Donald Trump keeps peddling the notion the vote may be rigged. It’s not clear if he does not understand the potential damage of his words — or he simply does not care. Trump’s claim — made without evidence — undercuts the essence of American democracy, the idea that U.S. elections are both free and fair, with the vanquished peacefully stepping aside for the victor. His repeated assertions are sowing suspicion among his most ardent supporters, raising the possibility that millions of people may not accept the results on Nov. 8 if Trump does not win. The responsibilities for the New York billionaire in such a scenario are minimal. Trump holds no public office and has said he’ll simply go back to his “very good way of life” if he loses. Instead, it would be Democrat Hillary Clinton and congressional Republicans, should they win, who would be left trying to govern in a country divided not just by ideology, but also the legitimacy of the presidency. … The majority of Trump’s supporters are Republicans. If he loses, party leaders will have to reckon with how much credence they give to claims the election was rigged and how closely they can work with a president who at least some of their backers will likely view as illegitimate.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s office wouldn’t say Saturday whether he agreed with Trump’s assertions the election is being rigged. A spokeswoman for House Speaker Paul Ryan said the Wisconsin lawmaker is “fully confident the states will carry out this election with integrity.”
Republicans have already experienced the paralyzing effect of Trump stirring up questions about a president’s legitimacy. He spent years challenging President Barack Obama’s citizenship, deepening some GOP voters’ insistence that the party block the Democrat at every turn.
Jim Manley, a former adviser to Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid, recalled the skepticism some Republicans had about Obama. “I’m afraid a President Clinton is going to start off with far too many people raising similar questions,” he said.