They’ve all but given up on flipping the 37 electoral votes they’d need to deny Trump 270 (not quite all, I guess, but most) yet they can still exploit the process to do some PR for changing the way the system works in the future. One thing that occurs to me: If a few more Democrats and a few less Republicans had turned out in Florida on Election Day, Hillary might have won the state while going on to lose the presidency very narrowly to Trump, 277/261. In that scenario, all you would have needed to throw the election to the House is eight red-state “faithless electors” to withhold their votes from Trump. If nine red-staters shifted their votes from Trump to Clinton, Hillary would have won the presidency outright and the country would have been paralyzed in a major national crisis. Everyone, pro-Trump or anti, should be glad that he piled up a comfortable electoral college win once he crossed 270, as the outcome easily could have been much tighter. (Remember, the winning trifecta of Wisconsin, Michigan, and Pennsylvania, which accounted for 46 electoral votes, was decided by a total of just 107,000 popular votes.) You would think such a miserable election would naturally end in the most contentious way possible, but we ended up being spared one last bitterly controversial act.
Anyway. Time for Democratic electors to bang some pots and pans about a national popular vote:
At least a half-dozen Democratic electors have signed onto an attempt to block Donald Trump from winning an Electoral College majority, an effort designed not only to deny Trump the presidency but also to undermine the legitimacy of the institution…
The underlying idea is that a mass defection of electors could provide the impetus for a wave of changes to the Electoral College.
“I do think that a byproduct would be a serious look into Electoral College reform,” said Micheal Baca, a Democratic elector from Colorado who is spearheading the anti-Trump effort, along with Washington state elector P. Bret Chiafalo…
“If you could get eight or 10 Trump electors to vote for someone else … then that would probably get people’s attention,” said George Edwards III, a political science professor and Electoral College expert at Texas A&M University. “We haven’t ever had that many faithless electors in one election.”
Would it really get people’s attention if 10 Trump electors voted for, say, John Kasich? A few headlines, maybe, but in the end it’s … 10 people. If Democratic electors want to use their votes to propagandize on behalf of letting the national popular vote decide the presidency in the future, the most straightforward thing they could do would be to write in “Popular Vote” instead of “Hillary Clinton.” Right now, 11 blue states worth 165 electoral votes have ratified the “National Popular Vote” compact; convince those 165, more than 30 percent of the electoral college, to vote for “Popular Vote” next month and then you’re flexing some real muscle. Hillary would end up a distant third place with just 66 electoral votes under that plan (which would be ironic, since she actually did win the national popular vote), but in the end, who cares? The point here is to exploit the electoral college to advance the cause of letting the popular vote decide elections going forward, not to protect the diminished legacy of a candidate whom most voters didn’t like in the first place. Besides, if an electoral-college ploy like this really did help galvanize public interest in the popular vote, that itself would be a significant legacy for Hillary. It’d even be worth a shot for the anti-Trump electors to ask her to publicly endorse writing in “Popular Vote” in lieu of her name. She could fend off charges of sour grapes by stipulating in her endorsement that Trump won fair and square and deserves to be president — while noting that he appears to agree with Democrats that the popular vote would be a better way to do things from now on.
There are, as I noted up top, a few dead-enders who still want the electoral college to mobilize to try to block Trump, but Damon Linker’s right that that outcome would be worse for the country than validating Trump’s victory. If you want an electoral college of elder statesmen who’ll overrule demagogic choices made by the electorate, the time to start laying the civic groundwork for that idea to gain acceptance was decades ago. You’re not going to do it now, overnight, with populism in vogue, via an electoral college stocked with nobodies and political cronies.
Among other things, these voters rallied to Trump because they responded to his message that the country’s political and economic system is rigged against them. Denying the presidency to their preferred candidate after they’d been told for weeks that he prevailed in the election would confirm every conspiracy they ever entertained.
That would be civic dynamite.
Think it’s bad that 200 or so neo-Nazis gathered this past weekend for a celebratory conference in the nation’s capital? Just wait until that number surges into the thousands or more, which is exactly what would happen if Trump’s most committed supporters felt permanently frozen out by the country’s political establishment. Democracies don’t succumb to dictatorship when a handful of bad individuals ruthlessly seize power from out of the blue. They succumb to dictatorship when a large, angry faction of the population throws its support behind a handful of bad individuals and supports them in ruthlessly seizing power. For those who think we’ve already reached that point with Trump, I assure you that it could (and may yet) get much, much worse. Trump’s opponents need to be extremely careful that they do nothing to hasten that eventuality or make it more likely — by, for example, denying Trump the presidency and thereby driving him and his supporters out of the democratic political system altogether.
The only chance anti-Trumpers ever had to stop Trump by overriding popular votes was at the Republican convention, and his new right-hand man Reince made sure that effort failed. If you want to empower “Wise Men” to overrule voters when they choose irresponsible candidates, the way to do that is to encourage a robust role for superdelegates in the nominating process for both parties. But many of the Democrats now agitating against Trump and hoping for an electoral-college miracle have also agitated against letting superdelegates help choose the Democratic nominee on grounds that that’s elitist and anti-democratic. Pick a position. Do you want an establishment bulwark against populist candidates or don’t you?
Hillary’s lead in the national popular vote, by the way, is now over two million votes.