If You Want to Beat Trump Using the Electoral College, Understand This: Hillary Must First Stand Down




There is a way that the crazy idea of defeating Trump in the Electoral College COULD possibly work — but it would require Hillary Clinton instructing her electors not to vote for her, but instead for one of two as yet undetermined decent (but still conservative) Republicans who might be able to attract votes from members of the House GOP.  It gets even weirder from there — there’s the issue of preventing the election of easily managed Pence — but it’s the only way that the idea seems to has a chance.  (And, oh yeah — we have less than a week to figure it all out.  I’ve tried to get a head start on doing so in this post.)

The current drive to use the Electoral College to block Donald Trump from the Presidency will likely be a permanent headache for Democrats, who simply are not as good (partly because not as unified and obedient) as Republicans when it comes to these sorts of machinations.  I strongly oppose it on the grounds that it sets a horrible precedent, but the cat is already out of the bag — and the damage is largely done.  So let’s puzzle out how such a scheme would work, if it were to work at all.

Step 1:  Prevent Donald Trump from getting 270 Electoral votes

Step 2: Prevent Donald Trump from getting 26 state delegations in the House of Representatives

That’s it.  It’s a two-step process.  Now, if no one else can get 26 state delegations in the House of Representatives either, then Mike Pence becomes President.  Many Republicans would be fine with it; personally, I don’t want that to happen.  So we have to add another step:

Step 3: Find an alternative candidate who can win 26 state delegations in the House

If you stare at those steps for long enough and add one fact — that Republicans will have the majority in 32 state delegations (the state’s entire slate of House members) in the 115th Congress and Democrats will control 17 (with Maine being tied) — then you’ll sooner or later realize one thing:

The new President will be a Republican

That’s a given.  You don’t have to like it; I don’t like it myself.  But barring a miracle, the only way that you get 26 votes for someone other than Donald Trump is to give at least 8 of those Republican delegations someone whom they want in office more than Trump (or than Pence, if they can engineer a failure to get 26 delegations to vote for Trump.)

That someone is not Hillary Clinton.  There is no way, not even to stop Donald Trump (whom Republicans can remove from office within six months anyway), that you will get Republicans to support Hillary Clinton over him.  They hate her guts.  Nor would they support Bernie Sanders — and, in fact, if Bernie Sanders were in the exact position that Hillary is now, I’d say exactly the same thing about him as I’m saying about Hillary.  It’s just math.

The reason that the new President will necessarily be a Republican is not so much due to the Electoral College itself, but due to the Twelfth Amendment — see that link above for my discussion of it — which determines what happens if no one gets an Electoral College majority.  The state delegations of House members — with that 32-17-1 majority — will certainly vote for a Republican.

So the only real question before us is: which Republican?  John McCain?  Mitt Romney?  John Kasich?  Colin Powell?  Susan Collins?  You can make a case for any of them being better than Trump (or than Pence); what matters is that in some combination they have to be enough to take away at least 37 Electoral Votes from Donald Trump (who starts with 306 votes.)  If you don’t bring him down to at most 269, the game is over.

Hillary starts with 232 Electoral Votes.  If Democrats vote for Hillary, the barely successful scenario is: Trump 269, Hillary 232, Other Republicans — McCain, Romney, Kasich, Powell, Collins, whoever — a combined 37.  Only the three candidates with the most electoral votes go on to be considered by the 50 State Delegations in the House of Representatives.

THAT IS THE CRITICAL ELECTION TAKING PLACE NEXT WEEK!  Who will finish second and third behind Trump, in case he doesn’t get a 270-vote majority?  Who in addition to Trump, in other words, is on that final three-candidate ballot that would come before the House?

You may say to yourself, “well at least we know one of those other names: “Hillary Clinton.”  Right?

WRONG: that path leads to disaster for Democrats.  First of all, if there appears to be any danger that Hillary could be elected as part of this process, Republicans simply will not play along with it and they’ll just elect Trump “to be safe.”  (Yes, that does sound ironic.)  The only way that you keep Trump from getting to 270 is if Republican Electors know with certainty that a Republican will be elected.

The choice for Democrats is this:  do we want our party to be involved in choosing those two names that will appear with Trumps on the House of Reps’ ballot?  We should.  In fact, if we play our cards right, we can choose both of those names, because we have 232 votes to play with and the Republicans could have as few as 37.  I think that it’s obvious that Democrats should want to be part of that election — and any vote for Hillary counts as an abstention from that choice.

(What’s the problem with abstaining from that election?  That’s easy: 269 Republicans vote Trump, 232 vote Hillary — and plurality of the remaining 37 vote for someone worse than Trump, like Michele Bachmann or Louis Gohmert or Steve King.  Then that candidate becomes the third one on the House’s ballot — and maybe they do win 26 of the state delegations as the GOP decides en masse to desert Trump and go for someone more reliably conservative.  (Look, the “Hamilton Electors” are the ones who wanted to open the bottle with the genie in it, not me.  I’m just the guy recognizing that if you want to elect someone not on the ballot, that category includes Louis Gohmert.)

The problems for Democrats are that (1) we have to play the game to have any impact on the final choice and (2) we would not be shopping for free in a candy store. For this to work, we can’t even choose “the Republicans whom Democrats most like” — sending them, for example, Colin Powell and William Weld or Jon Huntsman — because those guys won’t win 26 House state delegations.  (The consquence is that we then get either Trump or Pence.)  Instead, we have to choose “the Republicans whom Democrats like the most among those who can win 9 state House delegations that are either tied or controlled by Republicans.

