Rigging Elections: A Study of Trump’s Attacks on Elections When He Dislikes the Results
August 31, 2020 ~ By Shari Rose
- Elections Are “Rigged” & Fraudulent When Trump Dislikes the Results
- Elections Are Fair & Just When Trump Favors the Results
- Similarities of Trump’s Attacks on Lost Elections & the Russia Investigation
Trump’s History of Declaring Elections Rigged or Fraudulent Depends Entirely on Whether the Winner is a Democrat or Republican
Having a prolific Twitter user as the president of the United States comes with plenty of costs. But one genuine benefit of Donald Trump’s obsession with tweeting is that we know exactly what he’s really thinking, feeling, promoting, and prioritizing, day in and day out. Trump follows many of the same patterns in his thinking and behavior, and has demonstrated them repeated on Twitter after a decade of using the platform. One of Trump’s more prominent patterns is his proclivity to declare elections that he doesn’t like the outcome of as “rigged” , “fraudulent” , “Illegal” , “stolen” , and so forth. The inverse of this also is true. For election outcomes that he favors, both domestically and abroad, he determines that these contests are fair and true.
Interestingly, Trump’s pattern of attacks against elections whose results he disagrees with is relatively similar to his attacks on the Russia investigation and any suggestion that Putin worked to help get Trump elected. Despite U.S. intelligence agencies’ findings and a bipartisan Senate report in August 2020 that confirmed Russian influence in the 2016 election, Trump calls the evidence a “hoax”, “witch hunt”, “fake news”, and so forth.
Part one of this series looks into Trump’s long history of determining the legitimacy of elections based solely on the winners and losers of the contest, a language Trump understands well, as well as the similarities of attacks he likes to employ regarding elections, investigations, and so on, particularly on Twitter.
Elections Are “Rigged” & Fraudulent When Trump Dislikes the Results
Obama’s Reelection in 2012 Presidential Race
Leading up to the 2012 presidential election between Democrat Barack Obama and Republican Mitt Romney, Trump was tweeting often, attacking Obama and supporting Romney. When the race was officially called and Obama was elected to his second term in office, Trump spent Election Night attacking the legitimacy of the U.S. election on Twitter: “We can’t let this happen. We should march on Washington and stop this travesty. Our nation is totally divided.”
Four minutes later, he escalated rhetoric of election rigging in favor of Obama’s win: “This election is a total sham and travesty. We are not a democracy!”
And in a now-deleted tweet from Election Night 2012, Trump said, “He lost the popular vote by a lot and won the election. We should have a revolution in this country!”
The irony, of course, is that Trump ended up losing the popular vote in 2016, but strangely, he didn’t call for a revolution after that election, simply because he won. Nor did he call the Electoral College a “disaster for a democracy,” like he did on Twitter when Obama won reelection in 2012. But more on that later.
It should also be noted that Trump used very inflammatory language when Obama was reelected, calling for a revolution and telling the American people that “we are not a democracy.”
GOP Primary Loss to Ted Cruz in Iowa
In Iowa’s Republican presidential caucus in February 2016, Trump entered the contest ahead of rival Ted Cruz by five percentage points in a critical poll. However, he ended up losing to Cruz by three points, coming in second place.
Trump then alleged on Twitter that the “Voter Violation certificate gave poor marks to the unsuspecting voter (grade of F) and told them to clear it up by voting for Cruz. Fraud.”
Later in the day, Trump suggested that Iowa should “disqualify Ted Cruz from the most recent election on the basis that he cheated – a total fraud!” Trump never provided evidence for his claims of election fraud in the presidential Iowa caucus, but it did galvanize his base and help him salvage some personal dignity in the loss.
No evidence of voter fraud or election rigging that Trump alleges was ever uncovered in this contest, and a “Voter Violation” certificate does not exist, but Trump’s goal isn’t to actually find evidence of voter fraud or illegal voting. By shelling out conspiracy theories, allegations, and false charges of election stealing, Trump effectively villainizes his political opponents, weakens public perception of the opponent if he or she wins, and overall diminishes confidence in the U.S. electoral process.
Before & After the 2016 Presidential Election
As national polling consistently suggested Trump would lose to Democrat Hillary Clinton in the upcoming 2016 presidential election, Trump began ratcheting up talk of a rigged election. On October 14, he told a rally crowd in South Carolina that he was the victim of a massive conspiracy to ensure he loses the bid for president: “This whole election is being rigged. The whole thing is one big fix. One big ugly lie. It’s one big fix.”
