Is Donald Trump testing his exit strategy?

TRUMP-GOPIt is a sign of how poorly Donald Trump is doing in the polls that he already is working on his reasons to be a sore loser.

The system, he says, is “rigged” against him and his voters.

“I’m afraid the election’s going to be rigged, I’ve got to be honest,” he warned in a rally Monday in Columbus, Ohio, and later that day on Sean Hannity’s Fox News program.

“I’m telling you, Nov. 8, we’d better be careful, because that election is going to be rigged,” he told Hannity.

Trump’s only evidence for fraud consisted of “precincts where there were practically nobody voting for the Republican” in the 2012 election. “If you don’t have voter ID,” he said, “you can just keep voting and voting and voting.”

That’s his own version of the standard Republican argument for mandatory voter ID cards. I have long found it suspicious that Republicans push for photo ID cards, which tend to reduce low-income and minority turnout, in face-to-face voting.

Recent court decisions in North Carolina, Texas, Wisconsin, Ohio, South Dakota and Kansas, among others, have overturned various voter ID restrictions as nice on paper but illegally discriminatory in practice. Voter fraud is far too rare to be worth the denial of voting rights that such laws have brought about, the courts have ruled.

But Trump’s exaggerations are mild compared to those of some of his supporters, such as radio host Alex Jones, who warned that the Obama administration might “cancel the election.” And Trump’s occasional adviser Roger Stone raised eyebrows by telling Breitbart News that Trump should prepare for a “violent postelection contest.”

“I mean civil disobedience, not violence,” said Stone, “but it will be a bloodbath. The government will be shut down if they attempt to steal this and swear Hillary in.”

“Not violence” but a “bloodbath?” Stone’s ominously colorful language reminds me of Trump’s Twitter freakout in 2012 after he learned of President Barack Obama’s re-election victory. Trump condemned America’s democratic process, said the Electoral College should be shut down and called for a revolution. Cooler heads prevailed — that time.

Is Trump reviving those anxieties now to prepare us for charges of voter fraud in November? That’s often his style. As we have seen, Trump doesn’t let an absence of facts or evidence get in the way of his conspiracy theories. His recent political life, after all, began with a bogus birther theory about Obama’s birth certificate.

“What does that mean?” Obama said incredulously when asked about Trump’s charge in a news conference. After all, elections are run by state and local agencies, not the federal government, Obama pointed out.

“You know, go out there and try to win the election,” Obama said. “If Mr. Trump is up 10 or 15 points on Election Day and ends up losing, then maybe he can raise some questions. That doesn’t seem to be the case at the moment.”

Hardly. As Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton enjoyed a healthy post-convention bump in national polls, Trump gave her an extra boost with his own series of unforced errors.

For example, he wouldn’t let go of his unwinnable feud with the Muslim parents of a U.S. Army captain who died preventing a suicide bomber from killing his fellow soldiers. Trump also refused to endorse fellow Republicans Speaker of the House Paul Ryan and Arizona Sen. John McCain for re-election.

Trump even (gasp!) booted a crying baby from a rally moments after saying he enjoyed hearing crying babies. Other politicians kiss babies. Trump ejected one as if the little bambino were a Black Lives Matter protester.

In a campaign year already shaped largely by working-class fears, suspicions and frustrations about Wall Street, Washington and “the liberal media” and other institutions, Trump’s fears find many willing ears, just as Sen. Bernie Sanders’ did among Democratic voters.

We have enough baseless paranoia about our institutions — and unhinged extremists on the fringes — without Trump and Friends stirring up more of it. Even so, this campaign year should serve as a wake-up call to both parties. We need to resolve such pressing issues as immigration reform, trade treaties and income inequality at the ballot box, not on the streets.

Trump has the right issues, but he hasn’t been the right leader.

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