rigged? Many fear so, Matthew Albright, News Journal,

• On a national level, “several studies have found that voter fraud almost never happens and certainly does not ‘swing’ elections.” Thus, “a Loyola Law School professor concluded that [only] 31 out of more than a billion ballots cast between 2000 and 2014 were fraudulent.”

• Locally, DE Elections Commissioner Elaine Manlove cited efforts to minimize the number of errors in the voting rolls, but also commented to the effect that “department officials can’t be too zealous about purging [no longer qualified] voters or they risk disenfranchising someone who is legitimately able [entitled?] to vote."

Our thoughts (which were duly conveyed to the reporter) are that quite a few more documented cases of voter fraud exist than the Loyola Law School professor said. Voter fraud is rarely prosecuted, moreover, so the documented cases are just the “tip of the iceberg.” A relatively small number of votes can change the outcome of a close election. And credible studies have shown that voting machines can be easily hacked by those with the requisite know-how.

In sum, concerns about voting fraud are warranted and appropriate measures should be taken to minimize obvious vulnerabilities. Yet in state after state, liberals have come up with every legal argument they could think of for fighting stricter rules instead of cooperating in efforts to develop better practices.  Perhaps their motive is the perceived political advantage in letting people who aren’t legally entitled to vote do so; we haven’t come up with a better theory. Much ado about voter ID requirements,

The use of Trump’s statement about not automatically accepting the election results was just part of a larger effort to convince voters that the GOP candidate is a threat to our democracy and therefore unfit to be president. The attack was kicked off by Brian Stelter of CNN on his “Reliable Sources” Sunday show (Oct. 16); picked up by Media Matters for America (funded by George Soros) with a headline designed to give the media its marching orders; and then dutifully repeated over the next four days. This is how the Clinton machine programs the media against Trump, Warren Huston, constitution.com,

Thousands of the exact same stories all across the old media all saying that Trump is wrong (despite the actual proof in front of all of us), all saying that he is “dangerous,” and all saying he is undermining American Democracy.

The Republican establishment hasn’t contradicted Trump and his supporters about the election being rigged and voting fraud, etc., but we doubt it is pushing this theme. No matter, the Democratic National Committee has now sued the Republican National Committee for alleged complicity in an effort to suppress minority voting. Dems sue GOP over Trump’s “rigged” complaints, Theodore Schieffer, cnn.com,

"Trump has falsely and repeatedly told his supporters that the November 8 election will be 'rigged' based upon fabricated claims of voter fraud in 'certain areas' or 'certain sections' of key states," the Democratic attorneys, including Hillary Clinton campaign counsel Marc Elias, wrote. "Unsurprisingly, those 'certain areas' are exclusively communities in which large minority voting populations reside."

Democrats argue that the RNC has provided "the direct and tacit support" for Trump's claims through its "ballot security" measures and asks the court to hold the RNC in civil contempt and to level a variety of sanctions against the committee.

What a strange election this year! As the saying goes, “you can’t make this stuff up.”

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