The Electoral College Won’t Prevent President Trump

The Electoral College is not going to stand in Donald Trump’s way.

I’ve seen chatter the last few days, both on political blogs and Facebook, that the voters of the Electoral College can, or even should, vote for Hillary Clinton instead of Donald Trump.  (For example, here.) It’s a nice idea — it’s the way the Electoral College was intended to function, with a small group of people, selected by state, voting for who they thought would be best — but it’s not how it works now.  (For that matter, that’s not how it’s worked since 1796.)

When we voted for President on Tuesday, though the ballot said Hillary Clinton or Donald Trump or Gary Johnson or Zoltan Istvan or Clifton Roberts or whomever, that’s not who we voted for.  We actually voted for that candidate’s slate of Electors.  Donald Trump’s Electors are Republican Party actors, just as Hillary Clinton’s Electors are Democratic Party actors.  These are people who put party first, who were selected because they put party first.  Trump’s Electors aren’t going to vote en masse for Clinton and vice versa.

That said, I can envision one scenario in which the Electors do vote for Clinton — if Trump himself made a public appeal to his Electors that they do so.  Why would he do this?  Maybe he wants to look magnanimous?  Maybe he doesn’t want the job?  Maybe he was just trolling us all?  I don’t know.  I can’t know; this isn’t a realistic scenario.

But I don’t know what would actually happen at that point.  Such an event would be unprecedented in Americna history.  There’s no guarantee that the Republican Electors would even do as Trump asked.  They could still vote for Trump.  They could vote for Mike Pence.  They could vote for Paul Ryan.  They could vote for Ronald Reagan’s dessicated, zombiefied corpse.  The real mess would come if no one received 270 Electoral votes, because then the top three Electoral vote getters would have to fight it out in the House.  I’m confident Clinton would not emerge from the House victorious due to the arcane rules the House would use and the make-up of the state delegations.

And even if Trump directed his Electors to vote for Clinton and she won under those circumstances, she’d face an extremely hostile Congress, to say nothing of Trump’s millions of supporters, who would feel that Trump betrayed them and Republican Party and that she stole what belonged to them through trickery and guile.

In short, Trump freeing his Electors to vote for Clinton would be a disaster.

Ted Cruz and the Kick-Off of the 2020 Campaign

Let me ramble on for a few minutes about Ted Cruz’s speech last night at the Republican National Convention.

For those coming in late, last night Ted Cruz delivered a speech — that was known in advance not to be an endorsement of Donald Trump — that was, surprisingly to pretty much everyone, an anti-Trump speech.  Cruz’s speech was about conservative principles and protecting the Constitution and liberty, and at the end he pointedly said that people should “vote their conscience.”  Whereupon Cruz was booed loudly by the convention, his wife was escorted away by security for her own protection, donors refused to meet with him, and some reportedly threatened physical violence against Texas’ junior senator.

There are a couple of interpretations of the speech floating around this morning.  One camp says that it was a bold but risky move by Cruz, that he basically stabbed Trump like the Ides of March on live television.  Another camp argues it was political suicide; like Trump or not, he is the GOP’s standard bearer for the next four months, and in attacking Trump’s candidacy as he did, in prime time at the convention, Cruz has damaged his own party’s prospects.

My interpretation spans both camps.

rnc2016-logoWhat we saw last night from Ted Cruz was the first speech of the 2020 presidential campaign.  Seriously.  Cruz is taking the bet that Trump will lose — and probably lose badly — to Hillary Clinton, so he was positioning himself both as the nominee to take on Clinton in four years but also as the savior of the conservative movement and the Republican Party.

There are two central tenets of conservative mythology.

The first is that there is a vast, silent conservative majority in the United States who doesn’t vote because no candidates speak to them.

The second is that when Republicans lose the race for the White House, it’s because they have failed to run the purest, truest, rightest, most conservative candidate.  Gerald Ford lost to Jimmy Carter in 1976 because the Republicans didn’t nominate Reagan.  George H.W. Bush lost to Bill Clinton in 1992 because had shown he wasn’t a true conservative by negotiating a budget deal with the Democrats.  Bob Dole lost to Clinton in 1996 because he was never a conservative (which is ironic because he was on the ticket in 1976 as Ford’s running mate because he was seen as appealing to Reagan’s conservative wing).  John McCain lost to Barack Obama in 2008 because he was insufficiently conservative, and Mitt Romney lost to Obama in 2012 because he had passed a precursor to the hated Obamacare in Massachusetts.

