Gingrichism Rampant: Trump’s Threats to Delegitimize Democracy Repeat the Standard GOP Playbook

Lots of hand-wringing through the internets today over Donald Trump’s accusations that the voting system is rigged and that even if he loses, he didn’t really lose because, well, the system was rigged. And it gets worse, because of the statements of Trump consigliere and sleazeball Roger Stone concerning the issue. Stone said that Trump’s supporters will “shut the government down” if Clinton wins.

Their inauguration will be a rhetorical, and when I mean civil disobedience, not violence, but it will be a bloodbath. The government will be shut down if they attempt to steal this and swear Hillary in. No, we will not stand for it.

The “government will be shut down” is a tell, although not the only one. It is crucial to point out that Trump’s and his surrogates’ threats of physical violence and delegitimation of American democracy is doing nothing but extending Republican Party tactics to their logical conclusion. Five years ago on this page I referred to these tactics as Gingrichism, i.e. the destruction of the informal institutions of American governance. The process began with Gingrich but did not end with him, because the entire GOP is the party of permanent constitutional crisis.

Repeated government shutdowns, impeachment, the use of congressional investigations for political purposes, threatening the full faith and credit of the United States, Mitch McConnell’s throwing the Senate into dysfunction, the violent shutting down of the Palm Beach County recount (aka “The Brooks Brothers Riot”) and of course Bush v Gore all represent the Republican Party’s attempts to crush the informal norms that make democracy work. Trump’s most recent threats are simply the latest iteration and nothing outside what has become the Standard Operating Procedure for the GOP.

The irony is that if there is a threat to election integrity, it comes from Trump’s friends in the Kremlin, who will have little compunction hacking into US voting machines.

All in all, it’s good that I have taken up Post-apocalyptic literature as a hobby. At least I won’t be surprised.

Author: Jonathan Zasloff

Jonathan Zasloff teaches Torts, Land Use, Environmental Law, Comparative Urban Planning Law, Legal History, and Public Policy Clinic - Land Use, the Environment and Local Government. He grew up and still lives in the San Fernando Valley, about which he remains immensely proud (to the mystification of his friends and colleagues). After graduating from Yale Law School, and while clerking for a federal appeals court judge in Boston, he decided to return to Los Angeles shortly after the January 1994 Northridge earthquake, reasoning that he would gladly risk tremors in order to avoid the average New England wind chill temperature of negative 55 degrees. Professor Zasloff has a keen interest in world politics; he holds a PhD in the history of American foreign policy from Harvard and an M.Phil. in International Relations from Cambridge University. Much of his recent work concerns the influence of lawyers and legalism in US external relations, and has published articles on these subjects in the New York University Law Review and the Yale Law Journal. More generally, his recent interests focus on the response of public institutions to social problems, and the role of ideology in framing policy responses. Professor Zasloff has long been active in state and local politics and policy. He recently co-authored an article discussing the relationship of Proposition 13 (California's landmark tax limitation initiative) and school finance reform, and served for several years as a senior policy advisor to the Speaker of California Assembly. His practice background reflects these interests: for two years, he represented welfare recipients attempting to obtain child care benefits and microbusinesses in low income areas. He then practiced for two more years at one of Los Angeles' leading public interest environmental and land use firms, challenging poorly planned development and working to expand the network of the city's urban park system. He currently serves as a member of the boards of the Santa Monica Mountains Conservancy (a state agency charged with purchasing and protecting open space), the Los Angeles Center for Law and Justice (the leading legal service firm for low-income clients in east Los Angeles), and Friends of Israel's Environment. Professor Zasloff's other major activity consists in explaining the Triangle Offense to his very patient wife, Kathy.

56 thoughts on “Gingrichism Rampant: Trump’s Threats to Delegitimize Democracy Repeat the Standard GOP Playbook”

  1. Yes, but….isn't Trump's claim that the election will be rigged a disincentive to his supporters to show up at the polls? The people who will believe his outlandish comments are the people who support him, so they're the ones who will conclude they shouldn't bother to vote because it's rigged.

