GOP electors ought to pick someone besides Trump, but they won't

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Republican presidential electors have been deluged with pleas to vote for someone other than Donald Trump.

Donald Trump is still unfit to be President of the United States (as is Hillary Clinton, as is Gary Johnson, each in their own way). I wish that, when the Electoral College meets tomorrow in state capitols across the nation, enough Republican electors would vote for a stable, principled conservative candidate to deprive Trump of an electoral college majority, and that the House would then choose said stable, principled conservative candidate to serve as president. But it is not going to happen.

It's true that Trump has announced some good choices for his cabinet. Scott Pruitt for EPA administrator is a particularly welcome choice; Pruitt will execute the EPA's responsibilities without going beyond the agency's authority in law. On the other hand, Trump's pick for Secretary of State, Rex Tillerson, is a globalist who sees national borders as obstacles rather than protections and who pressured the Boy Scouts of America to back down its principled stand against the Sexual Revolution. Trump's choice of a Goldman Sachs executive as Secretary of Treasury suggests that Trump's campaign rhetoric was just him saying whatever he thought he needed to say to win.

I like some of Trump's announced policies, but many of the policies I like are contradicted by other announced policies. It did not bother me a bit for him to take a congratulatory call from the president of the Republic of China, a nation attempting to hold on to what little territory it has left after the Communist revolution drove them off the mainland. It bothers me that he seems to accept or ignore Russia's aggression-by-proxy against Ukraine.

Trump is impulsive, too lazy or impressed by his own instincts to consider implications before speaking or tweeting, too easily distracted by insults to his pride to be entrusted with the power of the American presidency. Republican electors would be acting as patriots if they voted to deny him the office.

I wish I could depend upon Republican majorities in the House and Senate or the leadership of the Republican Party to act as a check on his most dangerous impulses, but I see nothing in their actions since Trump clinched the nomination to persuade me that they're willing to resist him. They see his apparent popularity as a bandwagon to jump aboard or at least as a steamroller to get out of the way of.

Is there a legitimate reason for electors to deny the presidency to Trump? It was the intention of the Framers of the Constitution that the selection of a president should be insulated from popular passions. They intended that the people would only select trustworthy men who would in turn choose a Chief Executive. But the framers didn't reckon on the rise of political parties and the idea of electors already pledged to support a specific candidate. They certainly didn't foresee a future in which a major political party was reduced to a hollow shell, a mere mechanism devoid of principle or platform, taken over by a pop-culture celebrity.

The expectation for over a century has been that voters in each state are really voting for president and vice president and only incidentally for a slate of electors who are pledged to vote for the preferred presidential candidate. Despite this expectation, and despite the laws and oaths that seek to turn this expectation into a legally binding commitment, electors have the freedom to vote as they see fit.

It's been claimed that voters chose these electors because they wanted Donald Trump to be president. I'm sure that's true for many voters, particularly in the once-reliably Democrat Rust Belt states that voted Republican this year and who saw Trump as the first champion for their concerns (even though Rick Santorum ran on the same approach to trade in 2012). On the other hand, many voters voted Republican only because they didn't want Hillary Clinton to be president, and they would be relieved if a conservative wound up as president instead of Trump.

In any event, the Republicans who were nominated to be electors were elected knowing that they would be expected to vote for the party's nominee. In Oklahoma, five electors were nominated by congressional district conventions when the nomination was still in doubt, and the other two were nominated by the state executive committee and ratified by the state convention after Trump's rivals dropped out of the race. These people were chosen because they were known by their fellow activists as committed to the party and its principles. These electors signed notarized pledges to vote for the nominee, and many of them have cited those pledges as reason enough to vote for Trump, no matter their personal view of Trump's character or instability. They aren't going to vote for another Republican, much less a left-wing Democrat.

Democrat calls for electors to vote for Hillary Clinton because she "won" the popular vote are either naive or disingenuous. Does anyone believe that Democrats would be calling for elector independence if Hillary Clinton had won Michigan, Wisconsin, and Pennsylvania?

The popular vote is an irrelevant metric. The rules, as set out by the Constitution and the state laws that govern the election of presidential electors, make the presidential election into 56 separate contests -- 50 statewide contests, one in the District of Columbia, plus separate contests in the three congressional districts of Nebraska and the two districts of Maine -- each of which awards a varying number of "points." If the game was scored differently, the strategy would be different. If the Big 12 football title was awarded based strictly on point differential instead of won-loss record, you'd keep the first string in against a weak team and run up the score rather than resting your starters once the game was well in hand. If the World Series title was awarded based on total runs, you'd burn up your bullpen to stop more runs being scored, even if you're already down by 10 in that game. If the presidential contest were a national popular vote, candidates would allocate their resources differently. Voter behavior would change as well. A conservative who felt free to vote third-party or not at all because either Trump or Hillary led by a wide margin in his state might have cast an anti-Hillary vote for Trump in a national popularity contest.

