As he took the stage here in this mountain town Friday afternoon, Donald Trump was as subdued as the modest crowd that turned out to see him. He complained about the usual things — the dishonest media, his “corrupt” rival Hillary Clinton — but his voice was hoarse and his heart didn’t seem in it.
He also promised to do all that he could to win, but he explained why he might lose.
“What a waste of time if we don’t pull this off,” Trump said. “You know, these guys have said: ‘It doesn’t matter if you win or lose. There’s never been a movement like this in the history of this country.’ I say, it matters to me if we win or lose. So I’ll have over $100 million of my own money in this campaign.”
“So, if I lose,” Trump continued as the crowd remained unusually quiet, “if I lose, I will consider this —”
Trump didn’t finish his sentence.
His final debate performance this week was a bust, with him snarling that Clinton was “such a nasty woman” and gritting his teeth as he angrily ripped pages off a notepad when it was over. He is under fire from all quarters for refusing to say he will honor the election results if he loses, while 10 women have now come forward accusing him of groping or kissing them without consent. The capper to Trump’s bad stretch came Thursday night, when a ballroom full of New York City’s glitterati booed him as he gave remarks attacking Clinton at a charity roast.
The gloomy mood has extended to his signature rallies, which Trump used to find fun. During the primaries, he would bound onto rally stages bursting with energy and a sense of excitement that intensified as the crowds chanted his name and cheered his every word. He would regularly schedule news conferences, call into news shows and chat with reporters, eager to spar with them. He would say politically incorrect things and then watch his polling numbers soar. He used to be the winner.
But no more. In recent days, Trump has tried to explain away his slide in the polls as a conspiracy carried out by the media, Democrats and Republicans. If he loses, it will be because he was cheated, Trump has repeatedly told his supporters, urging them to go to polling places in neighborhoods other than their own and “watch.”
Trump’s supporters have concocted elaborate explanations for why he might lose, often involving massive voter fraud conducted by Democrats who will bus undocumented immigrants and people posing as people who have died to battleground states to vote illegally. There are also fears that election results in some states will be tampered with, and Trump’s backers have cheered his promise to challenge the election results if he doesn’t win.
“Since we can’t check to see if you voted in three states, you will. If you want to vote in three states, you will,” said Larry Lewis, 67, a former electrician who lives in Hendersonville, N.C.. He said he doesn't know anyone who has committed voter fraud but has gotten up to speed on the issue thanks to talk radio. “I mean, that is human nature. I have ultimate faith in human nature.”
Campaigning Friday in Cleveland, Clinton again criticized Trump for refusing to say he will honor the election results and joked about her time onstage debating him. “I have now spent 41/2 hours onstage with Donald, proving once again I have the stamina to be president,” she said.