    It's a bizarre strategy, if it represents any strategy at all. There's already speculation that it's a strategy to provide an excuse for a spectacular loss in the making. If it makes that loss more likely, then I'm okay with that.

    1. The standard statement on the Right is, "We don't just need to win, we need to win by more than the margin of fraud."

      The "margin of fraud" is the conservative term for the tendency of late revision of the vote, ("Oh, look, we just found this overlooked box of ballots!") to almost always move the vote totals in favor of the Democrat.

  2. I was wondering whether, if "the debate schedule is rigged!" is a pre-emptive excuse for skipping the debates, "the electoral system is rigged!" might be a preemptive excuse for effectively withdrawing from the race.

    Or maybe it's just a way of doing his best to ensure that a Hillary Clinton presidency gets tagged as 'illegitimate' from Inauguration Day on; if he can't rule, at least he can ruin.

    1. I'm pretty sure you're overthinking it; the first commenter gets it right: Trump is pre-emptively laying down his excuses for losing. He's getting a sense that he might, and the idea that a defeat is his fault is simply unacceptable. He doesn't care whether or not a Clinton presidency is legitimate or not; he just wants it not to be his fault.

  3. How about – negotiating tactic?

    It's his reflex to throw out random complaints and accusations to try to get the other party to "settle" at which point he'll drive in for an even more favorable bargain (once you've admitted you're wrong …)

    (This was apparently his behavior in New York real estate.)

    I don't know how this would work in an election scenario but I suppose he's getting ready to contest everything about it. Or, maybe it's just a reflex now that he realizes he could lose – getting the most possible out of a losing situation – as was said above.

  4. And yes you're quite right – as usual Trump's douchey entitled shenanigans follow the line from other Republican norm-breaking behavior of the past couple of decades.

    His is the emptiness behind the face behind the mask of the GOP.

  5. The guy has just got through a primary season where every means, fair AND foul, were used to try to keep him from getting the nomination, even though he was winning the actual votes. Efforts to overturn the votes of the actual voters continued right into the convention.

    So, why shouldn't he expect the general election to be similar? Because he's now running against Democrats, who as everyone knows, are pure as the driven snow? [/sarcasm]

    Anyway, you've only got yourselves to blame for the right's suspicions about the honesty of our elections. You don't like voter ID, because it bears slightly heavier on your base. Fine.

    But there were always two roads you could go down in responding to that. The high road, and the low.

    The high road was to acknowledge that it actually is important to know that somebody who proposes to cast John Doe's vote really IS John Doe, and therefor we will move heaven and earth to make sure John Doe has that ID, genuinely secure. And thus aid John not just in voting, but in all those other things where ID is required.

    The low road was to reject the idea that it's important to know that people who vote are who they say they are, and demand that people be allowed to vote based on insecure ID; Utility bills anybody can find in the trash, school IDs that are issued by institutions that don't care who you really are as long as the tuition check clears, even unsupported assertions. The low road was to demand that secure ID not be required.

    You decided to take the low road, and people made the rational deduction from it. What else did you think would happen?

    Personally, I think in person vote fraud is probably not that common, seldom effecting the outcome of elections. Absentee ballot fraud is likely where it's at. (You take the low road there, too.) But this doesn't change that worrying about stolen elections is rational in America.

    We've got a seriously screwed up mess of an election system. Large parts of the country are using not ready for prime time electronic voting. Some are even experimenting with online voting, which makes any computer security expert want to tear their hair out.

    It would be a divine miracle if our elections weren't rife with fraud.

    1. You're demanding more respect for the voter ID scam than it deserves. Your friends in North Carolina have given the game away.

      Large parts of the country are using not ready for prime time electronic voting. Some are even experimenting with online voting, which makes any computer security expert want to tear their hair out.

      In general, the more people know about computers, the less they want them involved in voting. If I had my way, we'd be marking physical ballots. "Voting technology" would be about making ballots more tear-resistant and inks more water- and smudge-resistant. If somebody wants to stuff a ballot box, it requires boots on the ground and later on you've got at least a ghost of a chance of figuring out that something hinky went on.

