For those holding on to the notion that the nastiness that has been the most prominent element of the presidential election will end on Election Day, Donald Trump provided a cold, hard dose of reality last night. Trump’s refusal to say he would accept the election results has been correctly lambasted as a disqualifying statement that undid any good he might otherwise have done for himself in the third presidential debate. Trump’s affront to democratic norms was more than just one more example of the billionaire refusing to play by the same rules that have guided generations of American leaders. It was an indication that his movement won’t be disbanding on November 9th no matter how badly he is beaten. Rather it may be redoubling its efforts to change the GOP from a conservative party into something very different.

The Trump candidacy isn’t just the culmination of years of grassroots anger about the political establishment that will end with victory or defeat. Rather, this may represent the birth of a permanent grievance faction. The possible creation of a Trump television network—previewed, as Politico noted, in the live streaming program on the candidate’s Facebook page—will likely provide a convenient vehicle for the continuation of this campaign. But such a network is likely to do more than just help him and his followers nurse their grudges against those who opposed his presidential quest.

The point that most of those who are aghast at this spectacle don’t understand is that this goes much deeper than whether Trump’s palace guard can cast enough doubt on the election results to justify continuing their fight against both Clinton and his Republican critics. His followers are swarming all over social media today citing bogus examples (such as turning Al Gore’s finest moment, when he ended the 2000 Florida vote dispute rather than let Democrats veer out of control in a futile effort to contest George W. Bush’s victory) of candidates refusing to accept results and claiming he’s right to wait. What even many of them are missing is that ginning up a myth about a stolen election in advance of a likely loss is actually integral to a broad conspiratorial mindset. It’s one that won’t accept election results any more than it would the truth about Russian hacking or any other inconvenient fact.

That’s why the attempt of some Trump surrogates to spin his rigged election talk as being the candidate hedging his bets against possible fraud are so disingenuous. There is no evidence that isolated cases of fraud provide any path to a stolen election. The purpose is to lay the groundwork for an ongoing effort to undermine faith in a variety of American institutions in the name of a backwards-looking, destructive populism that will replace the conservatism that guided the GOP since Reagan.

Trumpism is more than just a repository for the anger of the grassroots or those in the working class who have been displaced by globalization and automation. It’s a way of taking the kind of paranoid rage that was once confined to the political fever swamps of the far left and right and injecting it into the mainstream on the strength of a celebrity cult of personality that will still be seeking the spotlight after November.

Sadly, Trump has a perfect foil for this line of attack in Hillary Clinton. Her lies have done a great deal to shatter Americans faith in government. If, as is increasingly likely, she wins next month, Clinton’s arrogant refusal to be transparent and her legacy of mendacity will continue to feed Trump’s insurgency.

The option that Trump is holding open (and which he only partially walked back during a speech given Thursday afternoon) is not the possibility of disputing fraud but a way to avoid surrendering the GOP even after he has led it to defeat. In the coming years, it won’t be just budget deals that will be held up as proof of Republican surrender but even acquiescence to unfavorable election results. Trump hijacked the Republican nomination by playing the outsider. The debate and its aftermath is a signal that the election will be just the excuse for continuing that occupation and an ongoing effort to ostracize more sober members of the GOP from a party that Trump will seek to cynically remake in his own flawed image. Refusing to accept the verdict of democracy is the essence of Trumpism.

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