Jamelle Bouie in NYT Opinion:
Instead of making a conventional appeal to voters to give him another term in office, Trump is issuing a threat, of sorts: I cannot lose. If I do lose, the election was stolen. Anyone protesting my effort to hold onto power is an insurrectionist. And sometimes, “there has to be retribution.”
You can dismiss Trump’s statements as mere ranting and raving, but remember: This is a president who makes policy with his ranting and raving. And his allies, both in and out of government, have gotten the message. Asked in an interview with Alex Jones, the far-right conspiracy theorist, what Trump should do against Democrats who “think they can steal” the election, Roger Stone — a close confidant of the president whose 40-month prison sentence for witness tampering and lying to Congress was commuted by Trump earlier this year — said that “the ballots in Nevada on election night should be seized by federal marshals and taken from the state” because “they are completely corrupted.” He also urged the president to declare “martial law” and invoke the Insurrection Act to arrest political opponents.
It is a little tempting to treat all of this as a distraction from the traditional campaign, from the polls and events and advertisements and general political spectacle. For Trump, however, this is the campaign, and it is laying the groundwork for chaos and violence should the outcome show the slightest ambiguity (and even if it doesn’t). In a half-functioning country, all of the president’s rhetoric on this score would be grounds for removal from office. But we don’t live in a half-functioning country — we live in the United States of America.