Cruz’s message last night was crafted precisely for those two tenets of conservative mythology.  Cruz was speaking to the silent conservative majority (who, I should note, almost certainly does not exist), and in talking about principles Cruz was sending a message that Trump is not the True Conservative Candidate and, as such, will lose in November.

(As a corollary to this, Clinton’s presidency will be treated as illegitimate from day one by Republicans for precisely that reason.  Well, one reason among many, to be fair.  Clinton won, not because she won but because the Republicans ran a candidate who couldn’t win.)

By rhetorically knifing Trump on his own stage for being insufficiently conservative, Cruz will take some lumps in the press, but to the conservatives who do exist and aren’t happy with Trump as the Republican candidate, Cruz has set himself up as the hero of the moment and the true conservative candidate for 2020.  He can say, while Arkansas’ Tom Cotton, Cruz’s likely opponent in the conservative lane of the 2020 primaries, can’t, that he stood up to Trump and never wavered in his opposition.  (Cotton has tepidly endorsed Trump.) He angered a lot of people, including important donors, but Cruz doesn’t care.  He’s never cared what others think of him.  His unwavering certainty in himself and his correctness is all that matters to Cruz.

Ted Cruz is running for president in 2020.  Last night was, for all intents and purposes, his campaign kick-off.

The Republican Convention and the Potential for Future Violence

Last night, on the second night (of four) of the Republican National Convention, the Republican Party nominated Donald J. Trump as its standard bearer for this year’s presidential campaign.

Presidential conventions in the last thirty years, since I was old enough to pay attention, are stage-managed, scripted pep rallies.  Nothing unexpected happens.  Nothing controversial happens.

This year, the Republican convention is both unexpected and controversial in ways that alarm me.

It began with the benediction on day one by Mark Burns, a minister from South Carolina, who, in his prayer, said “our enemy is not other Republicans, but is Hillary Clinton and the Democratic Party.”

Then, the speeches of Rudy Guiliani and General Michael Flynn (ret.) prompted the delegates to shout “Lock her up!” in regards to Hillary Clinton, with some disturbing undercurrents as Josh Marshall of Talking Points Memo notes:

It goes without saying that it is a highly dangerous development when one presidential nominee and his supporters make into a rallying cry that the opposing candidate should be imprisoned.  This is not Russia.  This is not some rickety Latin American Republic from half a century ago.  This is America.  For all our failings and foibles this is not a path we’ve ever gone down.

This is not a disagreement about a matter of law: it is a demand for vengeance and punishment, one rooted in the pathologies of the current Trumpite right and inevitably to some extent about the fact that Clinton is a woman.  If you have a chance rewatch the speeches by Rudy Giuliani or even more ret. Gen Michael Flynn.  These are not normal convention speeches.  It is only a small skip and a jump to the state legislator in West Virginia who demanded Clinton by executed by hanging on the National Mall.  In such a climate, don’t fool yourself: worse can happen.

The Trump campaign has always been about revenge and reclamation.  Trump is a catalyst not a cause.  It is all borne from the social and cultural transformation that is currently changing the country.  Hillary Clinton has plenty of flaws.  But they have no necessary or clear connection to the venom and increasingly violent anger directed against her.  She’s simply the symbol and target. “Lock her up!” “Lock her up!”  This is an American political convention.  She’s the opposing party nominee.  This is not normal.  Not normal at all.

Night two continued the “Lock her up theme” as Chris Christie “prosecuted” Clinton from the stage.  Michelle Goldberg of Slate looks at how strange this was: “American presidential campaigns are not typically built around the dream of jailing the opposing candidate.  Prime-time convention speakers usually pay lip service to the cliché of disagreeing without being disagreeable.  Convention planners have not, in the past, staged their events like fantasy show trials.  They have not sought to work their crowds into ecstasies of hatred.  Those chants of ‘LOCK HER UP!’ might be common among conservatives nowadays, but we haven’t seen their like at a modern political convention.”

