For whom does the bell toll? Electors, it tolls for thee. After a month of wondering what could really happen if the Elector College had control over the presidential election, if they could save us from the Trumpian nightmare, we have our answer: nothing.
The reality is that Donald Trump will be the next President of these United States. Nothing the quixotic mission of the Hamilton Electors—a group that popped up in the wake of the election as a last ditch effort to reverse the November 8 results—tried to do had any effect on that. But what exactly were these people trying to do, anyway?
The Electoral College is the final hurdle in the election system. Put in place by the nation’s “founding fathers,” the mechanism allocates votes to states weighted for their populations (Wisconsin has 10, California has 55, etc). Those electors vote for their state’s winner a month after the election. The mechanism was invented in part to stop a demagogue from rising to power and so the slave states of the South could use their slave population for political power without enfranchising them.
It was never going to be Hillary. Clinton would never win the electoral college. That was clear to everyone, even the most zealous defenders of Clinton. No Republican elector unsettled by Trump would take the suicidal political risk of voting for the right’s bete noir of the past two decades. So the Hamilton Electors offered an alternative: vote for a “reasonable Republican.”
The hope was that a third option could take Trump’s majority away and somehow force the House of Representatives to vote that third candidate into office. But this was always a ridiculous idea, even if it had worked to deny Trump a clear win.
The idea that the GOP House would reject their base’s nominee for president on the merits of anything other than reptilian survival is fantastical. The GOP has been held hostage by its base for years. There’s no way this won’t continue. Denying the presidency to the clearest expression of the party’s id would be the end of a great many political careers.
And all the Hamilton Electors and their friends wanted was a more genteel version of Trump.That was clear in three of their alternatives: John Kasich, Mitt Romney, and Evan McMullin.
Kasich cultivated quite the cult of personality over 2016, portraying himself as an “aw shucks” moderate conservative. But the truth is, Kasich’s one of the most radically right wing executives in the country. Kasich has signed legislation in the last week to ban abortions from 20 weeks on and denied workers the right to negotiate for higher wages.
Romney was also a ludicrous proposition for people ostensibly worried about the consequences of a Trump presidency. As governor, Romney was a duplicitous and vicious man, working against the working class at every opportunity. As a businessman, he accrued billions of dollars in profit at the expense of ordinary Americans. And it’s not despite his record in designing Obamacare he should be rejected, it’s because of it.
And McMullin, a former CIA intelligence officer and Goldman-Sachs employee, wants to keep Guantanomo open, to destroy women’s rights, to eradicate Social Security.
That these were the options shows clearly that the electoral college movement was morally bankrupt from the start. Trump is a dangerous man who will be a dangerous president. But the one sliver of hope is that he will be as incompetent and foolish as he was during the campaign. If Trump governs sloppily, the next four years may be survivable. His policies may not be approved by the House, and he may go to war with his own party and hold up their more toxic legislation as revenge.
That’s likely the best outcome we can hope for. But if the Hamilton Electors and their ilk had had their way, we could have been looking at a President who knows how power is wielded and how to work in Washington. There’s no indication that any of their alternatives would have pursued different policies than Trump—in fact all evidence indicates that they’d pursue the same policies but effectively.
This is the problem with moderate politics in a nutshell. Policy is unimportant, only the rhetorical delivery of politicians is at issue. The destruction of domestic politics and the oppression of marginalized people are only bad things when the wrong person or team is responsible.
Donald Trump is going to be the 45th President of the United States of America. Resistance to his presidency, policies, and party is essential. But that resistance has to come from somewhere real, have some tactical application, and have realistic goals. Grasping for ephemeral, impossible dreams like the Hamilton Electors movement are a recipe for disaster.
You can reach Eoin Higgins on Facebook and Twitter.