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The Democratic Strategist

Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority

Political Strategy Notes – Electoral College Decision Edition

You probably have a better chance of winning the powerball jackpot than Trump not being inaugurated, but the effort to persuade 37 of the 305 members of the Electoral College who are expected to vote for  Trump to ditch him has intensified impressively. Thus far, only one elector has announced his intention of switching his vote. But, in his Washington Post article, “In last-shot bid, thousands urge electoral college to block Trump at Monday vote,” Robert Samuels provides some interesting observations on the topic, including “Amid the uncertainty caused by Russian influence, 10 electors — nine Democrats and one Republican — asked for an intelligence briefing to get more information about Moscow’s role.” However, adds Samuels, “No one knows for sure how many are considering alternate votes; estimates vary from one to 25.” One elector cited by Samuels is getting 50 letters a day and 3000 emails.

Right on time, Trump has just presented his 305 electors with yet another reason to switch their vote, well-encapsulated in the Washington Post headline “China said it would return a seized U.S. naval drone. Trump told them to ‘keep it.’ As the authors, Missy Ryan and Emily Rauhala report, Trump’s Saturday night tweet “We should tell China that we don’t want the drone they stole back.- let them keep it!” adds to growing doubts about his commitment to America’s national security. “The comment could prolong one of the most serious incidents between the U.S. and Chinese militaries in recent memory,” write  Rauhala and Trump, “potentially complicating ties ahead of Trump’s inauguration.” They cite a mocking editorial from Beijing’s The Global Times, “Before Trump’s generous announcement that he didn’t want the drone back, the Pentagon had already announced publicly that they have asked China to return the ‘illegally seized’ [unmanned underwater vehicle] through appropriate governmental channels,”

Trump’s shoot-from-the-hip meddling in the incident may have actually provoked the drone seizure, reports Paulina Firozi at The Hill: “Some have suggested that China’s initial seizure of the drone was a response to the president-elect’s phone call with Taiwan’s leader earlier this month…Trump and Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen have both downplayed the significance of the conversation, but China formally protested the call, which broke with decades of U.S. protocol.”

WaPo’s political reporter Dan Balz also has some serious questions about Trump’s competence and commitment to defend U.S. national security, which the electors ought to consider: “…If standing up to Russian attempts to interfere with American democracy isn’t a foundational principle of an “America first” policy, what is? Trump’s response has suggested a different focus and different philosophy, one that might be described as “Trump first,” rather than “America first.” His instincts appear to be aimed at shielding himself…On top of all this is the president-elect’s apparent lack of interest in receiving daily intelligence briefings, a standard procedure for presidents. That raises questions about how he plans to conduct foreign policy. Will he seek all available evidence as he weighs decisions? Whom will he listen to and trust? And will he ever have a trusting relationship with the vast intelligence-gathering resources at his command?”

It’s not gonna happen because the request has been denied, but a “Majority Want Monday’s Electoral College Vote Postponed In Wake Of Russia Scandal: New Poll,” notes HuffPo Washington, D.C. bureau chief Ryan Grim. “A majority of American voters favor delaying the December 19th Electoral College vote until electors can be fully briefed on Russian interference in the election, according to a new poll conducted by YouGov.  The survey, sponsored by the progressive advocacy group Avaaz, found 52 percent of people supportive of stalling the vote, set to take place Monday…A surprisingly high number of people ― 46 percent ― were also willing to support so-called “faithless electors,” the name given members of the Electoral College who spurn the vote of their home state and vote for a different candidate instead…Some states mandate that electors vote the way their state instructs, but the the 10th Circuit Court ruled late on Friday that such laws are unconstitutional.”

The hope that the Electoral College will elect Hillary Clinton president is even less likely to be fulfilled  than Trump being denied the presidency. But Harvard Law professor Lawrence Lessig, a former Democratic presidential candidate, nonetheless makes a compelling case for Trump electors switching to Clinton, as the winner of the popular vote by a margin approaching 3 million. “…There is an especially good reason for them [the presidential electors] not to nullify what the people have said — the fundamental principle of one person, one vote. We are all citizens equally. Our votes should count equally. And since nothing in our Constitution compels a decision otherwise, the electors should respect the equal vote by the people by ratifying it on Dec. 19…The framers left the electors free to choose. They should exercise that choice by leaving the election as the people decided it: in Clinton’s favor.”

In an MSNBC interview by Chuck Todd, Lessig raised eyebrows with his claim that 20-30 electors have indicated an interest in switching votes away from Trump. Lessig has created an organization, “Elector’s Trust, which “provides free and strictly confidential legal support to any Elector who wishes to vote their conscience…The Electors Trust will defend your right to exercise your “independent and nonpartisan judgment.”…We will defend you against any fines or legal claims that might threaten the freedom of your vote…If you are an Elector, we will also allow you to know how many others like you there are. How many, not who. Because we will never reveal any Elector’s views, to anyone, ever…If you’re a conscientious Elector, and you’d like advice or support, send an email to ElectorsTrust@durietangri.com. Your name, email address and any other personal information will be kept strictly confidential.”

At Vox, however, Andrew Prokop’s “The last-ditch push for the Electoral College to stop Trump, explained” throws a load of ice-water on the whole project: “…This particular batch of electors is highly unlikely to defect from Trump because of who they are — generally, they’re Republican Party stalwarts or activists chosen during state party deliberations, as the excellent Politico feature “The People Who Pick the President” makes clear. Almost always, the parties do a good enough job of vetting their respective electoral slates to ensure that they will indeed loyally back their party’s presidential nominee. And while some Trump skeptics are electors, the vast majority of them have said they’d affirm the results in their states.” And, even in the unlikley event that the election was thrown into the House — the most probable  scenario if 37 Trump electors defect — odds are the house would pick Trump anyway, since most House Republicans have already lined up to kiss his ring.

Getting real, the best argument for continuing to encourage Trump electors to switch is to further undermine his case for a “mandate.” Not that it would influence Trump’s decision-making, such as it is. But it can’t hurt to remind congress that there is considerable doubt about his policies and judgement, even among his electors, and congress has a responsibility to check his worst ideas and limit the damage he does to America’s future. Still, there shouldn’t be much doubt among those who take the trouble to actually read the “Hamilton Electors” credo in The Federalist Papers: #68 that the best purpose of the Electoral College is to deny someone so manifestly unfit the power to run our government, and we have never had a better reason to use it for exactly that reason. That it won’t be so applied when it is most needed clinches the argument that the Electoral College should be abolished in favor of dirtect, popular election of the President of the United States.

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