By getting it in the minds of his supporters early that election rigging is afoot, Trump can then point to the fact after he loses that the reason he isn’t president is because of a massive conspiracy orchestrated by Democrats, the mainstream media, the deep state, or whomever. This rhetoric serves to ensure that neither he nor his supporters accept the outcome of the election, if he loses.
On Twitter in the following days, Trump further planted doubt into the legitimacy of the 2016 election, alleging a range of serious offenses without any proof, such as illegal voting and election rigging: “The election is absolutely being rigged by the dishonest and distorted media pushing Crooked Hillary – but also at many polling places – SAD.”
Trump continued to claim widespread voter fraud was happening as part of a conspiracy from the Democrats to steal the election. On October 15, 2016, Trump tweeted that “The election is being rigged by the media pushing false and unsubstantiated charges, and outright lies, in order to elect Crooked Hillary!” The “charges” that Trump refers to in this tweet stem from the dozens of women who publicly accused Trump of sexual assault or sexual misconduct from the early 1990s to 2016. In response to the accusations, Trump promised to sue all the women who claimed he assaulted them, though he never followed through on that threat.
And he didn’t let up on the conspiracy theories as polling consistently showed him losing to Clinton. Two days later, Trump made it seem as though widespread voter fraud in the U.S. was a widely accepted fact (it is not), saying on Twitter: “Of course there is large scale voter fraud happening on and before election day. Why do Republican leaders deny what is going on? So naive!”
But when Trump won the presidential election in 2016, he suddenly reversed course and immediately accepted the election results because he was pleased with the outcome. Complaints of voter fraud, a rigged election, or a global conspiracy all but disappeared. Well, almost.
Trump was not pleased that he lost the popular vote to Clinton by millions of votes. So, Trump immediately began to allege that “millions of people voted illegally.” On Twitter, Trump wrote, matter-of-factly: “In addition to winning the Electoral College in a landslide, I won the popular vote if you deduct the millions of people who voted illegally.”
This idea that millions of people voted illegally in 2016 of the more well-known conspiracy theories that Trump has peddled, whether was to try and further legitimize his win or simply soothe his ego. Regardless, no evidence of millions of illegal votes was uncovered, or has ever been uncovered in all the elections in American history.
Trump’s inability to accept realities he disagrees with, like losing the popular vote in a fair election, is another pattern of his that is well-documented. And just like Obama’s election to a second term, president-elect Trump was upset at the results and immediately argued that millions of people must have voted illegally in part because he simply could reconcile the fact that he lost so many votes in a fair fight.
Despite zero evidence of illegal voting, Trump launched a voting integrity commission to support his claims of widespread voter fraud, which electrified his base of supporters. But, reality eventually kicked in, and in 2018, the commission publicly admitted they found no evidence of voter fraud in the 2016 election and disbanded.
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So, in the weeks before the 2016 election, Trump believed he would lose to Hillary Clinton, so he worked to cast doubt on the results of the election to justify his loss. He actively created and spread conspiracy theories about illegal voting, Democrats, and the media to argue that he would have won in a fair election.
If this sounds familiar to you, it should. The same tactics Trump used in October 2016 are also being applied in the months before the 2020 presidential election. Add illegal “mail-in voting” accusations and you’re there. He is once again laying the groundwork for declaring the U.S. election illegitimate, stolen, and illegal because national polling once again shows him losing to Joe Biden in November.
(Part 2 of this series looks at the of Trump’s attacks on the legitimacy of the 2020 Election and his efforts to suppress voting)
2018 Statewide Elections in Florida & Arizona
Trump’s accusations of a rigged election when he dislikes the result applies to state-wide and local-level elections as well. During the 2018 Midterms, some critical seats in Florida and Arizona were closely contested.
In the Florida race for governor between Republican Ron DeSantis and Democrat Andrew Gillum, margins were razor thin. On Election Night, DeSantis held a small advantage over Gillum, but vote tallies were still coming in and would continue to be counted into the night and next day.
As these incoming votes further narrowed the lead DeSantis held, particularly from Democratic counties Palm Beach and Broward, Trump began to accuse Democrats of stealing this election as well as a close Senate race involving Rick Scott. He accused Democrats on Twitter: “Trying to STEAL two big elections in Florida! We are watching closely!”
