An Open Letter to the Hamilton Electors

Dear Hamilton Electors,

First, credit where it’s due: faced with an unenviable decision, you’ve broken ranks with the tradition of passive compliance that characterizes the institution to which you’ve been appointed, and helped draw widespread public attention to some of the frustrating vagaries of that institution, for the first time in living memory. Your courage, particularly under the often-harrowing conditions of this election, is commendable.

But your approach could use some work.

According to your website, your plan is to persuade 37 voters to abstain from voting altogether, or to vote for “another qualified individual,” in order to deliberately “trigger a vote among the US House of Representatives on who will be our next President.” At which point you “urge them to select a reasonable Republican” who lacks Trump’s numerous shortcomings.

That is your strategy, but its intended goal is to “stop Trump,” which it will not do (for at least the reasons listed below). So either the strategy or the goal needs revision.

To decide which one should change, you might first ask whose interests it is you represent: the American people’s, or the Republican Party’s. In fact, though, these aren’t really in conflict. Neither the electorate at large nor the GOP would be well-served by your plan as it currently stands.

Here are four reasons why not, with two suggestions for a positive alternative:

1) It lacks democratic legitimacy.

Hillary Clinton currently holds a popular vote margin-of-victory in excess of 2.5 million votes. The petition directed to the Electoral College at-large to confirm her rather than Trump is the largest online petition in history. Meanwhile, the popularity and success of Trump’s candidacy was premised entirely on a rejection of the sort of establishment GOP candidate that you have publicly floated as a viable alternative to him. Presuming even that you succeed in crippling Trump’s electoral majority and putting another candidate (with all of 37 voters behind them) forward, you would be rejecting the will of the American electorate as a whole, and contradicting even the motivations of that smaller plurality that supported Trump. There is nothing desirable about this outcome for anyone.

2) It is impossible to coordinate.

Fortunately, that can’t happen. You’re seeking (according to your website at present, 12/5/16) to flip 37 votes, and have so far flipped 6–5 of which are from Democrats. This hardly dents Trump’s requisite electoral majority. It also comes nowhere near providing “some other” candidate with enough support to make him or her a plausibly consensual alternative for the House of Representatives to rally around. Beyond that, no such consensual alternative appears to have been reached even among yourselves, and there are no good reasons to think that the House of Representatives would have any easier decision arriving at one, under duress, in the face of what can be expected to be universal public disapproval and scrutiny. Never mind the fact that you will be asking a body of elected officials, who will eventually face re-election, to reject the desire of their constituents to reject precisely the sort of “responsible” candidate you are publicly floating (Kasich, Romney, or otherwise). And this all leaves completely to one side, too, the fact that any such candidate would have had no real preparation for the position themselves, nor any preparation in selecting a cabinet. To the extent that your plan attempts to pay some favor to the GOP, it is a very poor favor.

3) It will not stop Trump.

This much should be clear from the above. Trump’s confirmation, while possibly delayed, would still be practically inevitable. And you will have made a personal enemy of an infamously litigious man, who will then be empowered as the President of the United States. Moreover, you will be placing the members of the House in the position of having to default to the confirmation of a man whose (Republican) administration will have had an historically singular pall cast over it in the very act of their having to vote him into office. Trump will still be empowered, and he will enter office with a newly burnished vendetta against “his own” Party. Which brings us to the final reason why your plan is currently counterproductive.

4) It is not good for Republicans.

Motivating your plan to cast votes for a “Responsible Republican” seems to be the presumption that it is the GOP that deserves to be mollified in the current electoral scenario, or perhaps that this is the only alternative GOP electors can be reasonably encouraged to support. Again, this presumption ignores the fact that Hillary Clinton enjoys a historically singular lead in the popular vote, relative to the candidate presumptively awarded the greater number of electoral votes. It ignores the reasons GOP voters supported Trump to begin with. It also ignores the further-destabilizing effects upon the GOP of electors trying and failing to block Trump’s election, or of the House possibly dithering over or delaying his confirmation. This would present a GOP-controlled Congress with the scenario of having to acknowledge and contend with the unprecedented and self-inflicted rejection of their Party’s democratically chosen candidate. It would leave the House with the unwelcome option of being presented with the technical opportunity to choose a candidate more comfortably situated within their ranks, only to have to confirm someone who has been a disaster for their party’s cohesion.

These are not the hallmarks of a winning strategy.

Now for the positive alternative, which has the advantage of at least plausibly achieving the goal to stop Trump. It also reflects the will of a more sizable plurality of the American electorate, versus the whims of some three-dozen dissenting electors. It only superficially fails to pacify Republicans. But it is in just that appearance that its ingenuity hides.

1) Clinton has 232 electoral votes, a larger plurality of the popular vote than Trump, and is better prepared to assume the office of presidency than any alternative candidate.

Rather than pointlessly flip 37 votes in the direction of a candidate whom no American citizen voted for, if those same votes, plus one, were flipped for Clinton, you could forward to Congress a candidate with full democratic support and the ability to quickly assemble a working administration. There is no need to dither over the choice of a candidate who would enjoy, at best, the consensual support of only some three-dozen people, deliberating in abstraction from any larger democratic process, and who would amount, in the end, to a puff of smoke blown in the face of Congress. Clinton is the most democratically legitimate and best-prepared alternative to Trump. But she has another advantage to recommend her to electors.

2) Clinton is a better choice for Republicans.

Hillary Clinton is a committed hawk with little taste for financial reform. She refers to herself as a centrist, and can hardly be accused of trending much further left than that. More than this, though, she is one of the most positive forces for Republican Party unification in modern political history. After an election year that has seen the GOP fall into organizational and ideological disarray under Trump’s influence, there is arguably no other figure better able to heal the fissures that have threatened to tear the Party apart. Rallying around opposition to the Clintons counts as one of the contemporary GOP’s great sources of strengths; dispatching her from the political stage removes, too, their most galvanizing foe. Appeals to Party loyalty surely cannot, in the case of Trump, be enough to compel Republican electors to simply rubber-stamp a man who has demonstrated no special loyalty of his own. But nor will such appeals be enough to quickly secure consensus support for any other candidate, much less one who most likely already failed the test of the primaries. The election of Clinton would serve as a pretense for the GOP Congress to publicly rehearse practically limitless outrage, while harboring secret gratitude that they have been relieved of the most internally polarizing figure in their party. Rather than have to kowtow to a leader they can’t contain, they will be gifted with an opponent they can.

By presenting Clinton to the Senate with the requisite majority of electoral votes, a greater plurality of the American people get the candidate for whom they voted, and Congress is relieved of the burden of a constitutional crisis. The American electoral system reasserts its capacity for responsiveness and innovation. The Democrats, however hobbled, need no longer be mortified. And the Republicans regain one of the most powerful rallying points they’ve enjoyed for two decades, while being rid of the most polarizing element of their party — an event they can doubly capitalize on. Everybody wins, except for Donald Trump.

Under your plan, only Trump wins. And history will record your intervention as a well-meaning moment of panic that served, at best, only to delay the result it still guaranteed. Those are your options: you may either find yourselves memorialized in headlines for being the electors who did, indeed, finally “stop Trump,” or else relegated to footnotes for failing to do so. If your intentions lie in the former direction, we urge you not to proceed towards the latter. But that will depend on whether it is more important to you to serve the American people, or just to make a show of having tried to do so.




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