During World War I, the German government, in order to keep up war morale, informed its citizens and allies that the war would surely be won by the Axis powers. At times, this required some rather fancy footwork: the military censored the newspapers, and German nationalists maintained that every defeat was a strategic retreat, every victory a step closer to total victory.
When the Germans lost, Germans were forced to cope with sudden reality. The Germans were beaten on the battlefield. But that possibility had never entered the public mind, and it wouldn’t enter it even after defeat.
Instead of recognizing reality, Germans began talking regularly about the dolchstoß: the stab in the back. The theory was that Germany was winning the war, but cowardly civilians –Social Democrats in the main – had brought about a negotiated armistice. The stab-in-the-back myth became a crucial selling point for the nationalist populists in Germany.
Now, the Trump movement is building the groundwork for its own dolchstoßlegende.
Trump is down in the polls. But Trump Train supporters in the media continue to sell the notion to Trump fans that he’s winning. Not that he might still win, which is true – they say that he is currently winning. They do this in order to set up an argument for after the election.
On Wednesday, as I wrote, Trump lawyer Michael Cohen seemed to deny the existence of polls on CNN. Then, Eric Bolling of Fox News argued that polls should be ignored since they were biased – that crowd size was a better representation of Trumpthusiasm than actual poll numbers. Then, last night, Bill O’Reilly grilled Dana Perino for saying that polls matter, asking her whether her polling analysis meant she was anti-Trump.
The attempts to pretend that polls don’t matter sets up a perfect precursor to a new stabbed-in-the-back myth. All bad data must be scrubbed to boost enthusiasm. Then, when the polls end up being right, nobody can point out that Trump was losing all along – the polls were always skewed, and Trump was always winning, he was just “sabotaged,” to use Sean Hannity’s new favorite word.
Another precursor to the new stabbed-in-the-back myth: the Trump campaign’s sudden insistence that if Trump loses, the elections themselves will have been rigged. A new Pew poll today shows that just 11 percent of Trump supporters are very confident that “votes across the country will be accurately counted in the upcoming election”; more Trump voters are not at all confident or not too confident that votes actually matter nationally.
This push from the Trump campaign isn’t designed to foment armed insurrection, as some of the more hysterical media critics have claimed. It’s designed to provide an excuse for Trump losing if he loses: the polls were always wrong and Trump was winning; Trump did win; if it hadn’t been for those darn #NeverTrump saboteurs, he would have carried the election easily. In fact, maybe he did!
Here’s the reality: Trump is losing in the polls. He’s losing because he’s run, to this point, the most incompetent general election campaign in modern American history. Perhaps Trump turns it around. But if he doesn’t, he’s all prepared for the blame game afterwards.
When Mitt Romney lost in 2012, he didn’t blame the Trump voters who didn’t show up. He was the candidate. It was his job to get voters to the ballot box. Not so with Trump, who operates on the narrative that he never loses, and that anytime he does, he’s been wronged. He’s busily stoking the flames of a lie – that he’s winning – and he’ll blame everybody else if he doesn’t.
Get ready: the Trump purges begin November 9 if he loses on November 8.