Electors, your nation needs you to be ‘unfaithful’

Kathleen Parker has a good column that points to a way out of the madness for America.

And based on the president-elect’s behavior in the last few days (not to mention the preceding 70 years), we desperately need one:

A movement headed by a mostly Democratic group calling itself Hamilton Electors is trying to persuade Republican electors to defect — not to cede the election to Hillary Clinton but to join with Democrats in selecting a compromise candidate, such as Mitt Romney or John Kasich. It wouldn’t be that hard to do.

Mathematically, only 37 of Trump’s 306 electors are needed to bring his number down to 269, one less than the 270 needed to secure the presidency.

On the Hamilton Electors’ Facebook page, elector Bret Chiafalo, a Democrat from Washington, explains the purpose of the electoral college. If you haven’t previously been a fan of the electoral system, you might become one.

Bottom line: The Founding Fathers didn’t fully trust democracy, fearing mob rule, and so created a republic. They correctly worried that a pure democracy could result in the election of a demagogue (ahem), or a charismatic autocrat (ahem), or someone under foreign influence (ditto), hence the rule that a president must have been born in the United States. We know how seriously Trump takes the latter.

Most important among the founders’ criteria for a president was that he (or now she) be qualified. Thus, the electoral college was created as a braking system that would, if necessary, save the country from an individual such as, frankly, Trump…

Amen to that!

As the courageous Mr. Chiafalo says in the above video, “This is the moment that Hamilton and Madison warned us about. This is the emergency they built the Electoral College for. And if it our constitutional duty, and our moral responsibility, to put the emergency measures into action.”

Bret Chiafalo

Bret Chiafalo

There is no question whatsoever that he is right. This may not be what electors bargained for when they signed on, but their duty is clear. Each day provides us with startling new evidence of Donald Trump’s utter unsuitability for this office. The man is unhinged, and the Electoral College is our one remaining defense against him.

Yep, there are state laws binding electors to slavishly follow the choice made by the thing our founders rightly feared — mob rule, a.k.a. direct democracy. But the electors have a higher duty to the Constitution, and must follow it. I will gladly lead a fund-raising campaign to pay any fines levied against them. (And if something more than fines is involved, we need to have an urgent conversation about that.)

Electors who break with the popular vote are called “faithless.” That’s an Orwellian label if ever I’ve heard one. True faith with the nation, as set out in our Constitution, requires that electors be “faithless” in this national crisis.

Yep, Trump’s supporters will go nuts, because they won’t understand this. They’ll say the system is fixed. Well, it is. At least, it’s supposed to be. Hamilton promised us, in selling the Constitution as “Publius,” that “The process of election affords 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.”

And that’s true, if the College steps up and does its job.

Do your duty, electors. Don’t throw away your shot. If you live 100 years, it’s unlikely you will ever have such an opportunity to serve your country, and such an obligation to do so, as you have right now.

77 thoughts on “Electors, your nation needs you to be ‘unfaithful’

  1. Brad Warthen Post author

    Today, David Ignatius weighs in on the thing I was worrying most about on Friday:

    This jousting over Taiwan wouldn’t be so worrisome if other aspects of the U.S.-Asia policy were intact. But Trump’s pledge to tear up the TPP in his first days in office has sent the other 11 nations that signed the pact scrambling for cover — with some talking of making new deals with a Beijing that is eager to fill the void.

    Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, the United States’ most important Asian ally, said last month that TPP members would consider joining a rival, Chinese-led trade agreement known as the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership, or RCEP. “There’s no doubt that there would be a pivot to the RCEP if the TPP doesn’t go forward,” Abe said. Peru and Australia, two other TPP signatories, also indicated they might join the RCEP….

    Going forward with inagurating this man is just unthinkable. This is a very dangerous moment…

    1. Brad Warthen Post author

      To quote from the top of the Ignatius piece:

      Whatever else future historians say about Donald Trump’s early foreign policy moves, they’re likely to note the erratic and, in many ways, self-defeating nature of the president-elect’s initial dealings with China, the country many analysts view as the United States’ most important long-term rival.

      Devising a wise strategy for challenging China’s ascendancy in Asia is arguably the top foreign policy task for a new president. But if Trump planned to take a tougher stance, this was a haphazard way to do it. The president-elect instead stumbled into a pre-inaugural foreign flap, insulting Beijing and causing it to lose face, without having a clear, well-articulated plan for what he seeks to accomplish.

      Worse, Trump’s fulminations about China come just as his plan to withdraw from the Trans-Pacific Partnership is undermining the United States’ standing with allies in Asia. Trump, in effect, is ceding economic ground to China at the very moment he claims to be taking a harder line. Is this a cool, calculating strategy from the dealmaker? It looks to me more like a hot mess….

