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Monday, December 09, 2019 {{ new Date().getDay() }}

George Wallace. Henry Ford. Hitler.

No, it’s not the start of a bad joke. These are just a few of the historical figures to whom critics are comparing Donald Trump.

Of course, finding an exact precedent for Trump is a futile exercise. History is not a cycle that repeats itself over and over, but rather a never-ending continuum filled with intersecting layers. Think of it as less of a carousel, and more of a roller coaster that keeps adding new twists and turns, much to the discomfort of its nauseated passengers.

Still, historical comparisons are useful in examining how elements of the Trump phenomenon work. One of the most puzzling questions about Trump has been his knack for political mobilization. How has a widely panned candidate managed to gain such a substantial following? The answer lies in the strategy of another polarizing leader: William “Boss” Tweed.

Both men built a fervent political base out of a single demographic to which they did not belong. By focusing on the special interests of that neglected group, Tweed and Trump found success in a political climate that otherwise would’ve labeled them as crooks and liars.

Tweed’s Tammany Hall machine relied on securing the votes of recent immigrants, particularly the Irish. In an environment plagued by poverty and nativism, Tweed smelled opportunity. He and his colleagues created an early welfare system that supplied the immigrants with food, jobs, and housing in exchange for political support. Historian Kenneth D. Ackerman writes that Tammany Hall provided “state money for schools and hospitals, lumps of coal at Christmas, and city patronage jobs to put bread on family dinner tables.” Though the self-serving motives behind Tweed’s generosity were clear, New York’s poor continued to back him based on the simple fact that he made their lives better when other politicians just didn’t seem to care.

Tweed and his cronies used their growing power as an opportunity to embezzle thousands of dollars from public projects, most infamously through a phony renovation to the City Court House. Nevertheless, Tweed never viewed his theft as an immoral act. It was business, and he was good at it. Towards the end of his life, Tweed explained, “The fact is New York politics were always dishonest, long before my time. There never was a time you couldn’t buy the Board of Aldermen […] A politician coming forward takes things as they are.”

Sound familiar? Trump has similarly used bankruptcy laws and eminent domain — meant for “public use” — to his advantage.

Trump’s outspoken beliefs and motivations have already earned him the spite of many fellow billionaires, but he doesn’t seem to care. Instead, he has established his base among the less-educated, blue-collar voters across the country.

With promises to secure jobs at home and kick ISIS’s ass abroad, Trump has amassed a committed base of support. Based on a New York Times analysis, Trump support correlates strongly with white people who ethnically identify as “American,” those without high school degrees, and those who live in mobile homes.

Many of Trump’s supporters look to him as a paternal figure capable of redirecting America’s wealth back to its forgotten citizens. Paul Weber, an attendee of a Trump rally in Iowa, complained that recent immigrants are “getting pregnant and coming here and having babies,” allowing them to “get everything and the people that were born here can’t get everything.” Many also chalk up Trump’s personal success, multiple declarations of bankruptcy notwithstanding, as a sign that he would have better control over economic fluctuations. “I like him because he’s a businessman,” explained Trump enthusiast Linda Wilkerson. She added, “We’re in terrible financial debt. I hope he can bail us out.”

So, what can we expect from Trump based on Tweed’s trajectory? For one thing, Tweed’s subsequent downfall demonstrates just how fragile Trump’s popularity may be. He too is dependent on single group’s allegiance, and any hit to his tough-guy reputation could prove fatal. It’s just like that old saying about putting all your eggs—or Trump steaks—in one basket.

But where will this decisive blow come from? Trump’s media presence, currently one of his greatest assets, could become his undoing.

Like Trump, Tweed had a less than amicable relationship with the mainstream media. Perhaps in another world, the two men would meet in a penthouse to sip some vintage brut and scowl at caricatures of bloated bellies and bad comb overs.

Tweed was a favorite target of cartoonist Thomas Nast, nowadays most famous for his design of the modern Santa Claus. Nast portrayed Tweed as a sleazy criminal who stole funds from public projects while wearing a diamond on his shirt and a money sack over his head. The efforts of Nast and other journalists eventually exposed Tweed’s fraudulence and damaged his popularity among immigrants. He died penniless and imprisoned in 1878.

So far, Trump has dodged every media attack, somehow turning each gaffe and insult into a display of American authority. However, Trump will not be as invulnerable should he ever have the responsibility to govern. He has little to lose as an outsider candidate, but any corruption in office would reveal him as the hypocrite he is.

