The last-ditch effort by some Democrats to thwart a Donald Trump presidency ended in a fizzle on December 19th. The 538 members of the electoral college—the body that officially elects America’s chief executive, as ordained by Article II of the constitution—handed the real-estate magnate 304 votes, two shy of the total he was projected to win after the people voted on November 8th but a comfortable 34 votes more than the 270 he needed to win a majority. Mr Trump is set to be inaugurated as America’s 45th president on January 20th. The ill-fated Hail Mary was lobbed by a number of liberal intellectuals, including Lawrence Lessig, a Harvard law professor and short-lived 2016 presidential candidate. In an opinion piece for the Washington Post last month, Mr Lessig observed that Hillary Clinton handily won the national popular vote. Since electoral-college electors are “citizens exercising judgment, not cogs turning a wheel”, they should feel free to ignore the popular vote totals in their home states. Electors should then stand up for the principle of “one person, one vote”, Mr Lessig suggested, and switch their allegiance to Hillary Clinton. Other advocates called on Trump electors to use their independent judgment to vote for another, more savoury Republican. If 38 electors would opt for the likes of John Kasich or Mitt Romney, Mr Trump would fall short of 270 and the House of Representatives would get to pick the president from among the top-three vote getters. The House would then be free to send a Republican other than Mr Trump to the White House.
The pitch was always a long-shot, but Mr Lessig claimed days before the vote that there were as many as 30 and “at least 20” electors who were willing to abandon Mr Trump and vote for somebody else. The results told a different story. Mr Lessig’s “confident” assessment was off by a factor of ten: only two Republican electors turned coat, one toward Mr Kasich and one for Ron Paul. As it happens, four times as many Democrats moved to cast a vote against Hillary Clinton, but three of the eight were replaced before they could violate their pledges. Of the five successfully disloyal Democrats, three voted for Colin Powell, George W. Bush’s Republican secretary of state, one picked Bernie Sanders and one opted for Faith Spotted Eagle, a Native American who has taken a leading role in the fight against the Dakota Access Pipeline.
The vote seemed to throw cold water on a strategy that had drawn public attention to hitherto obscure passages in America’s founding documents. The staple excerpts trumpted by the Hamilton Electors, as they called themselves, came from Federalist 68, an essay in which Alexander Hamilton pitches the electoral college as an institution promising “a moral certainty, that the office of President will never fall to the lot of any man who is not in an eminent degree endowed with the requisite qualifications”. If the electors refused to exercise independent judgment to keep a fact-averse political novice with intractable conflicts of interests and fascistic tendencies out of the White House, when would they?
Full Article: A dangerous gambit: The failed electoral-college rebellion bodes ill for future elections | The Economist.