In a new Quinnipiac poll released this week, voters were asked what ought to be a totally innocuous question:
“If your candidate loses in November, would you think that the outcome was legitimate or would you think that the election was rigged?”
Most Clinton supporters — 78 percent — said they would accept her defeat as legitimate. They wouldn’t like it, of course, but they would accept it as the verdict of the people. Only 11 percent said they would reject her defeat as rigged.
However, a plurality of Trump supporters –some 46 percent — say they would consider a Hillary Clinton victory to be illegitimate, the result of a rigged process. Just 43 percent said they would accept it as legitimate. Those numbers suggest a profound and dangerous disenchantment with our current constitutional system among a substantial part of our population.
That worries me. It worries me more than the prospect of a Trump presidency, and that says a lot. Because what those voters are questioning is not Clinton’s legitimacy, but the legitimacy of any system that produces an outcome they don’t like. For all their talk of constitutional government, they have lost faith in that Constitution and in democracy.
You see that same sentiment percolating up in a lot of different ways. You see it in birtherism, the concept that Barack Obama was never a legitimate president because he was somehow born overseas. The theory had no basis in fact, and was dispelled by overwhelming documentary evidence. Even if Obama had been born overseas to his American mother, he still would be every bit a natural-born citizen as Sen. Ted Cruz is.
But birtherism offers an outlet, an excuse, for those who refuse to grant Obama the status of a legitimately elected president. It offers them a means to reject the results of two consecutive presidentail elections. To this day, polls say that more than 70 percent of GOP voters still question Obama’s citizenship.
You saw that same sentiment at work last weekend in insurrectionary statements by Kentucky Gov. Matt Bevin. He warned an audience of evangelicals at the Values Voter Summit that if Clinton wins this election, the threat to freedom would grow so dire that Thomas Jefferson’s famous “tree of liberty” might have to be refreshed with the blood of tyrants and patriots.
And you hear it in the growing mutters in conservative media about preparing articles of impeachment against Clinton, so that if she’s elected they can immediately begin to undo the voters’ decision. Writing in National Review, one of the “reasonable” conservative political organs and a champion of the #NeverTrump movement, Andrew McCarthy even urges congressional Republicans to impeach Clinton now, today, even though she holds no office.
“The proceeding against Clinton would not be a presidential impeachment,” McCarthy writes, “it would be an impeachment based on her abuses of power as secretary of state, which would have the constitutional effect of disqualifying her for the presidency.”
Note the common thread: Claims of rigged elections, birtherism, mutterings of insurrection and pre-emptive impeachment are all at root a rejection of governance through the ballot box, by people who have lost faith that the ballot box can get them what they want. That’s a dangerous thing.