In the lead-up to the 2016 election, Democrats fretted openly about the possibility that Donald Trump, being a rather poor sport, might refuse to acknowledge an election loss. To be fair, Trump refused to state that he would accept election results, depending on the circumstances: "I'll keep you in suspense," he stated in his Oct. 19, 2016, debate with Hillary Clinton. Clinton, for her part, called his statement "horrifying," adding that he was harming American democracy.
Trump, of course, won. And Clinton spent the next couple of years suggesting openly that she had been robbed in the election. Democrats blamed Clinton's election loss on Russian interference, on voter suppression, on anything but Clinton's campaign performance.
That wasn't a particular shock: After George W. Bush won the 2000 election, many Democrats continued to maintain that he was an illegitimate president. And not much changed in the nearly two decades since: In 2018, Democrats insisted that Georgia gubernatorial candidate Stacey Abrams had actually defeated Brian Kemp, despite having lost by approximately 55,000 votes. To this day, Democratic presidential candidates repeat the lie that Kemp stole the election from Abrams.
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Now in the run-up to 2020, Democrats are already suggesting that if President Trump wins, the election will have been illegitimate. This time, they're pointing to Trump's supposed attempt to gather information from the Ukrainian government on potential 2020 rival Joe Biden in return for release of much-needed military aid. In fact, Democrats state that if Trump is not impeached, the 2020 results will inevitably be deemed improper.
On Sunday, Rep. Jerry Nadler, D-N.Y., who suggested way back in 2017 that though Trump was "legally elected," he was "not legitimate," doubled down: "The president, based on his past performance, will do everything he can to make it not a fair election. And this is part of what gives us the urgency to proceed with this impeachment." House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., said last week, "The president leaves us no choice but to act because he is trying to corrupt, once again, the election for his own benefit." Rep. Veronica Escobar, D-Texas, told CNN's Jake Tapper, "If you have a corrupt executive who is willing to maintain power by corrupting our election, there's an urgency there." Former federal prosecutor Anne Milgram wrote in The New York Times, "Who gets to pick the next president of the United States – President Trump, Ukraine, Russia or us?"
Impeachment, then, must be used without proper evidence of a crime in order to prevent Trump from stealing the election. By this logic, any suspicion of illegitimacy in an upcoming election becomes an excuse for ousting a legitimately elected president. This is a vicious cycle: illegitimate impeachments based on perception of illegitimate elections. And with Pelosi promising that our very civilization is at stake – a contention she made over the weekend – over the outcome of the next election, we can be sure that the pressure will continue to rise.
Things are already ugly in American politics. A republic can only be maintained when the people have faith that even if their side loses an election, that election was legitimate – and only when people believe that there is a tomorrow. With Democrats openly claiming that they can run an end-around with the electoral process because they don't trust the results, and stating that any future loss is evidence of corruption and a representation of the end of the country, things are about to get a lot uglier.