      1. I agree with your last paragraph. So far, the best voting technology I've seen has been the fill in the circle card, where it is electronically read when fed into the ballot box, and ejected if not properly filled out. Quality control right on the spot, the machine can reject any ballot where the marking is in any way ambiguous. A nice, durable physical record, and the individual voting stations are dirt cheap. Electronic voting is a standing invitation to hackers to try to rig elections. To the extent where you really have to ask if the people demanding them don't intend that.

        But you go too easy on Democrats when it comes to ballot security. ID, properly maintaining voter rolls, absentee ballot security, citizenship checks… you can go right down the list, I can't think of even one issue where Democrats aren't firmly on the side of less secure ballots. Not one. Eventually people notice this and draw conclusions you don't like.

        If you don't want people drawing those conclusions, you're going to have to get more serious about election security.

        1. There are bigger problems with our voting systems than fraud.

          I agree that the administration of the system should be taken out of the hands of politicians and their appointees, and given to a professional staff, probably at the federal level. Among the objectives should be equal access – in the sense of eliminating long waits – and more secure and accurate methods of voting and counting.

        2. I'm right there with you on properly maintaining voter rolls and absentee ballot security. I suspect there's something skeevy going on with "citizenship checks" since I can't think of a good reason to break that out of "properly maintaining voter rolls" but I see no reason to dive into it in any detail.

          As to checking ID at polling places…that's not a promising element of any kind of compromise. Whether or not there was ever any water in that well, it's been thoroughly poisoned by forthrightly racist efforts like the North Carolina project.

          1. Feh, you don't like it, so you call it racist. And then declare the well has been poisoned.

            If only Brett Bellmore is entitled to cast Brett Bellmore's vote, then when somebody shows up to cast it, their identity has to be confirmed. The point to intervene is in making sure that everybody has the ID.

          2. This answer pretty much guarantees that you haven't read the Fourth Circuit's opinion in NC, and that you are who everyone thinks you are.

            If writing an omnibus voting bill the day after Shelby County is decided, using the method "Find out what registration and voting practices black people use, and get rid of them" — which is very, very literally what they did — is not racist, then literally nothing on Earth is racist.

            If only Brett Bellmore is entitled to cast Brett Bellmore's vote, then when somebody shows up to cast it, their identity has to be confirmed.

            Has anyone but Brett Bellmore EVER attempted to cast Brett Bellmore's vote? (Don't answer, it's rhetorical, I know the answer is no. And it doesn't happen anywhere else, either.)

        3. Great that Brett wants to make electronic voting machines more secure. I think that is a worthwhile bipartisan initiative. Democracy needs trust in the ballot process. (No, I don't mean catering to conspiracy theories – but a scenario of tampering with Windows-based voting machines is all too easy to construct.)

          But the same-identified person voting twice should be easy to detect. The fact of the person with such name and address and such SS number having voted is recorded, is it not?

          This makes a bulletproof ID less important, I'd think.

          Anyhow, an organized ballot fraud is difficult to perpetrate at the individual voter level. You'd need the participation of thousands or many thousands of individual voters in this to sway any election above dog-catcher. It's just not practical and the chances of the conspiracy cracking would be certain.

          Here's a discussion of double-voting as it actually occurs:

          1. Yes, the same person voting twice is very, very easy to detect.

            The problem is that the voter rolls are full of people who don't vote, because they aren't diligently purged. So there are a lot of names available to vote under, for which double votes are not a problem. People who've moved, people who are dead or institutionalized. Things like this are just a little suspicious. I recall a story out of Japan, where they were going to do presentations to some of the nation's oldest citizens; Turned out most of them were families continuing to cash pension checks for grandpa, long after he died.

            I wouldn't be surprised if there were a fair number of people voting their dead grand dad's absentee ballot, too.

          2. I think we could agree that our voter registration system(s) could maybe use a national computer database.

            Of course, such power over elections has been relegated to the states.