The thing is, Christie is actually restrained compared to some of his fellow Republicans.  One delegate from New Hampshire, Al Badasaro, said in a radio interview this week, “Hillary Clinton should be put in the firing line and shot for treason,” while West Virginia delegate Michael Folk favors hanging Clinton on the National Mall.

rnc2016-logoWhich led us to Ben Carson.

Carson explicitly tied Hillary Clinton to Lucifer, the Lord of Hell in Christian mythology.  His chain of reasoning, absurd as it was, ran thusly: Clinton, as a student, was influenced by Saul Alinsky.  Alinsky dedicated one of his books to Lucifer.  Clinton, thus, has been influenced by Lucifer.

The logic, tortured though it is, works.  But as the second Doctor noted, “Logic merely enables one to be wrong with authority.”

Carson further went on that in the Pledge of Allegiance Americans say “one nation under God.”  Our coins bear the motto, “In God we trust.”  We need to remember those things, Carson explains, because “The secular progressive agenda is antithetical to the principles of the founding of this nation.  And if we continue to allow them to take God out of our lives, God will remove himself from us.  We will not be blessed, and our nation will go down the tubes. And we will be responsible for that.  We don’t want that to happen.”  Carson has, like many Republicans, bought into the pseudo-historical garbage of published crank David Barton that the United States was founded as an explicitly Christian nation.  For Carson, electing Clinton will lead to “literally hellish consequences.”

At this point, the speech by My Little Pony fan Melania Trump) barely matters, no matter what David Frum thinks.  There are darker forces at work here.

The recurring theme of the Republican convention is that things were better in the past, America has lost its way, and the Democrats are not only taking the United States in the wrong direction, if America continues in that direction we will face an existential threat that will destroy the very meaning of America.  The Republican Party has treated the Democrats as an existential threat since his election.  From the moment Barack Obama was inaugurated in 2009, they have abandoned all political norms, waging political warfare to deny him any victory, even if defeating Obama and the Democrats means harming the country and the world.

Which leads me to why I’m alarmed.

First, the appeals to violence against the political opposition.  Second, the explicit appeals to religious favor.  Third, the existential threat that must be stopped now lest the country be ruled by criminals who would destroy its religious fabric.  The message of the Republican National Convention is clearly that our political and religious liberties are under attack by the opposing party and we must combat the existential threat they pose with every resource at our disposal.

I can see where this can too easily lead if Trump loses the election in November.  Hillary Clinton, someone Republicans believe deeply is a criminal who should be in prison, will be in the Oval Office.  Millions of Americans, who have been told over and over and over that Hillary Clinton and the Democrats are going to take away their guns, tax or destroy their churches if they refuse to marry two men, allow Syrian refugees into the country who will impose Sharia law and outlaw Christianity, and destroy the American way of life by imposing socialism and death camps, are going to feel that America’s days aren’t just numbered but imminent.  Martyrdom is baked into the Christian tradition.  Rebellion is baked into the American tradition; the United States was formed in a rebellion, and the idea that the Second Amendment protects an American’s right to rebellion is no longer a fringe idea.  This is a potent mix, Faced with a president they believe is a corrupt criminal, convinced the United States is in its final days, the potential for violence — widespread violence — exists, all because the rhetoric and underlying violence in the Republican Party has been treated not as an outlier but as the normal behavior of a major political party.

Historians are going to look back on this moment and ask, “How could this behavior have been normalized?”  The media is unwilling to look at the open racism and calls for violence in the Republican Party and call it what it is.  Being honest would be seen as taking sides and cost them access.  By their acquiescence, the media is normalizing behavior that should be unthinkable and never, ever thought of as routine.  One of the two major parties has gone off the deep end, abandoned all norms, and now routinely trades in behavior that even ten years ago would have been beyond the pale.

I could be overly alarmist, but the first two nights of the convention give me little reason not to be alarmed.  Things could get very bad very quickly.  The next few months may be historical — for all the wrong reasons.

Bill Kristol Has His Man

Bill Kristol has actually found someone to run as a third-party conservative this election.  I didn’t think it would happen; beyond the practical realities against it, Kristol’s track record with the truth has been poor since about 1990, and if he told me that the sky is blue due to refracting sunlight I’d be skeptical and would go to a physicist for confirmation.

