The GOP’s nightmare scenario right now is Donald Trump refusing that he would concede the presidential election, and (1) having his supporters take to the streets in protest, and/or (2) undermining democracy in some significant and lasting way.
John Harwood thinks the concern is overblown. He tweeted, ‘‘about our democracy: if Hillary wins 270 electoral votes on Nov 8 her ability to take oath of office will not depend on Trump’s permission’’
Harwood also tweeted, ‘‘put differently, a single aggrieved candidate — even if a major party WH nominee — lacks the capacity to create a constitutional crisis’’
There is certainly plenty of consternation right now about Trump’s comments at Wednesday’s debate. But if he did go down that road after Election Day, and raised hell about a ‘‘rigged’’ election being stolen from him, would Republicans even follow him?
It’s certainly the case that GOP voters believe in the existence of large-scale voter fraud, which would be the basis of Trump’s case for a stolen election. As I wrote earlier this year:
■ A Bloomberg News poll showed that 56 percent of Trump backers believe the election will be ‘‘rigged.’’
■ A poll from Democratic-leaning automated pollster Public Policy Polling showed that 69 percent of Trump supporters in North Carolina said that if Hillary Clinton won, it would not be because she got more votes, but ‘‘because the election results are rigged for her.’’
■ A survey in Wisconsin back in 2014, meanwhile, showed 54 percent of Republicans thought voter fraud affected thousands of votes in that state — the largest option offered.
■ And multiple national polls have shown a majority of Republicans believe voter fraud is a ‘‘major’’ problem.
So clearly, there is a willingness to believe in the core premise of Trump’s argument that the election was stolen.
But that’s different from saying there would be an actual uprising. And there is reason to believe that many or most Republican voters wouldn’t follow Trump into that rabbit hole.
For one, a new Bloomberg poll shows that just 24 percent of Republicans say that Trump should be the face of the GOP if Hillary Clinton is elected president. His VP pick, Mike Pence, actually finished first, at 27 percent. That’s pretty striking for a GOP presidential nominee to not be in first place.
The Bloomberg poll also shows just 38 percent of Republicans say that they will ‘‘stay loyal to [Trump] and what he stands for and follow his future endeavors for the foreseeable future,’’ while 33 percent say they will ‘‘stay with him and pay attention to what he’s doing for a while,’’ but likely lose interest after a bit. Another 24 percent say they’ll quickly disregard him.
Again, this doesn’t suggest anything close to a majority of Republicans would be Trump dead-enders.
Secondly, it remains true that many Republicans simply don’t love him and don’t believe he represents their party. A Washington Post-ABC News poll last week showed 37 percent of Republican say Trump doesn’t represent the core values of the party (56 percent said he did). Another Post-ABC poll from late last month, meanwhile, showed just 49 percent of Republicans have a ‘‘strongly favorable’’ view of Trump, which seems like it’s a good approximation of his most passionate supporters. So clearly it wouldn’t be all, or probably even half, of the GOP rising up.
The Bloomberg poll also showed, notably, that just 17 percent of likely voters have a ‘‘very favorable’’ view of Trump. Amazingly, that’s significantly less than his lesser-known running mate, Pence, whom 26 percent view very favorably.
More than anything, though, there is the emerging prospect of a Hillary Clinton rout, in which she wins basically every swing state, a scenario which appears quite possible right now. The 2000 election showed us that plenty of people are liable to believe the election was stolen when the election was very, very close; but the 2016 election right now simply isn’t.
If the election were held today, it would require arguing that millions of votes were shifted through voter fraud in many different states — a majority of which have Republicans in charge of elections, by the way, who would likely attest uniformly and vocally to the validity of the election results. Trump would be on an island.
The party is clearly wary of the idea that Trump would question the legitimacy of his loss — and for good reason. This is the kind of thing that could undermine the work of all government officials, from both parties. And it’s worth tamping it down early and often to make sure that doesn’t happen.
But the idea that people would truly rise up against the government if Trump goes down this road is still a very unlikely worst-case scenario. And while the passions of an election season may not die out quickly, it’s much more likely this posture would help Trump launch a media company than upend American government.
But that, in and of itself, is good reason for Republican Party leaders to want him to pipe down. While Trump might not undermine democracy, he could very well continue to undermine GOP unity.