But now, in the waning days of the 2016 presidential race, Trump is publicly beginning to rationalize and explain why he might lose spectacularly on the biggest stage of all — blaming Hillary Clinton, Republicans, the media, and a “rigged” election process.
The conspiracy against Trump is, in his characterization, far-reaching and deliberate. During a speech Wednesday in West Palm Beach, Fla., he described a “corporate media” whose “agenda is to elect crooked Hillary Clinton at any cost, at any price, no matter how many lives they destroy.”
“This election will determine whether we’re a free nation or whether we have only the illusion of democracy but are, in fact, controlled by a small handful of global special interests rigging the system,” Trump added. “And our system is rigged. This is reality.”
The “establishment and their media enablers,” Trump warned further, would target anyone who took them on, “[seeking] to destroy everything about you, including your reputation.”
Trump leveled these charges amid fresh accusations that he sexually assaulted several women in incidents spanning decades. The accounts were published by multiple news outlets this week, sending his campaign once more into crisis mode. Trump has denied the allegations.
He has fired up his Twitter account in his defense, using it to attack his accusers, the media and members of his own party. He called the New York Times’ story featuring two women making accusations against him “a TOTAL FABRICATION.” He charged the media with not covering allegations against Clinton: “Very little pick-up by the dishonest media of incredible information provided by WikiLeaks. So dishonest! Rigged system!” And he wrote of his party: “Disloyal R’s are far more difficult than Crooked Hillary. They come at you from all sides. They don’t know how to win – I will teach them!”
Trump’s fiery response has been reflective of his transformed disposition on the campaign trail. In just a few weeks, the GOP nominee has gone from a contender on the rise, citing his winning poll numbers, to a defensive candidate swinging at any and all threats.
“It’s so nice that the shackles have been taken off me and I can now fight for America the way I want to,” Trump tweeted recently.
But the fight has appeared, at times, like a matchup between Trump and the world.
Democrats and the media are no novel foes for a Republican candidate, of course. But the scope of Trump’s preemptive blame game has been broader than that, also encompassing those in his own party who have distanced themselves from him or withdrawn their endorsements entirely.
At a rally in Ocala, Fla., on Wednesday, Trump said he already “has a massive disadvantage, and especially when you have the leaders not putting their weight behind the people.” That dynamic, he speculated, reflected more nefarious forces at work.
“There’s a whole deal going on there. I mean, you know, there’s a whole deal going on and we’re going to figure it out,” Trump said. “I always figure things out. But there’s a whole sinister deal going on.”
And in Pennsylvania on Monday, Trump continued to raise the prospect that the election could be “stolen” from him through voter fraud or other means. “Watch other communities because we don’t want this election stolen from us,” he warned his supporters. “We do not want this election stolen from us.”
Those remarks and others like them drew a direct rebuke from Clinton’s campaign: “He clearly is trying to lay a foundation for challenging the legitimacy of the potential next president, just as he sought to do with the nation’s first African-American president,” Brian Fallon, a spokesperson for Clinton, told The New Times.
In a recent Associated Press poll, roughly half of Trump’s Republican supporters expressed doubts that votes would be counted fairly – sentiments that mirror the candidate’s rhetoric.
Trump has previously used finger-pointing tactics at challenging points throughout the campaign when his fortunes were at their dimmest. During the final stretch of the Republican primary, he charged that delegate apportionment was “rigged” and “crooked,” although the rules for the process had been laid out by the party in advance.
“It’s a rigged party,” Trump told CNN in May. “The bosses want to pick whoever they want to pick.”
Among those who have closely followed Trump’s career, the celebrity businessman’s scapegoating is a familiar fallback.
Timothy O’Brien, who wrote a biography of the candidate, told Politico recently that Trump would “never acknowledge” his own personal or political shortcomings in defeat. “He’ll just come up with an alternate reality that said, ‘It was rigged against me,’” O’Brien said.
“He’ll never characterize himself as a loser in this process,” O’Brien added, “even if he ends up as one.”