Enough about Kristol.  Since you’re unlikely to have heard of David French — I certainly hadn’t — Vox has a little background.  The important thing to note — he’s a lawyer, an Iraq War veteran, and a blogger for National Review Online.  One thing I would add to Vox’s rundown, which I’ve picked up elsewhere, is that French’s wife Nancy was Sarah Palin’s long-time ghostwriter.  Seriously, you didn’t think Palin actually wrote her books, did you?

The likelihood of David French winning the presidency is somewhere less than the likelihood of Christopher Hitchens walking into my office and autographing one of his books that I keep at my desk.  (Hitchens, I should note, is dead, so that’s not happening at all.  Ever.)

Kristol actually found cannon fodder… err, I mean, a candidate.  My entire worldview has taken a blow today.  Kristol is never, ever right, and yet, he found someone to bear his True Conservative™ standard.  I didn’t imagine this could happen.

It’s inconceivable.

Update: June 5, 2016:

French has decided against running for President.  French himself found it inconceivable.

Bill Kristol’s track record of being incorrect on everything continues.

The 2016 Conservative Third Party Option

There’s chatter among conservative thinkers, who are really annoyed that the Republican primary voters have selected Donald Trump to be their standard bearer in this fall’s election, about running a conservative third-party candidate.

I can sort of understand the why — “Trump doesn’t represent us, he’ll be gone after this cycle and we’ll be back in charge of the Republican party, and we need a strong conservative candidate on the ballot to help the downticket races that Trump would devastate on his own.”

I can even understand the how — a concerted effort, right now, would get the candidate (who hasn’t even been chosen by these conservative thinkers yet!) on the ballot in a number of states.  A few would be missed, Texas especially (their third-party filing deadline is Monday or Tuesday of this week, if memory serves), but the candidate could manage to appear on the ballot in many, if not most, states.

What I don’t get is the point of the exercise.  A right-wing challenger would take votes away predominantly from Donald Trump, ensuring Clinton’s election.  It’s entirely possible that Hillary Clinton would win a number of safely Republican states with a plurality of votes thanks to vote splitting between Trump and his challenger.  (Possibly Ben Sasse of Nebraska. Maybe even Mitt Romney.) The idea seems to be to deprive Hillary Clinton of a majority in the Electoral College, sending the election into the House of Representatives.  Except that, again, the plan is to run a candidate to Trump’s right, splitting the right-wing vote, which would have little effect on Clinton.

This would be a vast expense — because a presidential election isn’t cheap — on a quixotic and ultimately futile quest.

If, somehow, the presidential election were thrown to the House, I’m skeptical of the short-term survival of the American democracy.  There’s little chance that Hillary Clinton would emerge as the victor if the election were thrown to the House, even if she were the nationwide popular vote winner, because the arcane and anti-democratic rules under which the House would vote for president — each state’s delegation gets a single vote, and Republicans hold a majority of seats in the majority of state delegations in the House.  (I have rewritten this sentence three times.  It is still as cryptic as mud.) Suffice it to say, Clinton would not prevail in the House.  If the House were to elect the third-party challenger (let’s say Sasse) as the “true conservative,” even though he had come in third in the nationwide popular vote, there would be serious questions of legitimacy, both at home and abroad.  Sasse would have been installed as president in what looked, essentially, like a legal coup.  The Bush v. Gore fiasco of 2000 is notable, in retrospect, for how peaceful it was, and that’s due largely to Al Gore’s decision to place the national interest ahead of his own self-interest.  The election of President Sasse by the House in 2016, on the other hand, would almost certainly not be without incident due, in no small part, to the increased polarization of the country today.  In short, an election thrown to the House, which is the hope of conservative elites today dreading the prospect of Donald Trump, would be dark days for the American experiment.

Ted Cruz Throws a Hail Mary Pass

I had Ted Cruz’s announcement of Carly Fiorina as his Vice President pick running in the background while I worked with spreadsheets.  This was a pure Hail Mary pass.  Some immediate takeaways…

First, Ted Cruz’s relationship to the Constitution is exactly like a fundamentalist Muslim’s relationship with the Qur’an.  Both believe their Holy Writs are the unchanging and unchanging word of their respective gods (the Founders for Cruz, Allah for the Muslim) and must be venerated.

Second, on a cynical level, there wasn’t enough to this event to justify the coverage it received.  It seemed mainly to exist as a way to get the nets to cover Cruz’s standard stump speech.