Furthermore, we are much more likely to end up with a candidate who can attract 26 state delegations if we give Republicans two alternatives to Trump than one.  Put up John McCain and Hillary against Trump and maybe he can convince 26 of the 32 Republican delegations to stay with him.  Put up two alternatives to him and we are much more likely that they could wheel and deal and one of them could eventually cobble together a coalition of 17 Democratic delegations, Maine (most likely), and 8 more.  Who is it: McCain or Romney?  Powell or Weld?  Kasich or Gary Johnson?  I don’t know; let them figure it out, and give them all of the room they need to do it.

Here’s a bigger problem: Democratic electors will want to cast their historic votes for Hillary.  But, again — if more than only a smattering do so, then (1) we’re sitting out the election of the next President and (2) we’re making it much less likely that Republican delegations feel safe enough about this process to vote for someone other than Trump.

We can’t trust Democratic Electors, who by and large are profoundly pro-Hillary, to decide to vote for the Best Viable Republican over her.  There’s only one person who can convince them to do so — and that’s Hillary herself.

The implication of that is that IF we’re serious about electing the best Republican to the Presidency then Hillary Clinton has to get out of the way.  She has to instruct her electors not to vote for herand, before anyone jumps on me over this, also not to vote for Bernie Sanders or Elizabeth Warren or for any other Democrat.  (Again, I’d say the same if it were Sanders in her position.)  Math is math: it doesn’t matter at this point whether Hillary gets 232 Electoral votes or 0 — she loses either way.  She will have to be content for history to know her as (1) the person who got the most votes for President up to that time and (2) the person who was willing to have none of her electors vote for her in order to protect the country from a Trump Presidency.  That is not a bad way to be remembered if you don’t have the alternative of being remembered as “first Woman President.”

You don’t need to know who’s in the 17 Democratic U.S. House delegations; they’ll probably all agree on a candidate in House balloting.  Here’s who you do have to think about as you envision people staring at three names on the ballot, starting with the sole tied state:

Maine: Bruce Poliquin (voted against Obamacare repeal and against fast-track authority for TPP) — either he and Democrat Chellie Pingree agree on a candidate or they cancel one another our)

Now here are the Republican-dominated states where only one person constitutes the state’s entire House Delegation:

Alaska: Don Young

Montana: Ryan Zinke

North Dakota: Kevin Cramer

South Dakota: Kristi Noem

Wyoming: Liz Cheney

Here are the Republican dominated states where only two or three Republicans are on the delegation, with or without one or two Democrats:

Idaho:  Raul Labrador and Mike Simpson (no Democrats)

Iowa:  Rod Blum, David Young, and Steve King, any of whom could join Democrat Dave Loebsack in preventing a Trump majority   (This is readily possible if, for example, they’d like to see Mike Pence elected.)

Mississippi:  Trent Kelley, Greg Harper, Steve Pallazzo, any of whom could join Democrat Bennie Thompson in preventing a Trump majority for the state

Nebraska: Jeff Fortenberry, Don Bacon, Adrian Smith (no Democrats)

West Virginia: David McKinley, Alex Moody, Evam Jenkins (no Democrats)

Here are the Republican dominated states where the Republican margin over Democrats is only 1, and any member could join with the Democrats to pick their favored Republican candidate for President:

Arizona (5-4, GOP): Republicans are Martha McSally, Paul Gosar, Andy Biggs, David Schweikert, and Trent Franks

Colorado (4-3, GOP): Republicans are Scott Tipton, Ken Buck, Doug Lamborn, Mike Coffman

Here are the Republican dominated states where the Republican margin over Democrats is only 2, and any member could join with the Democrats to deadlock the delegation and neutralize their state’s vote (probably helping Pence):

Wisconsin (5-3, GOP): Any one of Republicans Paul Ryan, Jim Sensenbrenner, Paul Grothman, Sean Duffy, or Mike Gallagher could go along with the Democrats to deadlock the delegation and help elect Pence.  Ryan would seem like a natural choice to do so.

Finally, here are two states that seem especially likely (for different reasons) to vote against Trump in any such election

Indiana (7-2, GOP, but could go along with Democrats to neutralize state’s vote and elect Pence)

Utah (4-0, GOP, but could EASILY go against Trump for a different Republican)

Looking at the above, it would be easy to imagine 18 states (including Maine) voting for Susan Collins, 25 voting for Trump, and 7 voting for either Collins or a third party.  (It’s even easier with McCain as the favored candidate, as he would likely take Maine and Arizona, just for starters, or Romney, who would likely take Maine, Utah and Arizona.)

If Trump looks at that, it would not be hard to imagine him making a deal with Democrats to stay in office, along the lines of (1) renominating Merrick Garland for the Supreme Court, (2) easing up on some of his worst Cabinet appointments, and (3) other assurances of moderation — which may or may not win them over.  It would seem unlikely that Pence would go along with a campaign to deadlock the vote and put himself into the Presidency — or even to do anything short of denying that he would take office — but it seems very likely that some person claiming the right to speak on Pence’s behalf (given that he’d be hamstrung) would run the show for him.

If the thought of the above intrigue makes you sick in your heart or to your stomach, you can join people like me who favor a direct popular vote for President.  You can’t gerrymander individuals.

About Greg Diamond

Somewhat verbose attorney, semi-retired due to disability, residing in northwest Brea. Occasionally runs for office against bad people who would otherwise go unopposed. Got 45% of the vote against Bob Huff for State Senate in 2012; Josh Newman then won the seat in 2016. In 2014 became the first attorney to challenge OCDA Tony Rackauckas since 2002; Todd Spitzer then won that seat in 2018. Every time he's run against some rotten incumbent, the *next* person to challenge them wins! He's OK with that. Corrupt party hacks hate him. He's OK with that too. He does advise some local campaigns informally and (so far) without compensation. (If that last bit changes, he will declare the interest.)