Many Democrats are getting nervous about the upcoming presidential election. Ominous, extensively reported articles by two of the best in the business—the New Yorker's Jeffrey Toobin and The Atlantic's Barton Gellman—outline Boss Trump's plot to keep control of the White House in 2021 no matter how the American people vote.
Trump is hardly making a secret of it. He's pointedly refused to commit to "a peaceful transfer of power."

"Well, we're going to have to see what happens," is how he answered the question. He added that after we "get rid of the ballots"—presumably mail-in ballots he's been whining about for weeks--"there won't be a transfer, frankly. There'll be a continuation."

Of course, Trump himself has always voted by mail, but then brazen hypocrisy is his standard operating mode. If you haven't noticed, he also lies a lot. Without prevaricating, boasting, and bitching, he'd be mute. And even then, he'd still have Twitter. He recently tweeted that the winner "may NEVER BE ACCURATELY DETERMINED" because mail-in ballots make it a "RIGGED ELECTION in waiting."
Gellman gets this part exactly right in The Atlantic: "Let us not hedge about one thing. Donald Trump may win or lose, but he will never concede. Not under any circumstance. Not during the Interregnum and not afterward. If compelled in the end to vacate his office, Trump will insist from exile, as long as he draws breath, that the contest was rigged.
"Trump's invincible commitment to this stance will be the most important fact about the coming Interregnum. It will deform the proceedings from beginning to end. We have not experienced anything like it before."
No, we haven't. However, it's important to remember that Trump makes threats and promises almost daily that never happen. Remember that gigantic border wall Mexico was going to pay for? Trump has built exactly five miles of the fool thing, leaving roughly two thousand to go.
His brilliant cheaper, better health care plan? Non-existent.
On Labor Day, Boss Trump boasted of his unparalleled success in strong-arming Japan into building new auto-manufacturing plants. "They're being built in Ohio, they're being built in South Carolina, North Carolina, they're being built all over and expanded at a level that we've never seen before."
Not a word of that is true. Two new plants, one German, another Swedish have opened in South Carolina, but construction began before Trump took office. Auto industry investment during Barack Obama's second term far exceeded Trump's. His version is sheer make-believe.
But back to the GOP scheme to steal the election.
First, it's clear that even Trump understands that he has virtually no chance of winning the national popular vote. He's been polling in the low 40s, with no sign of change. To have any chance of prevailing in the Electoral College, he's got to do the electoral equivalent of drawing to an inside straight all over again—winning a half-dozen so-called battleground states where he defeated Hillary Clinton in 2016 by the narrowest of margins.
At this writing, that looks highly unlikely. The latest polling in must-win Pennsylvania, for example, shows Trump trailing Joe Biden by nine points. That's a landslide. Trump's down ten in Wisconsin, eight in Michigan. And so on.
So spare me the screeching emails in ALL CAPS, OK? Polls were actually quite accurate in 2016. Trump narrowly defeated the odds. It can happen. But he's in far worse shape this time. Furthermore, early voting turnout is very high, with Democrats outnumbering Republicans two to one.
Hence, The Atlantic reports, "Trump's state and national legal teams are already laying the groundwork for post-election maneuvers that would circumvent the results of the vote count in battleground states."
The plan is clear. Because more Democrats than Republicans are choosing mail-in voting during the COVID pandemic, Trump hopes to prevent those ballots from being counted. Assuming he'll have a narrow "swing state" lead on election night, he'll declare victory and start filing lawsuits. "The red mirage," some Democrats call it.
"As a result," Toobin writes, "the aftermath of the 2020 election has the potential to make 2000 look like a mere skirmish." With Trump in the White House urging armed militias to take to the street.
Mail-in votes take a long time to count. Things could definitely get crazy.
True, but filing a lawsuit to halt a Florida recount was one thing. Filing suits against a half dozen states to prevent votes from being counted at all is quite another. Public reaction would be strong. Also, winning such lawsuits requires serious evidence of fraud. Trumpian bluster ain't evidence.
The Atlantic reports that GOP-controlled state legislatures are thinking about sending Trumpist delegations to the Electoral College regardless of the popular vote winner—theoretically constitutional but currently illegal.
Fat chance. If that's the best they've got, they've got nothing.
Anyway, here's the answer: Vote early, and in person*.

[Editor's note: In some states, receiving an absentee ballot means that a voter can no longer vote in person* or may have to surrender the absentee ballot, including the envelope in which it arrived, at their polling place. Please check with your local election authorities.]