The Electoral College should elect Pence president — with Kaine his VP
Donald Trump has not yet been elected the next president of the United States.
As countless constitutional, legal, and political experts have written in the past month, members of the Electoral College are not obligated to vote for the candidate who won their respective states. To the contrary, the Electoral College was established by the constitution as a check and balance on the voting public, defending — in the words of Alexander Hamilton — against demagogues proficient in the “talents of low intrigue, and the little arts of popularity,” as well as against “the desire in foreign powers to gain an improper ascendant in our councils.”
Given Mr. Trump’s wildly erratic temperament and Russia’s outsize role in his ascent, it is no exaggeration to say that the Founders literally created the Electoral College as a safety mechanism to prevent a man like him from becoming president.
In the weeks since the election, Mr. Trump’s unfitness for office has become only more apparent as he refuses to participate in even the most basic obligations of the job, like attending daily security briefings. He speaks to world leaders without doing any research about them or their countries, saying whatever comes into his mind with no appreciation or concern for the consequences. His use of his new position to promote his family business is in apparent contradiction to the constitution’s Emoluments Clause against conflicts of interest — also known as corruption — and his recent call to the President of Taiwan, where he seeks to build a hotel, has already precipitated conflict with China. His subsequent unhinged tweets against China could themselves have been enough to spark a trade war or military conflict had Trump been president at the time of the tweeting. And the Russians have conceded what 17 American security agencies already concluded, namely that Vladimir Putin’s government was working on behalf of Mr. Trump.
Many would argue that given this constitutional responsibility, the electors should instead entrust the presidency to Hillary Clinton, particularly in light of her wide margin of victory in the popular vote. Millions of Americans have signed a Change.org petition to that effect, and as a strong supporter of Mrs. Clinton myself, I certainly recognize the appeal of electing a highly qualified, accomplished, even-tempered woman for whom a decisive majority of voters cast their ballots.
Unfortunately for those who share my progressive political leanings, however, it is unrealistic to expect that the electors, many of them Republicans, would accede to such an action, certainly not in large enough numbers to deliver Mrs. Clinton the presidency. Indeed, this election made it abundantly clear that Republicans will vote for literally anyone over Mrs. Clinton, even a man who they do not believe is fit for the job. It would also likely be severely destabilizing for American democracy to completely reverse the election results and award the presidency to the candidate who lost by the rules as most Americans understood them.
Given that the electors have a constitutional obligation to prevent a man like Mr. Trump from becoming president, and given that it is not realistically possible to swing enough electors to make Mrs. Clinton president, a compromise must be sought, one which could be attractive to enough electors — 270 of them — to award the presidency to someone who is neither Clinton nor Trump. The compromise candidate would ideally also be someone who could be presented to the American public as in some way reflecting the votes they cast through the democratic process.
The only people who could at least partially represent the votes of the electorate while also not being named Trump or Clinton are the vice presidential candidates, Mike Pence and Tim Kaine, and the only way to get 270 electors to vote for one of them is to have the electors vote for both of them — with Mr. Pence as president and Mr. Kaine as vice president. For this reason, leaders and activists from across the political spectrum should set aside our differences for the next two weeks and implore the Electoral College to elect President Mike Pence and Vice President Tim Kaine.
This outcome is not as impossible or preposterous as it sounds. The elections of 1800, 1876, and 2000 have established ample precedent for elite bodies within the United States constitutional system to broker semi-democratic agreements on close, contested, or conflicted election results. Given the unprecedented split between the popular vote and the suggested electoral college vote, as well as the unique dangers of putting Mr. Trump’s temperament and international conflicts of interest in the oval office, it seems fair to insist that another brokered agreement is in order.
A Pence-Kaine compromise would not fully please anyone, but it would have significant benefits for both parties, as well as for the American system of government and the country as a whole.
For Republicans, the party would take control of the executive branch, as expected. They would get the ideological conservative in the oval office that so many of them want. They would avoid the inevitable scandals of a Trump administration, which would in time likely end up weighing on the party more heavily than George W. Bush did in the elections of 2006 and 2008. And, of course, they would also do a great patriotic duty, keeping an unstable authoritarian kleptocrat out of office.
