If Donald Trump loses in November, he’ll have no shortage of people to blame. Besides himself, that is.
Trump, who has peddled a variety of conspiracy theories throughout his campaign, is in the midst of building his most elaborate one yet around the recent flood of allegations that he groped, kissed, and grabbed women without their consent.
At a Thursday rally in West Palm Beach, he lashed out at women accusing him of “fabricated” and “absolutely false” sexual misconduct, linking them to an ever-expanding plot to undermine his campaign that he’s laid out in recent days.
“These people are horrible people, they're horrible, horrible liars and interestingly, it happens to appear 26 days before our very important election, isn't that amazing?” Trump said.
He claimed Clinton and the press engaged in a “concerted, coordinated” effort to find the women and publish their stories in order to distract from apparent hacked emails from Clinton aides posted on Wikileaks that Trump said are “exposing the massive international corruption of the Clinton machine.”
“For them it’s a war and for them nothing at all is out of bounds,” he said.
American intelligence officials have squarely blamed a rash of hacking attacks against Democratic targets and distributed through Wikileaks on a Russian effort to influence the election — likely in Trump's favor.
But Trump’s rhetoric, which he has said is no longer "shackled" by efforts to appease Republicans critics, is focusing on a supposed shadowy web of actors he claims are threatening to steal the election.
“This is a conspiracy against you, the American people, and we cannot let this happen or continue,” Trump said.
Who’s in on the conspiracy? Almost everybody.
On Thursday, Trump named his various female accusers, the corporate-owned media who reported their allegations, Hillary Clinton, the Department of Justice for not jailing Hillary Clinton, and Wall Street banks.
“The Clinton machine is at the center of this power structure,” Trump said. “We have seen this in the WikiLeaks documents in which Hillary Clinton meets in secret with international banks to plot the destruction of U.S. sovereignty in order to enrich these global financial powers, her special interest friends, and her donors."
Other co-conspirators named by Trump earlier in the week included “crooked” public pollsters who showed Trump losing, election officials and “other communities” in swing states threatening to rig ballots, and a “sinister deal” involving Speaker Paul Ryan that Trump did not elaborate upon.
It seems everyone is in the dark secret society out to wreck Trump, with the exception of the person caught on tape saying he uses his celebrity status to “grab ‘em by the p---y.”
Or the person who told Howard Stern that his visits to young women’s dressing rooms were a side benefit of owning beauty pageants.
Or the person who met a young girl in footage from 1992 and responded, “I am going to be dating her in 10 years.”
(That person in each case, by the way, is Trump himself)
Now the former reality TV star stands accused by multiple women of carrying out almost the exact behavior he described when he boasted about groping women. He is also accused by former pageant contestants, including underage Miss Teen USA contestants, of entering their changing rooms in the same manner he described to Stern.
These “vicious claims,” as Trump described them on Thursday, had no credibility. He pledged to present evidence soon that would discredit them.
Trump denied he inappropriately touched anyone in his speech. He reserved special venom for a People magazine writer who said Trump tried to force himself on her in 2005 while she was doing a profile of his life with his new bride Melania Trump. At one point, he seemed to suggest that she was too unattractive to lend her claim merit.
“Take a look, you take a look, look at her, look at her words, you tell me what you think,” Trump said. “I don't think so, I don't think so.”
Trump noted his wife was pregnant at the time the alleged encounter with the People writer took place. But she was also pregnant when the Access Hollywood tape was filmed, where Trump said he needed “tic tacs” to a kiss a woman he was ogling and made vulgar comments about co-host Nancy O’Dell to her co-workers for refusing his advances.
As his campaign fortunes sink, Trump’s speeches resemble the comment section of Breitbart, the far-right news site that was run until recently by his campaign CEO Steve Bannon, and other corners of the Internet where he draws some of his most fervent support.
Gone is the old approach championed by Kellyanne Conway, to steadily draw in more mainstream conservatives with more disciplined rhetoric and more broadly focused appeals. Instead, Trump is reverting to the “Let Trump be Trump” approach personified by his old campaign manager Corey Lewandowski — who was also accused of assaulting a woman although the charges were later dropped.
Trump's speeches have become a Gatling gun of barbs at his critics that help fire up core supporters, with little mention of topics outside that might interest other voters. This strategy has yielded some benefits: Several Republican politicians who unendorsed Trump after the Access Hollywood tape re-endorsed him after his debate performance, which shoved aside political norms but rallied his supporters.
Whether it can win an election is another story, and right now polls show Clinton with a significant lead nationally and in most swing states. For Trump to come back in the final weeks of the race, he would need to mount a comeback like no other in recent history.
In the meantime, it’s hard to miss that Trump’s targets lately include every institution traditionally counted on to validate the legitimacy of November’s election results, including pollsters, election workers, the press, and GOP leaders.
It raises the question whether Trump, who is now regularly warning of a “rigged” or “stolen” election, could be laying the groundwork for a post-election fight in which he — or his supporters — refuses to concede.
And as Trump moves into darker territory, there are other concerns that could extend beyond the election.
After Thursday afternoon’s speech, some observers expressed alarm that language from Trump about an international cabal of media and finance leaders out to crush working Americans strongly resembled anti-Semitic tropes popular with fringe supporters of his campaign.
“I’m not suggesting that somehow what was said today had the intent of riling up the anti-Semites,” Oren Segal, director of the Anti-Defamation League Center on Extremism, told NBC News. “But what I do know is that the anti-Semites will feel somewhat connected to the concepts there.”
Democrats, for their part, aren’t letting Trump go unchallenged. In a rare attack speech, first lady Michelle Obama excoriated Trump in New Hampshire for his comments and alleged behavior towards women.
“This is not normal,” she said. “This is not politics as usual. This is disgraceful, it is intolerable, and it doesn't matter what party you belong to.”