The result of the Presidential election on November 8 has brought us to the brink of the most acute political crisis of the American republic since the Civil War and Reconstruction. Not only is the presumptive President-Elect egregiously unfit for the office of President, he would bring with him to the White House a claque of nativist bigots who can be counted upon to foster and further the worst autocratic tendencies in their chief. In the wake of last Tuesday, there has been some desperate, mostly wishful talk in recent days of a last-ditch attempt to avert the catastrophe that would be President Trump. The desperation is understandable, but we don’t have time for the wishfulness. There’s still one constitutional way to prevent Donald Trump from becoming the next President of the United States. The first step is for Democrats to concede that it won’t be Hillary Clinton either.
Hillary Clinton offered herself as the last bulwark against the abyss. Her campaign ended in failure, deserved or not. The only thing now that stands between Donald Trump and the Presidency is the fact that the Constitution vests the choice not in the balloting that took place in every state of the Union on November 8, but in the follow-up votes cast by the designated electors in each state on December 19. Hillary Clinton’s defeat last Tuesday means that a clear majority those electors — 290 of 538 — are Republicans. To keep Donald Trump from becoming the 45th U.S. President in January, it would take at least 21 of those 290 to be willing to disregard the nominal outcome of the popular balloting in their home state, in favor of some other candidate. It comes down to this – 21 Republican electors breaking ranks with their party’s nominee, and voting for somebody other than Trump. In the present emergency, I believe that it’s entirely reasonable to call upon them to do so, as a matter of constitutional principle. What isn’t reasonable, now, is for Democrats to expect them to throw the election to Hillary Clinton.
That’s what’s being demanded in a petition that’s been making the rounds on the internet. It isn’t serious, except as a vehicle for unhelpful indignation. We don’t have time for that now. The petition demands the electors to recognize Trump’s unfitness for the Presidency, and instead to honor the choice of the national popular vote — Hillary Clinton. This would be obnoxiously opportunistic, if it weren’t so patently silly. You can’t urge the electors to exercise their own judgment in casting their vote, while also demanding them to defer to majority opinion. To ask this of any elector who’d need to be asked (i.e., one not committed to voting for Clinton already), is inherently to ask them to disregard the majority preference in the state for which they are appointed, in favor of the preference that prevailed elsewhere in the country. It comes down to asking electors in Ohio and Michigan— all of whom are Republicans in good standing, thanks to Hillary’s defeat — to accede to the judgment of the majorities in New York and California, as to which party’s nominee is better qualified (or less unqualified) to be President. If there’s anything to be learned from last Tuesday’s debacle, it’s that this sort of talk is worse than idle. It’s what got us into this mess.
Hillary Clinton lost the election. The fact she won more votes overall nationally is of interest only for what it says of the relative unpopularity of the monster that won. She lost the only contest that she and her campaign had set out to win. She recognized this, and graciously conceded her defeat on Wednesday morning. Her supporters on November 8 — of which I was one — need to accept that defeat, and face the reality of the situation. We need to acknowledge that nobody but a small number of Republicans (appointed by the state party organizations in their respective states) are now in a position to keep the U.S. Constitution safe from Donald Trump’s grasping hands. Democrats need to accept some responsibility for having put those Republican electors in so awkward and difficult a position, by having made effective opposition to Trump contingent on support for a candidate — Hillary Clinton — who had long been viewed with exceptional mistrust and antipathy by Republican voters (and not only them). We can and must call on those Republican electors – 21 of them, anyway — withhold their votes from Donald Trump on December 19. But we need to meet them halfway, and we might as well take take the first step.
The electors chosen by states won by Hillary Clinton are just as free to vote for someone other than their party’s nominee as the electors from states won by Trump. If the red-state electors can be asked to take that extraordinary step – as an act of constitutional patriotism – then the same can be expected of the blue-state electors, for just the same reason.
If Trump is to be stopped, electors from both parties will have to converge on another candidate altogether. Hillary’s loss — to say it again — means that the Republican electors are in the majority; the only viable alternative to Trump at this point would be a Republican, who had endorsed neither Trump nor Clinton, and for whom at least 21 Republican electors might be prevailed upon to cast their vote in December. At this point, I see only one realistic possibility: Ohio governor John Kasich.
It’s irrelevant whether Kasich is enough of a moderate to win over Democrats. This isn’t about party alignments – it’s about using the Constitution as it was designed, to prevent the unthinkable. The Democrats lost the election. The case for Kasich is simply that he remained defiantly aloof from Trump through the primaries, and he remained an outspoken critic of Trump to the end. Most important – his position as governor as Ohio made for an awkward and often antagonistic relationship between the state Republican party and the Trump organization, even though Trump won the state. An Ohio elector who opted to vote for Kasich over Trump might be able to do so without undue strain on his conscience. Ohio has 18 electors. If they could be swayed to vote for their own state party’s favorite son, it would take only 3 of the remaining 272 now in Trump’s column to turn the election.
I have no idea whether Kasich would go for it. Back in the primary season, he stood out among Trump’s rivals in openly embracing the possibility of a contested nomination vote at the party’s national convention. Late in his candidacy, he went so far as to say that the spectacle of a brokered convention would be a good lesson in what democratic politics is really about. He just might be the man for the moment.
As I say, we can’t wait for Republican electors, in Ohio or elsewhere, to take the initiative. So here goes. I call on the Presidential electors for the state of New York — my own state — to renounce their pledge to cast their votes on December 19 for Hillary Clinton, and to promise to vote for Ohio governor John Kasich instead. Let’s call on the electors from each of the states won by Clinton last Tuesday to do the same. Let’s make it unequivocally clear that as Democrats we’re ready to accept our defeat at the polls, and prepared to make reasonable concessions to Republicans who join with us in standing firm against this unique menace to our constitutional, democratic republic.
Of course it’s a long shot. The mere attempt would disrupt the smooth transition of power that’s already underway. That alone is a reason to try.