Third, the production values reminded me of a cash-strapped high school drama production.

Fourth, parts of both Cruz and Fiorina’s speeches were downright creepy, specifically anything about Cruz’s daughters.  I really thought Cruz was about to say at one point, “Kids, your mother and I are getting a divorce and Carly will be your new mommy.”  And when Fiorina started to sing the songs that she sings with Cruz’s kids… *ugh*

Fifth, Fiorina’s argument that we need to “take back the country,” taken to their logical conclusion, amounts to an incitement to armed rebellion.

Sixth, who exactly does Fiorina and Cruz think “took” our country?  Where did it go?

Seventh, Ted Cruz clearly lives in a phildickian dystopia where the last seven years didn’t happen.

Eighth, I doubt that Cruz would meet his own standards of character, which he cited as a reason for picking Fiorina.  He talked about how you can judge someone by how they treat a stranger, someone who doesn’t have anything, someone who works in a convenience store, etc.  By that standard, his opposition to the social safety net should disqualify him for president, let alone the dog catcher of Podunk, Texas.

Ninth, it was interesting the extent to which Cruz was rhetorically railing against both Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump in his speech.  It was probably necessary for Cruz to constantly refer to Trump as a “liberal”; since Cruz has positioned himself as the living avatar of modern conservativism (which is more radical than conservative), he needed to make clear that there’s a difference between himself and Trump and that voters who want a conservative in the race have only one place to go.  Naturally, Cruz couldn’t mention John Kasich once.

Tenth, someone should tell Carly Fiorina that, for someone who says she has an interest in history, she’s a really poor historian.  The Founding generation, which she cited frequently, wasn’t religious in the way she seems to think they were, and most weren’t Christians in any sense she (or most people today) would recognize. Jefferson, especially.

Eleventh, I would not have been surprised if Cruz had ripped his face off in the middle of the speech, revealed Rorschach’s mask underneath.

Twelfth, as I’ve said before, I have no doubt that I would end up in a concentration camp for atheists in Ted Cruz’s America.

That covers it.

This won’t move the needle on Cruz’s campaign one iota.  But it did help him win the media cycle for an afternoon, after he got crushed by Donald Trump in the Acela Primary yesterday.

The Aggrievement of Sarah Palin and Donald Trump

James Joyce’s Finnegans Wake is more coherent than Sarah Palin’s endorsement of Donald Trump yesterday in Iowa.

I made a valiant effort at listening to it.  It was difficult.  Palin’s voice was a high-pitched screech with the speed and fury of a gale behind it, a freestyle ramble of slights, real and imagined by the “Establishment” against the true conservativism.  I wondered, at times, is this how fascism begins?  Have we finally reached the point where Europe was eighty years ago?  As Palin lashed out at those she believed had wronged the United States and the conservative vision, I had to wonder.

Others did, too.

nydn-trump-palinHere’s a round-up of links on Palin’s endorsement yesterday that share some of the same misgivings about the speech, about Palin and Trump’s ability to tap into the resentments many feel toward the elites, the government, the other.

It’s worth noting, as a backdrop, that while Palin was prepping for her trip to Iowa, her son Track was being arrested for a drunken, armed, and violent assault on his girlfriend.  Rather than deal with issues closer to home, she fled to Iowa to screech an endorsement of Donald Trump.

A part of me wants to believe that we have, at last, with this endorsement by Palin, reached Peak Trump.  His speech at Liberty University, where he’s taken mockery from Christians for referring to 2 Corinthians as “Two Corinthians” rather than “Second Corinthians” (which, though I don’t see the issue, apparently shows that he’s not an authentic Christian, so I’m told).  Now, bringing a political has-been into his campaign and giving her a platform.  The bloom is off the rose, my heart wants to say.  Trump has maxed out.  He can go no further.

But, Trump will undoubtedly surprise me.  Us.  All of us.  He always does.

Link Round-Up: December 16

Some links for today.  We’ll start with Star Wars and go from there.

And for fun, I’ll mention that I’m intrigued to notice that this week there are people reading my blog in China, the Ukraine, Latvia, Brazil, and Malaysia.

