This was far from a tossed-off, isolated accusation. In the closing days of the campaign, Mr. Trump repeatedly, and ominously, peddled the wholly unsubstantiated theory that the election was being rigged and that the country could find itself torn apart if Mrs. Clinton won. (His pal Roger Stone went further, promising a “blood bath” if Democrats were to “steal” the race.) During the final presidential debate, Mr. Trump refused to say that he would accept the voting results. (“I’ll keep you in suspense.”) The next day, at a rally in Ohio, he cheekily vowed, “I will totally accept the results of this great and historic presidential election — if I win.”
Faced with the possibility of failure, Mr. Trump was not content simply to trash his opponent. He felt moved to sow doubt about the integrity of the entire electoral process.
One might imagine that pushing the idea that the fix was in would have proved problematic when Mr. Trump wound up winning the election. Not so. The new president promptly shifted gears and began arguing that mass voter fraud on behalf of the Democrats had occurred, and that was why he failed to win the popular vote. In Mr. Trump’s new, improved version of events, the race had been fixed; it just hadn’t been fixed enough to stop him. So wedded to this narrative was the president that he formed an entire voter-fraud commission dedicated to validating his conspiracy theory. (It couldn’t.)
To be fair, politics isn’t the only area where Mr. Trump is eager to burn down the system in order to protect his own interests — or at least salve his own ego. Back in his reality-TV days, he was known to whine about how “The Apprentice” would have won boatloads of awards if only the Emmys weren’t so terribly “unfair” and all about “politics.” Delegitimization is Mr. Trump’s go-to move, to be used whenever the occasion (read: potential disappointment) arises.
But whining about getting stiffed by Emmy voters is one thing. Undermining the public’s faith in key democratic institutions and processes is quite another. In the hierarchy of Trump toxicity, this may be the most insidious.
It is, unfortunately, also central to his political message. At the core of what Mr. Trump is selling is the idea that all of government and politics and culture are rotten, and that only he can be trusted to get things back on track. But on those occasions when he fails to deliver, don’t look for him to accept responsibility. He’ll just find another reason to blame the system.