When Trump Says He’ll Lose Pa. Only If There’s “Cheating,” He Means in Philly

If Trump loses the election, his voters might blame Philadelphia. Here's why that's problematic.

Donald Trump

Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump speaks to members of the audience during a commercial break at a CNN town hall earlier this year. | Photo by Andrew Harnik/AP

Donald Trump has built a presidential campaign on scapegoating — blaming Mexicans, Muslims, undocumented immigrants and many others for all that is wrong with the country.

Now it looks as if he’ll point his finger at someone else if he loses, too. That someone else could be the residents of Philadelphia, if a recent Trump rally is any indication.

In Altoona on Friday, Trump said the only way that Hillary Clinton would win the “vital state” of Pennsylvania is if “cheating goes on.” He said it is “shocking” that the state doesn’t require voters to present ID at the ballot box, and he urged his supporters to “go around and look and watch other polling places and make sure that it’s 100 percent fine.

“We have to call up law enforcement. And we have to have the sheriffs and the police chiefs and everybody watching,” he said, according to the Washington Post. “We’re going to watch Pennsylvania. Go down to certain areas and watch and study, make sure other people don’t come in and vote five times.”

Trump never said the word “Philadelphia,” but it’s almost certainly what he meant when he referred to “cheating” in “certain areas” by “other people.” The city has the largest concentration of Democratic voters in Pennsylvania, and conservative commentators have long pushed conspiracy theories about voter fraud in the area. Just last week, Fox’s Sean Hannity suggested on Twitter that something was afoot because 59 of Philadelphia’s 1,687 voting divisions did not record a single vote for Mitt Romney in 2012.

As others have pointed out, it’s really not surprising that, in an extremely liberal city in a year in which President Barack Obama’s approval ratings were high, no one in a handful of predominantly Democratic, African-American divisions voted for Romney. As Politifact reported, “some of the 59 divisions had fewer than 10 registered Republicans.”

A few officials in Philadelphia have been charged with election fraud in recent years, but such cases have been rare. In fact, after Pennsylvania passed a voter ID law in 2012, state lawyers could not point to evidence of a single case of in-person voter fraud when the law was challenged in court. It was later struck down.

Nonetheless, when Trump asked Republican U.S. Rep. Bill Shuster to speak at the Altoona rally, the Congressman said he believes fraud is taking place in Philadelphia: “The people in western and central Pennsylvania have to overcome what goes on down in Philadelphia. The cheating, what they do — we’ve got to make sure we’re doing the job here in central Pennsylvania.”

It’s not uncommon for campaigns to station volunteers outside of polling places. They do this for any number of reasons, including to look out for voter intimidation and encourage voters to support their candidate. But Trump’s call to “make sure other people don’t come in and vote five times” is much different than that. For one thing, he’s making these comments in the context of a campaign that has repeatedly demonized immigrants and Muslims, condoned violence against black protesters, refused to condemn white supremacists, suggested that it might have supported Japanese internment camps, and … the list goes on and on and on.

Trump is also pretty clearly talking about ensuring that “cheating” doesn’t happen in a city that is majority-minority — and which is home to an estimated 200,000 Muslims — with the help of his overwhelmingly white supporters and “law enforcement” throughout the rest of the state. As Solomon Jones wrote on NewsWorks, “With his call to use police as poll monitors in select Pennsylvania communities, Trump is not only touting police as a potential tool of intimidation against voters of color. He is seeking to exploit the historical fault lines that cause many blacks to view police as enforcers of systemic racism.”

The history of Jim Crow laws also makes clear that African-Americans’ right to vote has been repeatedly disenfranchised and threatened since the passage of the 15th and 19th Amendments. Just last month, a panel of three judges struck down a voter ID law in North Carolina because it was “passed with racially discriminatory intent.” The court found that, among other things, “The racial data provided to the legislators revealed that African-Americans disproportionately used early voting in both 2008 and 2012. … In particular, African-Americans disproportionately used the first seven days of early voting. After receipt of this racial data, the General Assembly amended the bill to eliminate the first week of early voting, shortening the total early voting period from seventeen to ten days.”

Trump’s comments further divide a state that is already terribly divided. We don’t need someone stoking tensions between police officers and communities of color for political gain. A place like Altoona doesn’t need any more reasons to see Philadelphians as “other people.”

All this, because a man can’t admit that he might lose fair and square. According to FiveThirtyEight, Clinton currently has a 89 percent chance of winning Pennsylvania. Trump’s shot at success? Eleven percent.

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