And don't trot out the argument that the electoral college gives too much power to small states. Any inequality in the number of citizens per electoral vote is just a reflection of the inequality in the number of citizens per seat in Congress, a product of Congress's unwillingness, under Democrat and Republican majorities alike, to expand its numbers with the population for the last 100 years. (UPDATE: But see below: While a larger House would even out population per electoral vote, it wouldn't have changed the outcome of this election, because California was entirely responsible for Hillary Clinton's popular-vote lead.)

If you want #HamiltonElectors -- electors who fulfill the role envisioned by Alexander Hamilton in Federalist No. 68 -- you have to have a system for electing them. As long as electors are nominated by political parties and as long as political parties select presidential nominees before the electors go before the voters, the status quo will prevail. Make it easier in your state for citizens to run as independent, unpledged electors, and then vote for them, if you want things to change. Abolish the state party rules and state laws that require elector nominees to bind themselves to a presidential candidate. I'll believe that Democrats want #HamiltonElectors and indirect democracy when they start calling for the repeal of the 17th Amendment and a return to indirect election of senators.

Even in its present desiccated state, the Electoral College still serves a couple of important purposes -- it acts as a firewall, restricting the effects of voter fraud in one state to that state's outcome, and it ensures that no one can be elected president without support from the breadth of the nation. Out-of-step, shrinking, but still-populous California cannot dictate to the rest of the nation who will be president.

But I still wish that Republican electors would vote for someone else -- perhaps Mike Pence -- instead of Donald Trump. (The choice of Pence would have some legitimacy, as he was nominated by the Republican Party, was on the ballot as the vice presidential nominee, and was not one of Trump's defeated rivals for the nomination.) I reject the argument that because a safety mechanism hasn't been used before, we can't use it now -- the same argument that was used against a delegate revolt at the Republican National Convention.

The electoral principles outlined by Hamilton in Federalist No. 68 are sound, but the system no longer produces the result Hamilton expected. The culture and its influencers will first have to regain respect for the value of indirect election, and states and parties will have to eliminate those practices which work against indirect election.

UPDATE: The electoral vote tally, according to reports from all 50 states and the District of Columbia: Trump 304, Clinton 227, Colin Powell 3 (Democrat electors in Washington state), Faith Spotted Eagle 1 (Democrat elector in Washington), Bernie Sanders 1 (Democrat elector in Hawaii), Ron Paul 1 (Republican elector in Texas), John Kasich 1 (Republican elector in Texas.) So a total of 2 Republican electors and 5 Democrat electors voted for a candidate other than the party nominee.

Four Texas Republican electors were no-shows, possibly because they did not want to vote for Trump, but felt bound by their pledges. The four vacancies were filled by a vote of the remaining 34 Texas electors. One Texas elector resigned following the November election rather than vote for Trump and was replaced by someone who would.

Three other Democrat electors tried to vote for someone else but were prevented: A Maine elector voted for Sanders but was forced to change vote to Clinton. A Minnesota elector submitted a blank ballot but was replaced by an alternate who voted for Clinton. A Colorado Democrat elector tried to vote for Kasich and was dismissed in favor of an alternate who voted for Clinton. A Fox 31 Denver news report has more on the intent behind the Colorado elector lawsuit.

MORE: Would a bigger House of Representatives have changed the outcome by reducing the small-state advantage in population per electoral vote? With 435 House members and 538 electoral votes, there are 3.6 times more people per electoral vote in California (677,345) than in Wyoming (187,875). If the House had 10,000 members -- getting us very close to the Article I minimum of 30,000 people per apportioned House seat -- there would be 10,103 members of the Electoral College, and the residents-to-electoral-vote ratio would be a maximum of 30,763 in California to a minimum of 28,025 in North Dakota, a difference of only 9.8%. Still, the result would be 5,699 votes for Trump to 4,404 for Clinton. That's assuming that all of Maine's 45 electoral votes went to Clinton and all of Nebraska's 63 electoral votes went to Trump, when voting by congressional district would likely have split off some of each state's vote for the other candidate.

Clinton's problem is that all of her national margin (2,864,974 more votes than Trump) came from her blowout win in California (4,269,978 more votes than Trump). Even if the entire nation chose electors by congressional district, Clinton likely would have lost, because her popular vote was highly concentrated. Her margins in Los Angeles County (1,694,621) and the five boroughs of New York City (1,670,027) are enough to account for her entire national lead. (If you're curious, the margin in Cook County, Illinois, was 1,158,659. Trump won Illinois minus Cook County. The three counties of Florida's Gold Coast -- Miami-Dade, Broward, Palm Beach -- gave Clinton a 684,787 vote margin.)

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This page contains a single entry by Michael Bates published on December 18, 2016 9:21 PM.

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