In Arizona, the race between Republican Martha McSally and Democrat Krysten Sinema for the U.S. Senate was very, very close. Vote tallies from the state’s two largest counties continued to be counted in the days after the election, wherein Sinema’s lead started to grow.
In response to this unfavorable development, Trump wrote on Twitter that corruption was to blame for the Democrat’s lead: “Just out — in Arizona, SIGNATURES DON’T MATCH. Electoral corruption – Call for a new Election? We must protect our Democracy!”
Trump’s baseless claim that signatures don’t match wasn’t true, but that wasn’t the point.
Spurred by Democrats gaining important seats in Arizona, Trump sowed doubt in the results of these elections, firing up his base and weakening national confidence in these electoral outcomes.
It should also be noted that U.S. presidents cannot change the date of an election, though Trump continues to suggest that in 2020.
Elections Are Fair & Just When Trump Favors the Results
2018 GOP Election Wins During Special Elections & Midterms
Georgia’s gubernatorial race in 2018 between Republican Brian Kemp and Democrat Stacey Abrams was extremely competitive. Allegations of voter suppression, particularly against people of color in the state, were backed by evidence. This includes voting machines that were mistakenly casting votes for Kemp even though the votes were cast for Abrams, and more than 50,000 voter registration applications, a majority of which affected Black people, were put on hold for more additional screening.
Unfortunately, all these complaints end up at the door of Kemp, who was the Georgia secretary of state and in charge of ensuring the fairness of the election, despite running for office in the race.
After Kemp won the gubernatorial race with a razor-thin margin, Trump took to Twitter to implore people to accept the election results and move on: “@BrianKempGA ran a great race in Georgia – he won. It is time to move on!”
During special elections in September 2018 during which Republicans secured historic wins in Texas and gained numerous important seats in the country, Trump had no concerns about voter fraud or election rigging. On Twitter, he said, “Great Republican election results last night. So far we have the team we want. 8 for 9 in Special Elections. Red Wave!”
Trump had no interest in sharing conspiracy theories of voter fraud, election stealing, or illegal voting in these races because Republicans won. He favors the result, so he determines those elections to be fair and true.
Trump Congratulates Global Autocrats For Winning Undemocratic Elections
Trump’s public adoration of global authoritarian leaders, from Russia’s Vladimir Putin to Turkey’s Recep Tayyip Erdogan is nothing new. When these autocrats win in elections rife with human-rights violations, voter suppression tactics, and so forth, Trump congratulates them.
Trump Congratulates Putin on 2018 Reelection
When Putin was reelected to his third term as Russia’s president in 2018, he received 75% of the vote. The country’s main opposition leader, Alexei Navalny, was barred from participating in the race entirely. Videos at polling stations captured Russian officials stuffing ballot boxes with papers. Independent election observers allege a range of irregularities, including ballots already appearing in boxes before polling opened, and security cameras facing polling locations being blocked by random items, such as balloons.
Putin’s election was widely condemned around the world and in the U.S. as a sham, but Trump congratulated him anyways. The late Sen. John McCain rebutted Trump’s refusal to condemn the win, saying part: “An American president does not lead the Free World by congratulating dictators on winning sham elections.” However, Trump offered Putin his support on the electoral victory and further consolidation of power in the country, refusing to even mention the substantiated claims of voting interference.
Speaking briefly with reporters, Trump said that he and Putin “had a very good call.” This flew directly in the face of his national security advisers who left the infamous “DO NOT CONGRATULATE” note precisely for this situation. Despite the rampant use of governmental power to sway an election in favor of Putin, Trump had only positive things to share with the Russian leader, now in charge until at least 2024.
Trump Congratulates Turkish President Erdogan on His 2017 Election
When Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan won his “election” in 2017 and secured his place as the country’s leader until 2029, he was internationally condemned for the election. The election outcome also gave him powers to directly intervene in the judiciary system, appoint vice presidents and top administration officials without oversight, and more undemocratic constitutional changes.
International election monitors condemned the legitimacy of the referendum, citing police attacks against people who voted against the government overhaul, the effects of biased state-run media in favor of Erdogan, the Election-Day legal change that validated unstamped ballots as legitimate, and more.