            Anyhow, Trump won't be voted down by peoples' dead grandfathers, who poll pretty bipartisan anyhow.

          3. Very bad example.

            Cashing a pension check gets you something. Voting in a dead person's name doesn't.

    2. Your good cop threats are much nicer than Donald Trump's killer cop threats, but they are threats nonetheless and I piss on them.

    3. > You don't like voter ID, because it bears slightly heavier on your base.

      See, here's where you betray your own incapacity to comprehend that people might have motives that are not purely selfish. Speaking for myself, I don't like voter ID because it is a transparently fraudulent effort to deny my fellow citizens their right to vote.

      I don't like fraud because I am personally committed to believing things that are true.

      I don't like violations of the rights of my fellow citizens, because I might be next.

      And you have the effrontery to accuse my side of taking the low road?

    4. This is a place where an understanding of Type 1 and Type 2 errors is critical. There is no procedure for preventing in-person voter fraud that does not also mean that some people who are legitimate voters will not be denied the ballot. Pretending that there is some sort of magical pixie dust that will allow you to "move heaven and earth" to make sure that all voters are who they say they are without the negative consequence of denying the vote to American citizens is delusional.

      So, anyone advocating for stronger anti-fraud laws is obligated not only to demonstrate that voter fraud is an actual problem, they are obligated to demonstrate that voter fraud is a sufficiently widespread problem to justify preventing citizens from voting. They also need to be serious about their estimates of how many people would be denied their voting rights and how many instances of fraud would be prevented. To date, none of them have managed to demonstrate that the voter fraud prevented would be more than a tony fraction of legitimate voters denied.

      To be honest, most of them are like Brett, and at best seem completely unconcerned with preventing citizens from voting. Often, they sound as if that's a feature, not a bug.

    5. It didn't strike me until just now how absolutely ludicrous this part of this post was:

      The low road was to reject the idea that it's important to know that people who vote are who they say they are, and demand that people be allowed to vote based on insecure ID; Utility bills anybody can find in the trash, school IDs that are issued by institutions that don't care who you really are as long as the tuition check clears, even unsupported assertions.

      "school IDs that are issued by institutions that don't care who you really are as long as the tuition check clears" almost certainly do not exist, and if they do, not in any proportion that could possibly make any kind of difference to anything, ever. The kinds of school IDs that were under discussion are those issued by accredited state universities (among others), who certainly do know who you are, since you have to provide a social security number both to apply for admission and for any financial aid of any kind.

      And the idea that, in a country where barely half the population can be arsed to vote, that more than 2 or 3 people in recorded history are walking around combing through the trash for utility bills to use for casting fake votes, particularly when they would have no way of ascertaining whether or not the person had already voted, beggars belief. I can almost guarantee that it has never, ever happened. Ever.

  6. It's reassuring that "personally," you think that vote fraud is probably "not that common," when, in fact, the experts in the field have concluded that it virtually never occurs. And the courts have concluded that the purpose of voter-ID laws is not to prevent voter fraud, but to target blacks with "surgical precision."

    1. It's very easy to declare that something virtually never occurs, when you've set the system up so that you wouldn't discover it if it did occur.

      1. The fact that there is no evidence is, in fact, evidence of the conspiracy – its broad reach and demonic subtlety!


      2. Even some people very invested in finding it, like Jon Husted, can't do so.

        Give it up, Brett. It's a manufactured problem, used as a pretense for the GOP to keep blacks from voting. Have you bothered to read the recent court decisions? Your continued insistence that the problem is real makes you look like a ideologically driven buffoon.

    2. Brett has been doing his part to delegitimate the system for some time now. He's just nicer about it than most.

  7. Let's say anyone can walk into a polling place, claim to be someone and vote without showing ID. Now, that person might have already voted, so it would be obvious that either the previous voter was fraudulent or the current voter is fraudulent. Alternately, the actual person might show up later, with the same result.