Marco Rubio, Marriage, and the Supreme Court

The composition of the Supreme Court, in my view, is the major issue of the 2016 presidential election.  It’s possible that the next president will nominate between 2 and 4 justices.  The conservative-leaning court we have now could, by 2020, lean liberal or be strongly conservative, based on who the next president is.

This, of course, assumes that a Republican Senate would confirm any Supreme Court nominees from a Democratic president who were to the left of Samuel Alito.  I harbor doubts on that point, to be perfectly frank.  I can sadly envision a scenario where the Supreme Court stands at 6 justices by the end of the next president’s first term due to a refusal by a Republican Senate to confirm replacements.

Chuck Todd, in one of his rare acts of journalism, pinned Marco Rubio down on his plans for abolishing same-sex marriage.  Rather than a constitutional amendment, Rubio wants to use the Supreme Court.  He believes the Supreme Court interpreted the Constitution wrongly in Obergefell v. Hodges, and he intends to appoint justices who would interpret the Constitution as he believes it was “originally constructed.”  In other words, he would nominate Originalists in the Antonin Scalia or Clarence Thomas mold.

I have two thoughts about this.

First, we have clarity on Rubio’s vision of what the Supreme Court should be.  As I said, I think the Supreme Court is the issue of 2016, and it’s important that we know how the candidates intend to fill vacancies and what their vision for the nation’s legal framework is.

Second, if this is really Rubio’s plan, he displays little understanding of how the Supreme Court works.  For Rubio’s hypothetical Court to say that Obergefell was wrongly decided, they have to have a case first.  It’s not like the Supreme Court sits around, looks at previous cases, and issues a press release that says, “Oops, we decided this one wrongly a few years ago, and we’ve changed our mind.”  I don’t see who would have standing to sue to overturn same-sex marriage because I don’t see who’s suffering from irreparable legal harm because of it.  Even Kim Davis’ emergency pleas to the Supreme Court were rejected.  (I should note, however, that smarter minds than mine, like Michael Tomasky‘s, do see ways the Supreme Court could revisit Obergefell.) Rubio may well want a Supreme Court that says Obergefell was the wrong decision; I question whether or not such a Court would ever be in a position to say such a thing.

The conclusion I’m forced to make is that Rubio is cynically pandering to elements of the Republican base.  He sidesteps the Constitutional amendment suggested by Chuck Todd, probably because he realizes that no such Constitutional amendment will ever happen; there aren’t super-majorities in both houses of Congress to pass an amendment, nor are there 38 states that would ratify it.  He must also realize that the Supreme Court won’t revisit the issue in the way he says he wants them to revisit the issue because the issue will never come before them again in that way.  He’s drumming up the support that he badly needs by playing his base for suckers, but in so doing he’s all but ensuring that he’s unelectable to vast swathes of the general electorate that have already moved on.

I agree with conservative commentators, like S.E. Cupp, who argued this summer, after Obergefell, that the Republicans need to let the marriage issue go.  They will only end up hurting themselves by continuing to marinate in their own bile.

A Brokered Convention and the GOP’s Unforced Error

I don’t know what’s more insane — that the GOP establishment is contemplating schemes to deny Donald Trump the GOP presidential nomination or that they’re talking openly about those schemes eight months before the convention (and before any states have selected delegates to said convention).

If this were coming from the media, I wouldn’t be surprised.  The news media talks about brokered conventions and floor fights every presidential cycle.  They want drama, and the party conventions are wholly lacking in drama these days.

But this scheme for a brokered convention and floor fights is coming from highly placed GOP sources.  People like Reince Priebus and Mitch McConnell seem to think that inciting anarchy on live television is preferable to nominating Donald Trump — and they’re not afraid to say so (or, at the very least, leak it to trusted Washington reporters).

What’s especially baffling about this is the timing.  We’re a month from the Iowa caucuses.  The Republican convention isn’t until August.  No one has voted.  We have no real idea what the delegate scenario will look like a month from now, let alone August.

All the GOP establishment has done is to give Donald Trump a talking point. The argument he and Tea Party firebrands like Ted Cruz have made is that the political class isn’t listening to the people — and here we have the GOP establishment, the literal definition of the political class, publicly saying that they’re looking for a way to not listen to the people, in this case, the GOP base.

This is just bonkers.  This is the political equivalent of an unforced error, an own goal.

This may end up being the most fascinating presidential election of my lifetime.