On the phone call between Trump and Erdogan, the president congratulated Erdogan on his success in securing constitutional changes. And while Western leaders refused to support the government overhaul, other leaders who congratulated Erdogan after the referendum win included Salmna bin Abdulaziz Al Saud of Saudi Arabia, and Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani of Qatar.
Trump Congratulates Hungary’s Viktor Orban in the 2018 Election
In June 2018, Hungary’s Viktor Orban won reelection and consolidated his political power to the point where he has the ability to change the country’s constitution. As prime minister, Orban systematically dismantled the country’s checks and balances, including the judiciary and free press. He changed the framework of Hungary’s parliamentary system so that his party could pass more than 1,000 laws in favor of his rule over the span of eight years.
Orban’s flagship issue during the election campaign has been staunchly anti-immigration. During his rule, he declared a “migration emergency” that granted law enforcement the power to strip individuals of their civil rights, removed virtually all access to asylum seekers, and outlawed public support of immigration under the “Stop Soros” law, in direct reference to George Soros.
The White House’s official readout of the call between Trump and Orban says that the president called to “congratulate [Orban] on the formation of his new government.” The three-sentence readout continued, “Both leaders agreed on the need for strong national borders…”
Trump’s reactions to autocratic regimes that further solidify their power for years to come through undemocratic elections show us how he favors absolute power. When the president of the U.S., regardless of who it is, publicly congratulates authoritarian leaders on their political takeovers at the expense of the people, it further legitimizes the sham elections and their rule. And again, Trump’s patterns of behavior betrays what he really wants: absolute authority without opposition. These elections are so easy to condemn as illegitimate, but Trump refuses to do it because he genuinely favors these outcomes.
Similarities of Trump’s Attacks on Lost Elections & the Russia Investigation
Trump’s efforts in maligning and casting doubt upon elections he is displeased with are strikingly similar to many of the attacks he’s leveled against allegations and evidence of Russian influence to boost him in the 2016 election. In Trump’s world, elections and investigations are rigged, conspiratorial, and illegal if they hurt him politically or personally.
In January 2017, the CIA, FBI, and NSA compiled an in-depth report concerning Russian influence in the 2016 presidential election. The Director of National Intelligence (DNI) released this now-declassified report that found that “Putin and the Russian Government developed a clear preference for President-elect Trump.” It also concluded that Russia’s goals in interfering with the 2016 presidential election were to “undermine public faith in the US democratic process, denigrate Secretary Clinton, and harm her electability and potential presidency.”
In the years that followed the release of this inter-governmental agency report and the steady drip-drip of growing evidence, Trump railed against U.S intelligence findings, calling the investigations a “hoax” , “witch hunt” , “Russia Collusion Hoax”, and more. There is no shortage of Trump tweets from 2016 to 2020 wherein he decries proven Russian influence in the 2016 election as fake news or part of a massive conspiracy to harm him politically.
In August 2020, the Republican-led Senate released a 1,000-page report that confirmed former Trump campaign chair Paul Manafort worked closely with a Kremlin operative to “undermine evidence that Russia interfered in the 2016 U.S. election.” It also debunked Trump allies’ ongoing conspiracy theory that Ukraine played a bigger role in election interference, mainly because of Joe Biden’s son’s ties to the country.
To further demonstrate how patterned and predictable his allegations of rigging, illegality, conspiracy, and so on are in relation to his attacks on elections, here’s a smattering of Trump tweets regarding Russia’s interference in the 2016 election, year by year:
- “The new joke in town is that Russia leaked the disastrous DNC e-mails, which should never have been written (stupid), because Putin likes me.” June 25.
- “For the record, I have ZERO investments in Russia.” June 26. Also, here’s Trump’s record of business investments in Russia.
- “Funny how the failing @nytimes is pushing Dems narrative that Russia is working for me because Putin said “Trump is a genius.” America 1st!” July 27.
- “CLINTON’S CLOSE TIES TO PUTIN DESERVE SCRUTINY.” October 4.
- “Russia has never tried to use leverage over me. I HAVE NOTHING TO DO WITH RUSSIA – NO DEALS, NO LOANS, NO NOTHING!” January 11.
- “Totally made up facts by sleazebag political operatives, both Democrats and Republicans – FAKE NEWS! Russia says nothing exists.” January 13.
- “The Russia-Trump collusion story is a total hoax, when will this taxpayer funded charade end?” May 8.
