A noteworthy exchange under any circumstances but especially today, hours after James O’Keefe’s bombshell about voter fraud in New York City dropped. That’s the voter’s concern here — not just a Trump loss next month but a loss due to Democratic cheating. Trump was always going to blame defeat on foul play, no matter how absurd the margins may be on Election Day, but the O’Keefe video gives that theory new credence. You’ve got a Democratic elections official in the country’s biggest city acknowledging matter-of-factly that cheating goes on to some degree. “What more do you need to know?” Trump will say. It’s so inevitable, in fact, that I wonder if Dems will use the inevitability of it to whip turnout on their own side in the final weeks of the election. If the race is close, they’ll tell their voters, Republicans will scream that the vote was rigged. Only a landslide of unriggable margins will force the right to acknowledge the legitimacy of Clinton’s win. And it’s true, the bigger Hillary’s victory is, the fewer people will buy into the “cheating” explanation. But for some, there’s no margin big enough to disprove the theory. On the contrary, if Clinton piles up a massive landslide, the sheer size of it will be cited as proof of its implausibility. “You mean to tell me that a garbage candidate like Hillary Clinton beat Trump by a bigger margin than Obama beat Romney? Ridiculous!”
Note how quick Pence is to dismiss the “revolution” talk, though. He even tries to reassure the voter that elections can’t be rigged nationally because each individual state oversees its own process. It’s creditable that he’s trying to talk Trump’s base out of radicalism — and it’s also a portent of things to come. If Trump loses and ends up going all in on the “cheating” excuse, mainstream Republicans will come under tremendous pressure from the media to push back for the sake of firming up “faith in the democratic process,” a.k.a. Clinton’s legitimacy. They’ll be under institutional pressures too. The more the GOP cries foul on a Hillary win, especially if she wins going away, the more Democrats will feel free to reciprocate the next time Republicans win. (Democrats are old pros at screeching about cheating, in fact, after 2000 and 2004.) In particular, Republican officials who are close to Trump and therefore carry more weight with his base will be pressed to use their leverage to make the case to those people that Trump lost fair and square. And there’s no GOP official closer to him than his own VP. Whether he likes it or not, Pence is going to end up being asked to be the point man for anti-cheating arguments on the right. If he declines, the media will tear him to pieces for it in 2020 if he runs for president. I’d expect Kellyanne Conway, the most conspicuously mainstream member of Trump’s inner circle (and a pollster by trade), to come under heavy pressure too to acknowledge Clinton’s win, if only in the interest of stamping out “revolution” talk like this. That’ll be an interesting subplot to the feeding frenzy of recriminations within the GOP if/when Trump goes on to lose. Which Republicans are trying to gingerly shore up faith in the election’s outcome and which are trying to tear it down?
By the way, a new Reuters poll out this afternoon has Clinton leading nationally by eight points, up three in a week and in line with the 7-9-point range that NBC saw in its polling over the weekend. More interestingly, fully 53 percent thought Hillary won the debate versus 32 percent who thought Trump did. That’s similar to CNN’s post-debate poll, which had it 57/34. Those are surprisingly lopsided margins for an event at which Trump performed better than he did at the first debate while Clinton was mediocre and unmemorable. A Twitter pal had the same thought I did after seeing the CNN numbers yesterday: Maybe some critical mass of the public has now written Trump off to the point where they’re not willing to credit him with anything, including a decent debate performance. If asked “Trump or X?”, they may be reflexively answering “X” no matter what “X” is. Who won the debate? Why, X did. Not a good sign for Election Day, needless to say.
WATCH: Woman at Pence rally: “If Hillary Clinton gets in … I’m ready for a revolution".
Pence: “Don’t say that.” https://t.co/33kkes5urQ
— NBC Nightly News with Lester Holt (@NBCNightlyNews) October 11, 2016