    The only way a fraudulent vote wouldn't be discovered is if the actual registered voter didn't show up. Since somewhere around half the people vote, there's a 50% chance that any attempted fraudulent vote would run into difficulty. Easy enough to count the times this happens, multiply by two, and get a good estimate of the prevalence of it. (Hint, approximately 0.)

    1. " Since somewhere around half the people vote, there's a 50% chance that any attempted fraudulent vote would run into difficulty. "

      This assumes that whether or not somebody votes is *random*. But that 50% is not a result of a coin flip.

      It's a result of voter rolls not being purged. For instance, when my brother graduated from college, he moved from Michigan to California. Ten years later, while voting, I noticed that he was still listed in the voter roll! Now, voting in his place in person would have been pretty chancy for somebody to do, given that we were a small rural precinct, and the election workers knew the voters personally. But voting his name absentee would have been pretty safe. In a precinct where there was more anonymity, somebody could safely have voted in his name.

      The voter rolls are lousy with names that you can rely on not to personally cast a vote, because they're dead, or have moved, or are in a senior center suffering from Alzheimer's, or just habitually don't vote. Every one of those names is a potential fraudulent vote.

    2. And, you know who knows which names are safe to use for casting fraudulent ballots? Who's in the perfect position to insert them into the system? The people running the system.

      The real challenge of ballot security isn't safeguarding the system against people on the outside, it's safeguarding the system against people on the inside. We do a terrible job of that, we even reserve the job of running the polls for political partisans. There are precincts all over the place where everybody running the system is from the same party.

      Could you design a system that was more inviting to fraud?

      I think we should have an election administration corps people can volunteer for, where every election you get randomly assigned to run the polls someplace different, so that the risk of election workers conspiring to rig the outcome is minimized. Forget this nonsense of having the polls run by party members.

      1. Kind of dodging your original point that the Democrats are engaged in a vast conspiracy to have people vote twice, aren't you?

        1. My point is that, so long as you remain absolutely opposed to every possible ballot security measure, you must expect that your opponents will assume you commit fraud. It's like you assume the card shark who won't permit the deck to be cut stacked it.

          You don't like Republicans assuming Democrats are committing ballot fraud? You're going to have to agree to ballot security measures that would stop you from committing it. Purging the voting rolls. Secure ID. Permitting poll watchers.

          These can all be done in ways that don't suppress the vote, but you don't fight to make ballot security less bothersome. You fight to prevent it. Expect people to draw the appropriate conclusion from that.

          1. You don't like Republicans assuming Democrats are committing ballot fraud?

            Republicans will assume, in the face of all evidence, that Democrats are committing ballot fraud any time a Republican loses an election, because they believe any Democratic wins are per se illegitimate.

          2. Nice excuse for why you don't have to agree to anything that would actually prevent you from committing fraud.

          3. How about, "This law might prevent one or two fraudulent votes from being cast, but will keep many more legitimate voters from voting."

            Not only are there the obstacles intentionally put in the law, there are also things like localized racism, partisanship, and honest error that will prevent legitimate votes. I mean, if you are convinced, utterly without any evidence, that thousands upon thousands are voting illegally, OK. But you've convinced yourself, as usual, that something is true because you want to believe it. Well, I'm sorry. "Brett Bellmore says so," is not enough.

          4. so long as you remain absolutely opposed to every possible ballot security measure, you must expect that your opponents will assume you commit fraud.

            So long as the security measures you propose are plainly, often by your own admission, designed to reduce minority voting, your opponents must assume that your party is fundamentally racist and is trying hard to keep minorities from voting. This also includes matters like providing inadequate numbers of polling places and machines in urban districts, distributing false information about voting days and other things in minority communities, and so on. Who is committing fraud again?

          5. I'm not opposed to every possible security measure. Registrars could probably do a better job of purging the rolls. More accurate methods of vote-counting could be used. Automation could be limited.

            But somehow, you conflate all this – basic improvements in the process – with the need for voter ID laws, which do not improve it. Your technique is simple.