  2. Phillip

    I tell you one thing, if something that far-fetched WERE actually to happen, then the movement to abolish the Electoral College would become a tidal wave.

    As much as I fear the coming Trump Presidency, though, this would be a terrible idea. The Trumpians around the country would go bananas to who knows what extent, the new “compromise” President would have no support from the country at large, neither from those who voted for Trump, nor much from Democrats either who would (properly) understand that a President Kasich or Romney would have no popular base. Trump would certainly not go away quietly, and would lead a kind of “government in exile” resistance movement. It would be a true Constitutional crisis.

    No, I think our hope now is that Trump governs for a while incompetently, gets himself and the country into so many pickles on all fronts, foreign and domestic, plus embroiling himself in clear conflict-of-interest business situations, all of this so quickly, that he is either forced to resign (while huffing and puffing that he had successfully “achieved” what he set out to do) or be impeached, perhaps surprisingly early in his term. Pence will take over but by then the working class Trump supporters will have come to understand that they were completely conned. Elections will then swing the other way.

    1. Dave Crockett

      I have to side with Phillip on this one. As appalled as I am about the ascendancy of Donald Trump, I believe Phillip is on-the-money about how the both Trump and his supporters would go nuts and how the large deficit of support a ‘compromise’ Republican would have among both the respective party faithful and the electorate at large. There are two many crisis scenarios emerging from any such compromise.

      The best we can hope for is that either Trump actually IS smarter than the average bear and will rise to the occasion of governing intelligently AND/OR that the Constitution, the Congress and the Supreme Court will keep him in check AND/OR that all of his entanglements eventually force him to resign or facing impeachment.

      And, in the meantime, we should hope that the economy and the planet survive the waiting period until 2020 and that we actually get some decent candidates in the next election.

      1. Brad Warthen Post author

        Again, y’all make a great deal of practical sense.

        But the Framers anticipated this (although I doubt they could ever have imagined anyone as grossly unfit as Trump), and gave us a way out — so that we don’t have to just “hope that the economy and the planet survive the waiting period until 2020.”

        And let me say this: A lot of folks — including my hero Tony Blair — have tried to reassure us by saying, “Don’t worry — you have all those checks and balances” (also thanks to Messrs. Madison and Hamilton).

        And yeah, those are great — when you’re talking about legislation, or Supreme Court nominations.

        But what are the checks and balances that protect us from an unhinged individual who gets up at an ungodly hour each morning eager to wreak whatever havoc he can with his Twitter account?

        All we have for that is, as aforementioned, impeachment. And that doesn’t work quickly enough to stop him…

    2. Brad Warthen Post author

      Phillip, everything you say makes perfect practical sense

      But if I were an elector, whatever my party affiliation, I absolutely would not vote for Trump.

      And if you ask me what the RIGHT thing to do is, I say it’s for electors not to vote for Trump.

      Yep, the political cost would be high. It would lead to a crisis, since few Americans (and certainly not Trump supporters) have the minds of an Alexander Hamilton — or of a James Madison (just to throw a bone to the Democratic-Republicans). Most Americans have come to believe in a thing that appalled our Founders (and me) — direct democracy. They think that’s what the country is about, and in these egalitarian, everybody’s-entitled-to-his-own-facts times in which we live, it would be extremely difficult to disabuse them of that notion. We’ve all noted that reason doesn’t work well with them.

      But here’s the thing: This already IS a crisis. If you could give me a guarantee that Trump would be impeached AND convicted within the first few weeks after inauguration, I might weaken on this point.

      But the man shows us daily how dangerously unbalanced he is. Could he possibly be removed from office before he does something terrible that can’t be undone?

      Also… the very idea of such a grossly unfit character — who does not let a day go by without reminding us of his unsuitability — even being inaugurated is disgusting in the extreme. After we’ve degraded the office of president to that degree, can we ever raise it up again to something we can respect?

      1. Claus

        “If you could give me a guarantee that Trump would be impeached AND convicted ”

        Convicted of what?

        1. Brad Warthen Post author

          Convicted of the impeachable offenses.

          You know, the second stage of impeachment. The thing that the Senate declined to do when the House impeached Clinton…

          1. Claus

            Okay, you’re probably 10 steps ahead of me. What impeachable offenses will be filed against Trump?

            1. Brad Warthen Post author

              Oh, I have no idea. The guy is so unpredictable. There are so very many possibilities. Don’t ask me to pick one.

              Maybe Phillip, since he brought up the subject, has a favorite in mind.

