Heading into the 2020 presidential election, President Donald Trump appears to be setting the stage to frame a potential Democratic win as illegitimate, suggesting that candidates across the aisle would be unable to beat him fair and square.
Following House Democrats’ announcement on Monday that they were launching an expansive investigation into the president, Trump tweeted on Tuesday morning: “The Democrats in Congress yesterday were vicious and totally showed their cards for everyone to see. When the Republicans had the Majority they never acted with such hatred and scorn! The Dems are trying to win an election in 2020 that they know they cannot legitimately win!”
And it’s not only the president: CNN noted that Trump 2020 campaign press secretary Kayleigh McEnany offered a similar statement on the Democratic probes.
"These desperate Democrats know they cannot beat President Trump in 2020,” she began. “So instead they have embarked on a disgraceful witch hunt with one singular aim: topple the will of the American people and seize the power that they have zero chance at winning legitimately.”
White House press secretary Sarah Sanders got in on the action as well, saying on Wednesday that Democrats "continue to be a group totally taken by small radical leftist fringe of their party and they're completely controlled by it, they know that's not enough to beat this President so they're going to look for other ways to do that."
Though the 2020 campaign season has barely begun, Trump and his surrogates are working hard to convince supporters that Democrats can only win the election if it is rigged in their favor.
This latest rhetoric fits nicely with Trump’s insistence directly following the 2016 election — in which he won the Electoral College but lost the popular vote to Hillary Clinton by nearly 3 million votes — that he would have bested Clinton on the popular vote, too, had it not been for all of the illegal voters.
On Nov. 27, 2016, Trump tweeted: "In addition to winning the Electoral College in a landslide, I won the popular vote if you deduct the millions of people who voted illegally."
As president, Trump has continued making the claim, despite zero evidence to support the assertion.
Even before he won in 2016, Trump was already suggesting the system was illegitimate, CNN pointed out, telling Fox News on the day of the election:
"It's largely a rigged system. And you see it at the polling booths, too. There are reports that when people vote for Republicans the entire ticket switches over to Democrats. You've seen that. It's happening at various places today. It's been reported. In other words, the machines, you put down a Republican and it registers as a Democrat. They've had a lot of complaints about that today."
Trump only wins. If he loses, some nefarious force must have been at work to undercut his success.
Such rhetoric has some worried that Trump might not accept a 2020 loss and refuse a peaceful transfer of power — including his former personal attorney, Michael Cohen.
Cohen closed his public testimony before the House Oversight Committee last week with the following thought: "Given my experience working for Mr. Trump, I fear that if he loses the election in 2020, that there will never be a peaceful transition of power.”