            BB: We need ID laws to reduce fraud, etc.
            Other commenter: No we don't. There is virtually no such fraud, and they do much harm.

            BB: But voting is a mess, what with inaccurate rolls, vulnerable voting methods, and the process managed by politicians.
            OC: Yes. That could be improved.

            BB: See. That means we need ID laws.

          6. If one thinks that liberals are opposed to all ballot security measures, but in fact liberals are opposed only to those ballot security measures which are also racist…doesn't that suggest that one is interested only in those ballot security measures which are also racist?

  8. Just to be troublesome for a mo… this bad habit may be spreading, too. Last night on telly the news show had on the House sit-in, and I remembered thinking at the time, "I won't like this much when the other side does it." Especially as I don't recall that they had a coherent message about what they wanted passed! Closing the private sale/gun show loopholes? I don't even remember what they wanted. (Not that we need to get into a long thing bc it's a tangential point.)

    1. The GOP has already done this many times – refusing to proceed on routine business (debt ceiling, advise and consent on SC justice) for some political point or advantage.

  9. And here's another one. I read some very interesting excerpts from a Glenn Greenwalk interview about Trump, Brexit, and elite unwillingness to remember the existence of the rest of us. Not good.

  10. I would guess that the most frequent occurrence of voter fraud is double-voting in two states. I could easily have done it when we were commuting between Illinois and Ohio (absentee in one, in-person in the other), but consider all the snowbirds who have residences in the snow- and sun-belts. And I would venture to guess that most of the votes would be conservatives.

    1. I'm pretty sure that this one is relatively easy to document and that people have tried and found… not much. In Pennsylvania, where I've lived on and off for the majority of my life, for example, the list of registered voters and date of the last election they voted in is a matter of public record.

      1. And is that Pennsylvania list ever checked against voters' lists in Florida? I doubt it. [However, the number of people who might be doing this is probably pretty small.]

        1. As I alluded to, I believe this is one of the methods that academic & other studies have used to try to identify fraudulent voting. Don't really feel like looking it up right now, but I'd be surprised if no one had tried that.

    2. This may or may not be a real problem, but it has nothing to do with voter ID laws, which would do absolutely nothing to prevent it.

  11. Of course, Trump is, ironically, quite correct that our voting system is a mess. Exit polls, which are used as prima facie evidence of election improprieties by U.N. inspectors, were terribly skewed compared to final vote counts this year in the primaries. But, strangely, only for the Democratic ticket, and only in districts which did not use paper ballots! Nope – there, the exit polls matched actual voter counts. Nothing to see here, just move on.

    "The irony is that if there is a threat to election integrity, it comes from Trump’s friends in the Kremlin, who will have little compunction hacking into US voting machines."

    Yeah…. sure. It's only Russian Putinists who know how to hack voting machines. Gosh…. and when they do, do you think the exit polls will not match the final vote counts? Exit polls, schmexit polls, right?

  12. The interesting thing to me about the Voter ID debate is that it comes down to one's sympathy for those who would or would not be affected by passage of more stringent requirements. One side says the requirements are reasonable and that if people end up not voting it is their fault. The other says that it is unreasonable and that it is not their fault.

    Which, of course, is the original issue at the core of the left/right divide: what personal responsibility means; how much control each of us has over our lives; what freedom means.

    I wonder about the chicken or the egg. Does this philosophical position lead one to a political stance, or does a political stance lead one to this philosophical position?

    1. It also comes down to how important you think ballot fraud is. If you think it's no big deal even if it's happening, you're not going to favor doing anything about it.

    2. Nice that you can be philosophical about it. I suspect a black person dealing with the history of Jim Crow might not feel the same.

      But since I'm a white male I can be philosophical too (exercising my privilege if you will.)
      The state has 2 compelling interests:
      1 – Ensuring that all citizens can vote.
      2 – Ensuring that elections are not given over to cheating on the part of one party or another.

      Since the existence of cheating in (2) is practically zero (having been repeatedly studied by parties interested in discovering such cheating, without result), then naturally (1) becomes paramount.

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