In the fall of 2016, all the rage among Democrats and their partisans was lecturing Republicans on how they should accept Donald Trump’s (almost unanimously anticipated) defeat and reject Trump’s irresponsible “rigged election” rhetoric. On Election Day, I wrote a piece noticing that Democrats were themselves doing nothing to prepare their own voters to accept a possible Trump victory — in fact, they were likely to reach for excuses to reject the legitimacy in the same ways they had after losing the 2000 and 2004 elections.
Exhibit A in that piece was a Paul Krugman column entitled “How to Rig an Election”:
The election was rigged by state governments that did all they could to prevent nonwhite Americans from voting. . . . The election was rigged by Russian intelligence, which was almost surely behind the hacking of Democratic emails. . . . The election was rigged by James Comey, the director of the F.B.I. . . . The election was also rigged by people within the F.B.I. . . pro-Trump agents have clearly been talking nonstop to Republicans like Rudy Giuliani and right-wing media. . . . The election was rigged by partisan media, especially Fox News. . . . The election was rigged by mainstream news organizations, many of which simply refused to report on policy issues. . . . The election was rigged by the media obsession with Hillary Clinton’s emails . . .
At the time, this was assumed to be a parody of Trump, but Krugman was deadly serious, and his themes have become gospel among many Democrats since then, while all the lectures about the paramount importance of accepting defeat in a democracy were memory-holed for three years, only to be resurrected now with Trump trailing in the polls.
Meanwhile, Krugman is still a stopped clock, denying in advance that he will accept any Trump victory as legitimate, wading darkly on Twitter into Alex Jones territory:
At this point, it will be almost impossible for Trump to win reelection legitimately. It’s quite possible, however, that he will try to steal the election . . . attempted theft could happen in multiple ways; expect to see many or all in November. Men claiming to be federal agents, but without identification, are already making arrests. Coming to polling places in November? Broken voting machines in D-leaning precincts? Mysterious and selective rejection of millions of absentee ballots? The list goes on. Don’t say they wouldn’t; clearly they will if they can. If you aren’t scared, you’re oblivious.
Where we are now: at this point, it will be almost impossible for Trump to win reelection legitimately. It’s quite possible, however, that he will try to steal the election. And if you don’t think that can happen, you’re not paying attention 1/
— Paul Krugman (@paulkrugman) July 17, 2020
Is Trump likely to lose this fall? Sure, anyone looking at the polls and the atmosphere around this election would say so. But given the experience of 2016 with polling, the unprecedented nature of an election-year pandemic, and the unpredictability of 2020, it is reckless to exclude the possibility of a turnaround and to tell voters that a Trump victory should be a sign to abandon faith in American democracy and to take to the streets. Even for a man as accustomed to blind partisanship and wildly wrong alarmist predictions as Paul Krugman, this is terribly irresponsible.