For Democrats, the idea of a Pence presidency is, of course, a tough pill to swallow. Mr. Pence is notorious, among other things, for his anti-LGBT views. But Mr. Pence would not be able to turn those views into policy without an act of Congress and/or another vacancy on the Supreme Court. Democrats in Congress would surely filibuster any anti-LGBT law, and even if filibuster rules were changed, it is vanishingly unlikely that Republicans in the House and Senate would be able to pass the kind of law Mr. Pence signed in Indiana because corporate America would be against it. (Corporate activism ultimately got the Indiana law toned down.) Meanwhile, the first Supreme Court vacancy is replacing arch-conservative Antonin Scalia, and Mr. Pence would have great influence over Supreme Court picks, even if he was only Mr. Trump’s vice president.
For all his flaws, Mr. Pence is not insane and he respects the basic foundations of our democracy. He will listen to daily intelligence briefings. He will not start a trade war or military conflict with China on Twitter. He will be levelheaded about nuclear weapons. He will not sell out the interests of America or its allies to Vladimir Putin, or for that matter to whoever offers to enrich his family business. He will not panic when he is made fun of in popular culture, and responded to being booed at “Hamilton” in New York by observing that the jeers were “what freedom sounds like”.
Having Tim Kaine serve as Mr. Pence’s vice president would, of course, mostly be a symbolic consolation prize, a recognition of the popular vote. But Mr. Kaine and Mr. Pence actually share a fair amount in common personally, including having sons in the marines, and Mr. Kaine could be a voice of moderation inside the Pence administration. When Mr. Kaine was governor of Virginia, his Lieutenant Governor was a Republican, and they made it work. If anyone can make his opposing points of view at least get considered within a Republican administration, it’s Tim Kaine.
Of course, the most important question is not whether such an Electoral College outcome would be good or bad for any particular political party, but whether it would best serve the country. To this question, the answer is a resounding yes. It would honor American democracy while also avoiding a disastrous outcome that most Americans do not want, particularly considering that most of Mr. Trump’s voters cast their ballots for him only to prevent Mrs. Clinton from winning, and nearly sixty percent of Americans continue to believe he is completely unqualified to be president. So while some Trump and Clinton loyalists would be outraged, most Americans would likely be relieved that, in an election with historically unpopular candidates, neither became president.
The surprising outcome would also spur much-needed change in how the United States conducts national elections, including potentially the winner-take-all apportionment of electors — a system which makes votes in some states dramatically more valuable than in others and also prevents third parties from being able to win any electoral votes at all.
There is not much time to promote a Pence-Kaine compromise, but there are only 270 people, 270 electors out of 538, who need to be persuaded. Some Republican electors are already beginning to come out publicly saying that they will not vote for Mr. Trump, but they have yet to coalesce around an alternative. Republican leaders should begin pointing them in the direction of Pence-Kaine and Democratic leaders should do the same — a rare show of bipartisan consensus.
Ultimately, however, there is one person who could really make this historic compromise happen, and in so doing enshrine herself as one of the greatest, most selfless patriots in American history: Hillary Clinton. Mrs. Clinton could not endorse Pence-Kaine publicly for fear of backlash, but she could quietly reach out to her 232 electors and encourage them to vote for the compromise ticket. If those electors did as she instructed, only 38 conscientious Republican electors would be needed to swing the election to Pence-Kaine.
If Mrs. Clinton succeeded in elevating Pence-Kaine, she would take her place in history alongside Alexander Hamilton, sacrificing her own political beliefs in the short term so that the American system of government and the country itself can survive in the long term. She would have musicals written about her centuries from now. And she would show herself to be the extraordinary public servant that her loyal supporters have always known her to be.
A Pence-Kaine administration is the best (or perhaps least-worst) realistic solution for our divided country for the next four years. It is something that would make few people happy but which most people, left to right, could live with. It is a tremendous improvement over the alternative, an ignorant authoritarian who is eager to line his pockets at the expense of the country’s interests.
This compromise can come to pass if as many of us as possible join together as Americans to make it so — Democrats, Republicans, independents, moderates, progressives, conservatives, libertarians, and so on — ending this toxically fractious election season in a surprising stroke of national unity, coming together to pull our country back from the abyss in a manner proscribed by the Constitution, a way which would do our country’s Founders proud.
Sign the Pence-Kaine compromise petition at Change.org.