Signs of Things to Come?

Matt Bevin and Donald Trump

Matt Bevin and Donald Trump

As goes Kentucky, goes the nation.

Could be. And that might not be so good.

Already, defeated incumbent Governor Matt Bevin is claiming voter fraud and demanding a recanvass though the 5,000-vote margin that has given Andy Beshear the election probably will not change–not enough to alter the outcome. Bevin will likely ask for a full recount and, if that does not work, may demand that the state legislature step in.

The upshot is that the Republican-control legislature could conceivably override the popular vote and allow Bevin to continue in office, all under the cover of “voter fraud.” “What we know is that there really are a number of irregularities,” Bevin claims, and that “there’s more than a little bit of history of vote fraud in our state.”

According to Politico:

Without providing details, Bevin cited “thousands of absentee ballots that were illegally counted,” reports of voters being “incorrectly turned away” from polling places and “a number of machines that didn’t work properly.” He said his campaign would provide more information as it is gathered, and he did not take questions from reporters.

Bevin says he is “compiling” evidence, not saying that he has any.

This is a strategy that Donald Trump rolled out (though he didn’t need to) in 2017 to account for his loss of the popular vote to Hillary Clinton. It has laid the groundwork for what he might try in 2020 if he loses both the popular vote and the Electoral College.

There were not the three-million-plus illegal votes for Clinton that Trump claimed, but the doubt cast then can certainly be carried forward.

This isn’t the only attempt to undermine the popular vote, of course.  There’s a long history of it in the American south. More recently, Kansan Kris Kobach has made a career out of voter suppression. Gerrymandering has become an art form.  In North Carolina and Wisconsin, Republican-controlled state governments have undercut the powers of incoming Democratic governors.

Such things continue–and will; they have become so common that we don’t even notice.

In the meantime, this strategy (which wasn’t even new with Trump) of casting doubt of the accuracy of vote totals and the skepticism that it engenders may soon allow an attempt by Bevin to void a legitimate election in Kentucky.

If that happens successfully, it may set up a situation where it will be impossible to remove Trump from the White House.

Do I sound hysterical?

Think about it.

Yes, the Kentucky process differs from the federal one. The only way the Presidential election could be thrown to the House of Representatives would be if there were a lack of majority in the Electoral College.

But the difference in process may not matter.

Imagine this: Bevin is confirmed to another term by the Kentucky legislature under the smokescreen of voter fraud. After initial public outcry, life in Frankfort settles down into a new normal, the government functioning even without electoral legitimacy. The state–and the country–continues on without chaos.

Next November, in this scenario, the Democratic candidate defeats Trump narrowly, both in popular and Electoral College votes. Trump, knowing that Americans may grumble but that they will accept even questionable decisions (think not just of Kentucky but of the 2000 election, which Al Gore really won) instead of rising against the government, uses again the argument that some sorts of shenanigans must have denied him reelection.

Betting that Americans, comfortable in their lives (for the most part), will never rise against him and that there is no one to enforce the will of the majority, Trump refuses to leave the White House or relinquish control of the reins of government. The military, rightly loathe to get involved in domestic politics, refuses to step in.

Trump, in an attempt to legitimize his decision, declares a state of emergency based on his claim of fraud, continuing the line he had been using for the last four years, that he has the support of the vast majority of ‘real’ Americans,  no matter what the ‘fake news’ polls may say and no matter what official vote counts are, and loudly states that he is acting in the best interests of democracy by staying in office.

Yes, this scenario may seem far-fetched and I hope it is. However, each time claims of voter fraud by people who know better surface, more and more Americans shrug and accept the possibility that there’s truth there, rationalizing by reciting the cliche, ‘where there’s smoke, there’s fire.’

If Bevin remains in office without undue turmoil (assuming, of course, that the recanvas and recount do not change the vote results), Trump will know that he risks little by doing the same.

Think it can’t happen?

If it does in Kentucky, is certainly can in Washington, DC.

Even if you live thousands of miles from Kentucky, don’t ignore what happens there. After all, as Nicholas Kristof writes in a related context, “we should never get accustomed to all this. Let’s not let ourselves be numbed by the daily drip into accepting a level of Trumpian dysfunction that should always be unacceptable.”