- “In other words, Russia was against Trump in the 2016 Election – and why not, I want strong military & low oil prices. Witch Hunt!” July 29.
- “WOW, @foxandfrlends “Dossier is bogus. Clinton Campaign, DNC funded Dossier. FBI CANNOT (after all of this time) VERIFY CLAIMS IN DOSSIER OF RUSSIA/TRUMP COLLUSION. FBI TAINTED.” And they used this Crooked Hillary pile of garbage as the basis for going after the Trump Campaign!” December 26.
- “The single greatest Witch Hunt in American history continues. There was no collusion, everybody including the Dems knows there was no collusion, & yet on and on it goes. Russia & the world is laughing at the stupidity they are witnessing. Republicans should finally take control!” January 10.
- ““I never said Russia did not meddle in the election, I said “it may be Russia, or China or another country or group, or it may be a 400 pound genius sitting in bed and playing with his computer.” The Russian “hoax” was that the Trump campaign colluded with Russia – it never did!” February 18.
- “I’m very concerned that Russia will be fighting very hard to have an impact on the upcoming Election. Based on the fact that no President has been tougher on Russia than me, they will be pushing very hard for the Democrats. They definitely don’t want Trump!” July 24.
- “The Russian Witch Hunt Hoax, started as the “insurance policy” long before I even got elected, is very bad for our Country. They are Entrapping people for misstatements, lies or unrelated things that took place many years ago. Nothing to do with Collusion. A Democrat Scam!” December 16.
- “Disgraced FBI Acting Director Andrew McCabe pretends to be a “poor little Angel” when in fact he was a big part of the Crooked Hillary Scandal & the Russia Hoax – a puppet for Leakin’ James Comey. I.G. report on McCabe was devastating. Part of “insurance policy” in case I won…” February 14.
- “Oh’ I see! Now that the 2 year Russian Collusion case has fallen apart, there was no Collusion except bye Crooked Hillary and the Democrats, they say, “gee, I have an idea, let’s look at Trump’s finances and every deal he has ever done. Let’s follow discredited Michael Cohen…..” March 1.
- “Anything the Russians did concerning the 2016 Election was done while Obama was President. He was told about it and did nothing! Most importantly, the vote was not affected.” April 18.
- “Such a great victory in court yesterday on the Russian Hoax, the greatest political scam in the history of our Country. TREASON! Hopefully, the Attorney Generel of the United States, and all of those working with him, will find out, in great detail, what happened. NEVER AGAIN!!!!” July 31.
- “Another misinformation campaign is being launched by Democrats in Congress saying that Russia prefers me to any of the Do Nothing Democrat candidates who still have been unable to, after two weeks, count their votes in Iowa. Hoax number 7!” February 21.
- “When are the Fake Journalists, who received unwarranted Pulitzer Prizes for Russia, Russia, Russia, and the Impeachment Scam, going to turn in their tarnished awards so they can be given to the real journalists who got it right. I’ll give you the names, there are plenty of them!” May 10.
- “Trump on Russia Hoax: ‘When the Papers Come Out’ We Will Learn Obama ‘Knew Everything.’” May 28.
- “…Nobody’s been tougher on Russia than the Trump Administration. With Corrupt Joe Biden & Obama, Russia had a field day, taking over important parts of Ukraine – Where’s Hunter? Probably just another phony Times hit job, just like their failed Russia Hoax. Who is their “source”?” June 28.
- “Probably Shifty Schiff, but others also, LEAK information to the Fake News. No matter what or who it is about, including China, these deranged lowlifes like the Russia, Russia, Russia narrative. Plays better for them. @DNI_Ratcliffe doing a great job!” August 29.
When faced with undeniable proof of Russian influence in the 2016 election, Trump does not have the interest or perhaps the capacity to accept the unfavorable reality in front of him. And as he does with elections whose outcomes hurt him politically or personally, he continues to deny, deflect, accuse, and blame opponents in an effort to cloud the truth and frame these national crises that he’s at the center of in simplified terms of winners and losers.
Trump’s words and actions are setting the stage for the 2020 election. Trump’s pattern of declaring elections and investigations as rigged, illegal, and fraudulent is carrying him through his 2020 campaign for reelection. And he will continue to escalate his rhetoric from here.
Part 2 of this series examines Trump’s escalating attacks on mail-in voting and overall trust in the 2020 election.