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Some of Donald Trump’s supporters like to repeat that Thomas Jefferson quote about refreshing the tree of liberty “with the blood of patriots and tyrants.”

Donald Trump was more interested in infecting the tree of liberty with a nasty root borer.

Nothing more clearly illustrated Trump’s unfitness to be president than his attack on the integrity of this nation’s election process.

Trump’s charge that any election he loses is “rigged” showed a profound disrespect for two centuries of American history.

His talk of rigged elections was baseless, malicious and likely to backfire.

Why? Because it so fully illustrates Trump's inability to grasp what it means to be a public servant.

But it is also dangerous.​

Coming from a major party candidate and delivered in mainstream venues, the rigged-election narrative gains a veneer of legitimacy it does not deserve.

Like an ugly grub chewing away at the root of a mighty tree, it can do lasting damage.

America’s political extremists – right and left – love conspiracy theories. Trump was helping them hatch a doozy. By questioning the legitimacy of our elections, he was undermining the legitimacy of those who win – unless, he said, he is the winner.

Really?

After refusing to say he would accept the results of the presidential election, Trump later said he would honor results – if he is the victor.

Is this a playground or a presidential race?

In fact, Trump’s realization that he might be losing may have animated this attack on the integrity of our elections.

Just as he promoted the ridiculous “birther” movement that questioned President Barack Obama’s legitimacy, Trump was making a preemptive strike against the legitimacy of the woman who seemed likely to beat him in the race for the White House.

Either he doesn't know or doesn't care that public confidence in the electoral process has been a source of national strength.

When the 2000 presidential contest between Al Gore and George W. Bush came down to a Florida recount and a U.S. Supreme Court call to stop the counting, a razor-thin victory went to Bush.

Gore did not rail against a “rigged” system. He conceded the election and promised to do “everything possible” to help Bush “bring the country together.” That was patriotism.

Imagine if Gore – instead of putting the country first – had spent the months leading up to the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attack undermining Bush's legitimacy to hold office. Our national tragedy would have been compounded by a manufactured crisis of confidence.

There were Democrats who felt Gore was the real winner, but they accepted the Bush presidency and were ready to unite behind him after 9-11.

Ironically, it is Democrats who have grumbled for years that Republican legislatures are trying to suppress turnout on the left through voter identification requirements and other restrictions, such as Arizona’s ban on ballot harvesting.

​Republicans in Arizona have been closely scrutinizing our election process for some time, and virtually no evidence has been found of voter fraud – let alone the kind of widespread “rigging” that Trump alleges.

Republicans are the top elections officials in many states, including Arizona, Colorado, Florida, Georgia, Indiana, Iowa, Michigan, Nebraska, Nevada, New Mexico, Ohio, Utah and Washington.

Were these Republicans willing participants in a rigged system?

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