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Electoral College Refusing Trump?

November 17, 2016

This is an interesting possibility. I really, really doubt it, but it does add a dimension to the staffing negotiations now going on between Trump and/or his core team, and the Republicans (and Democrats) with whom he will have to work for 4 years. Also this has some relevance to the goal of promoting Proportional Representation and Ranked Choice Voting.

So in the US a voter doesn’t directly vote for a president – he or she votes for a party who gets to choose electors apportioned to that state. Those are then sent to the electoral college, and those 538 people do a simple majority vote for the next President.

Nearly all states have winner-takes-all for assigning parties to choose the states’ electors. But right away we have a point which is overlooked! Proportional Representation, RCV, or whatever system strikes your fancy, could be implemented at state level, which is far less daunting than a nationwide constitutional amendment.

Back to our present situation. Many Democrats and more than a few Republicans wish to avoid a Trump presidency. However, he is the Republican nominee, and per the existing rules, silly as they are, Trump won for the Republican party the right to choose the majority of the electoral college delegates.

So the power to choose someone other than Trump lies with the Republican majority within those 538 men and women going to electoral college. In practice, it most likely means the power to choose is really in the hands of R party leadership (surely they can persuade 30-some electors out of about 300, to do their bidding even against Trump’s wishes). There is also a very distant possibility of “rogue” electors acting independently.

The most likely alternative to Trump is of course Clinton. But if I understand the rules right, it is not inconceivable that a “compromise” could be reached, such that in order to have “not-Trump”, the Republican leadership, and/or dissenting Republican delegates make a deal with the Democratic leadership and the entire lot of D party delegates to elect someone other than Clinton, for the sake of compromise.

But lets say it’s Clinton, which is by far the most likely choice in this scenario. And I’ll further grant that there is no shortage of desire among Republican party leadership to do exactly this. The only thing keeping it from happening are the consequences, which are pretty significant.

To begin with, it would be an awful blow to the legitimacy of the US electoral system. Now if you believe Trump is a reckless disaster waiting to happen, you would argue that the electoral college is structured in this way for precisely the situation we have now. Trump voters will of course see it otherwise, and it is really not clear what all the people who didn’t vote will think of such a move. Currently some Democrats are protesting, here and there, rioting. This scares noone. The reverse is a different situation entirely. Keep in mind Trump is popular with law enforcement and military.

Next, there are difficulties for the Democrats. If they accept a favor of this magnitude from the Republicans, the Republicans completely own them for the next 4 years. Bill Clinton was already Republican-Lite. A Hillary Clinton owing her presidency entirely to Republican leadership would take us much further out on that spectrum – Republicans could demand massive concessions in this situation, and Congressional Democrats would be stuck with that on their record and would suffer for it that much more in 2 years time.

But even greater are the difficulties for the Republicans. They have already lost nearly all respect from their base. For some time now, it has been obvious that Republicans were screwing their voters over pretty nicely. Until this year, they could still get votes based on a “lesser evil” logic. Now that logic has given out and Trump took their party over. Think it can’t get worse for Republican party leadership? Think again. If Republicans leaders don’t abide by their voters’ wishes to elect Trump, who will vote for their party in 2020? Trump or his successor could run as an independent, and Republicans would in that scenario have no argument at all to keep them from leaving.

So … I don’t think this is going to be a realistic way out of a Trump presidency. The alternative — for Republicans and Trump to come to some compromise — is going to be far more appealing to both of them.

But the threat of an uncooperative electoral college might be something Republicans can threaten Trump with, in the event he refuses to compromise with them entirely. (i.e., suggest that “rogue electors” wink-wink nudge-nudge, not controlled by the R leadership, might refuse to vote for him).

What I see coming of that is that Trump has no choice but to compromise on whatever most displeases the powers that be. And no, that isn’t going to be Trump’s habit of saying racist or misogynist things to get attention, no matter how awful an example it sets… big money doesn’t usually focus on that kind of thing. Most likely the concession demanded will be his opposition to trade deals such as the TPP. (It’s not like he was threatening to rein in Wall Street or raise taxes). After thinking it over, I now expect Trade deals to return fairly soon – probably before the 2018 elections.


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