Could Trump’s Final, Audacious Gesture Be an Election Boycott?

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Could Trump outmaneuver everybody one more time by asking his supporters to sit out a “rigged” election?Photo: Brian Blanco/Getty Images

It is hardly a secret that since Donald Trump became their party’s nominee a lot of Republican elected officials and conservative opinion-leaders have been biting their tongues and suppressing their true feelings about the mogul because his strongest supporters are also the GOP’s electoral “base.” To survive with their control of Congress intact, Republicans need to hold together a coalition of Trump stalwarts and anti-Trump ticket-splitters. And while the latter category of voters has naturally gotten the most attention, the former is much larger and more central to the GOP’s prospects.

So as we listen to Trump rant about the perfidious GOP Establishment and rage about a “rigged” election, the possibility is beginning to emerge that the man could get his revenge on the party that is already trying to bury him and take his electoral conspiracy theories to their logical end by picking up his ball and going home. Brian Beutler spins out this “nightmare scenario” for Republicans in some detail:

[T]he bleakest possible scenario for Republicans isn’t that Trump loses badly and refuses to admit defeat. It’s that he rejects the notion that a fair election is even possible with him on the ticket, and announces he’s boycotting it. His supporters, only a small fraction of whom would have refused to vote for Trump turncoats down the ballot, stay home en masse instead. The Democrats take back the House.

Actually, such a step would have consequences farther-reaching than a big electoral victory for Democrats. Electoral boycotts are a common tactic of parties challenging authoritarian regimes that seek legitimization of their power via bogus tests of popular opinion. Thus a Trump boycott would represent a more thoroughgoing “protest” of the alleged corruption of the system than any imaginable postelection protests. And it would preserve the fiction that he might have won in a fair fight, while denying his intra-party opponents any down-ballot victory of their own.

As Beutler admits, this scenario is probably fanciful. Aside from Trump’s own narcissist illusions of omnipotence, he has surrounded himself with sycophants and political outlaws who are willing to argue right up until Election Day that the polls are skewed and that the aroused white people of America might surprise everyone with an upset. It is also likely that his postelection plans depend on a demonstrated showing of support by tens of millions of actual voters. He is certainly not showing any flagging interest in the campaign, and will probably draw enough artificial energy from his remaining rallies to keep him going through November 9.

But down there in the bunker of an embattled, losing campaign, despised by respectable people almost everywhere, a candidate can nourish fantasies of destructive vengeance. Does anyone doubt Trump is capable of ending this election cycle that he has dominated with one last audacious gesture that denies the clean and overwhelming defeat he has earned? The prospect has to occur to him every time he sees a GOP ad urging voters to elect Republicans to exert some control over President Hillary Clinton. That has to be so, so disgusting to him, believe me.