It’s been a big week for the president’s longstanding project to undermine the authenticity of American elections. On Wednesday, Trump went on national television to declare that he wouldn’t inform the FBI if a foreign power came to his campaign with information on an opponent, à la a more effective version of the June 2016 Trump Tower meeting. And to kick off Father’s Day on Sunday, he suggested on Twitter that his supporters may not accept an electoral-college loss in 2020, or the prospect of the end of the Trump era in 2024.
Trump has expressed similar ideas three times in the past year and change, beginning with his March 2018 joke about canceling the 22nd Amendment and establishing a presidency-for-life, because it’s worked so well for China’s Xi Jinping. “He’s now president for life. President for life. No, he’s great,” Trump said. “And look, he was able to do that. I think it’s great. Maybe we’ll have to give that a shot some day.”
On April 18, the day the redacted Mueller report was made public, Trump joked to a crowd at the White House that he might remain in the building for over a decade. When the CEO of the veterans charity Wounded Warrior Project gave the president a trophy, Trump said that it would “find a permanent place, at least for six years, in the Oval Office.” The crowd laughed, and Trump added, “I was going to joke, General, and say at least for 10 or 14 years, but we would cause bedlam if I said that, so we’ll say six.” And in May, the president retweeted Jerry Falwell Jr.’s claim that “Trump should have 2 yrs added to his 1st term as pay back for time stolen by this corrupt failed coup.”
Given Trump’s tendency to project with his hypothetical questions, the idea appears to be taking hold. That he has already declared that the 2016 election was stolen from him by “millions of illegal votes” cast for Hillary Clinton only makes the constitutional crisis more likely to come. His party, mired in its own crisis about non-existent voter fraud, is unlikely to counter him on it. As New York’s Ed Kilgore noted the last time there were concerns about Trump staying on past his term, what makes the “Republican subscription to asinine conspiracy theories about election stealing especially dangerous is that it reflects and feeds their leader’s inability to accept electoral setbacks as legitimate.”
In May, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said she was worried that if the Democratic candidate for president did not win by a grand margin in 2020, Trump would contest election results. “We have to inoculate against that, we have to be prepared for that,” she told the New York Times. As Trump officially kicks off his campaign on Tuesday in Florida, Democrats may have to put more resources into that prep work if Trump continues these calls. Perhaps it might be best to channel the president’s own (unfounded) claims from April about vote counting: “You gotta be a little bit more paranoid than you are.”