Every day brings more proof that Donald Trump will be an absolute disaster as President, one thoroughly dwarfing the disaster that was George W. Bush. The CIA statement of Russian interference in the election creates a further case for the Electoral College to deny Trump the Presidency. I think this is very unlikely, and, further, if it happened, I think it would create massive, well-armed unrest that would destabilize the country. Several days ago, the Washington Post suggested that Hillary free her electoral members to vote for another Republican in the hope that at least 37 Republicans would join them and choose another Republican over Trump. This implies that there are at least 37 out of 306 Republican electors who are Americans first and Republicans second. The ratio I’ve seen in recent decades seems much lower than that, but who knows anything about these electors, so I guess it is possible. Let’s game it out.
The Post suggests Romney as an example of someone to throw to. A pretty acceptable compromise to me, but absolute death for the Republican base, and the big problem for Republicans in doing this will be getting their base to accept it. The base tried as hard as they could not to nominate Romney, lining up behind the likes of Bachman and Cain. Ultimately, the anyone-but-Mitt vote could not coalesce behind a credible candidate, so Mitt was successfully shoved down their throats with only one basis: he was the man that could win. And he lost. After Clinton, Romney would be the least acceptable person to the Republican base.
The name of Kasich has also been floated. The Republicans resoundingly chose Trump over him in the primary, and he became a leader of the anti-Trump forces. The base will not accept him either.
I think the best Republican to throw to, in the sense of the shortest of the very long shots, is Paul Ryan. Ryan has always been the most beloved pet of the donor class, who we now see has a lot more juice in the Trump administration than was being signaled during the election, and who in any case have no doubt tremendous juice with the electors. He was not actually defeated by Trump, like Kasich, or by the voters, like Romney. The two did publicly quarrel, but also publicly reconciled, more or less. It would be the Republican establishment, in alliance with the Democratic establishment, protecting the country from the lunacy created by the Republican base.
Would Ryan actually be an improvement over Trump? Absolutely. Ryan’s agenda of maximal damage to the welfare state, coupled with as little taxation and regulation of the elite as possible, has been embraced by Trump anyway, his campaign rhetoric to the contrary spectacularly notwithstanding. Further, Ryan would have to pursue it with reduced legitimacy, with Trump calling him a traitor, and with massive unrest to try to quell. He’s going to have a lot of distractions, and is going to need a lot of Democratic help, because he will be facing civil war in his own party, and blood in the streets. Ryan has shown that, though he is an ideologue, he is also a conventional politician, who makes deals when he has to. .
Which is why I’m scared that Ryan will exact a price, and it is Democratic cooperation in dismantling Social Security and Medicare. In fact, for any mainstream Republican, I think that will be the price, probably not stated publicly. It has been for decades their wettest dream, but they are afraid to go there alone. If Democrats are willing to pay that price, there will and should be a revolution in the party. Now we have complete realignment. Both parties will be complicit in very unpopular changes (especially unpopular once they are actually made), in a state of civil war, and basically universally reviled. At that point, we become the non-violent resistance to contrast with the violent, and push a social welfare program that starts from the ground up. Medicare is gone? Let’s have socialized medicine, or at least single payer, full stop.
Beyond all that, Ryan will at least take the job seriously and approach it with the temperament of an adult. He will take security briefings. He will not appoint grossly-unqualified people to the cabinet, though he will put the EPA, public education, and such in the hands of their ideological opponents, as Trump, too, has done. The alt-right will not have a voice in his administration. Civilian control of the military will be clearly maintained.Thuggery in the streets will not be feeling so empowered.
Will the plutocrats prefer Ryan, even though they are getting the same agenda on the issues they care about with Trump? Possibly, just because Trump is so clearly destabilizing, and most of the elite do not want that. Ryan is also destabilizing because of the unrest that would result from his installation. They would have to choose their poison blind, just like the rest of us. I don’t know what they would choose.
Will we still face a massive armed uprising? Yes, but probably less massive than with Romney, and certainly less massive than with Clinton, whom the base has been trained to despise for over two decades. From the perspective of Sanders Democrats, violent Trumpistas vs. an alliance of the Republican and Democratic party establishments has a “let’s you and him fight” quality, but we are all stuck on the battleground. Many people will be repulsed by both sides in that conflict, which means our actual support is likely to increase. That said, the threat to the country from violent insurrection should not be dismissed. Those who think people in their own land with light arms and homemade bombs would stand no chance against the US military were not paying attention in Iraq. And the loyalties of the soldiers would be divided. One half of one percent of Trump voters is an army of 320,000. Many with guns and military training. Many with many guns, capable of arming others.
Should the Electoral College open Pandora’s box by rejecting Trump? I have seriously mixed feelings. Those who think things cannot be worse than with Trump dangerously lack imagination. OTOH, if there must be a bloody insurrection, let it be against the Republican Party, especially the Ryan division. Both the Trump Presidency and violent insurrection are so extreme that it is impossible really to game them out with any confidence.
Finally, let’s set aside the argument that it matters much that the campaigns would have been conducted differently if it were not assumed that the Electoral College would vote according to the state results. That is no doubt true, but the right of voters to choose their leaders is not generally supposed to include a right to be addressed in a certain way or with a certain strategy. The argument about confounding expectations (not really breaking the rules, since the rule is that electors vote as they please) is basically an argument about what is fair to the campaigns. It is not fair to a campaign to be judged by different standards than what you competed on. But democracy ultimately serves voters, not campaigns, and fairness to voters must trump fairness to campaigns. I think following the popular vote is ultimately the fairest thing to the voters. The implication is that the electoral college has got to go and soon. All that would be happening here is the College’s independence being used to solve at great cost to governmental legitimacy a problem it itself created. It was created, in theory, to prevent a victor like Trump, but, in fact, it has made him possible.