        2. Brad Warthen Post author

          Speaking of which…

          There are indeed times when I take the position that Phillip and David are taking here — the one of doing the wrong thing because the political damage would be greater.

          That was the case with the Clinton impeachment. I thought, from the moment we learned he’d lied about the Lewinsky affair, that he had to be impeached — since he wasn’t going to do the honorable thing and resign.

          But I found it acceptable that the Senate didn’t convict and remove him from office. The state of mind among Democrats in the country was just as unreasonable as that of Trump voters today — they were absolutely adamant in their insistence that their guy had done nothing impeachable. Which was absurd, but of course, no more absurd than people today believing Trump will make a suitable president.

          And I thought Democrats would see the removal of Clinton as illegitimate, and it would spark a considerable crisis of confidence in our institutions.

          So there are parallels. And maybe, were I still editorial page editor, I’d choose the more prudent course. My colleagues would have remonstrated with me, and perhaps handcuffed me to keep my fingers away from a keyboard, lest I lead the paper down a dangerous path. And I’ve have complained loudly, but then admitted that I didn’t have the right to do that with the newspaper, and thanked them for restraining me.

          But now it’s just me, you know, and who cares what I think?

            1. Brad Warthen Post author

              Yeah, well, he most certainly did. CEOs in the private sector would get fired for doing what he did. He did it, then lied about it in a deposition.

              The critical moment was when the Lewinsky story first broke, many months before he admitted he’d been lying.

              At that moment, George Stephanopolous — Clinton’s former communications director — said on network TV what I was thinking: If this is true, and he lied, he’ll have to be impeached.

              Absolutely. There is zero question about that, if there’s any justice in the world.

              And once he admitted he had been lying — after self-righteously shaking his finger at us and lying through his teeth — he should have resigned. Immediately.

      2. bud

        Geez. It’s a crisis BECAUSE of the electoral college. Or at least the way it is currently operated. What possible justification is there for this colossal abomination if the electors pick Trump?

      1. Lynn Teague

        True, but . . . The mob on the fringes in this case is both very large and very dangerous. These are the people who believe the Constitution consists only of the 2nd Amendment and who contemplate “2nd Amendment remedies.” Millions actually believe the raw sewage that has poured out of the fake news machine, along with the endless attacks of partisan hacks who must surely know what constitutes a true criminal offense but don’t bother to share those niceties with their followers. The shooting in the pizza place is a tiny window into what passes for thinking and patriotic action in some quarters. Does anyone doubt that this mob would be fed the most inflammatory rhetoric possible by Bannon and his friends? It isn’t a pretty picture, no matter how you look at it.

        1. Juan Caruso

          “The mob on the fringes in this case is both very large and very dangerous.” – L Teague

          Let’s remember that before winning fairly, candidate Trump was decried on this very blog by Clinton supporters as an unqulalified “populist” and a deplorable fringe candidate.

          Now that Trump is your president-elect you declare, “The mob on the fringes in this case is both very large and very dangerous”.

          It seems that the reall mob on the fringes is calling for electors to abandon their lawful duty. Those who support the abandonment of duty hope not only for a political coup, but do so (according to you) despite expectations of violent consequences.

          I submit that those who would court such madness are our real danger.

          Viva Trump!

          1. Lynn Teague

            I have no idea what correlation, if any, exists between people who encourage an electoral revolt and those who fear violent consequences. I simply stated my own concern. However, if one conceded (not saying you do, I very much doubt it) that electoral revolt was needed to preserve the republic, should those who believe that surrender to the “madness” of the 2nd amendment remedy crowd? Should they just let them call the shots because they stocked up on AK Whatevers and are willing to be idiots? Doesn’t sound like a plan for a sound national strategy to me.

    1. Brad Warthen Post author

      Actually, you may have a point. What I propose would be far worse…

      In 1860, we had a civil war because we had just elected the man who would prove to be the greatest president in our history. And we needed every bit of his wisdom, skill and moral leadership to get us through the crisis.

      This time, the crisis would be precipitated by the election of the man who is unquestionably the worst, least-qualified person ever nominated by a major party.

      And he would be absolutely useless in pulling us back together…

    1. Brad Warthen Post author


      I’m not sure what you mean by that. Are you saying “Seriously?” to ME, because I propose a solution millions would see as radical?

      Or are you saying “Seriously?” to the idea of Trump, which is what the song is doing?…

    2. Kathryn Fenner

      Awesome, Mark! Thanks for sharing that!
      One thing: I saw where the colors on the map haven’t changed much since 2008 or 2012. This isn’t some big wave that rose up in reaction. These people were, for the most part, still the same as they ever were. Same as it ever was. Same as it ever was…..

  3. Claus

    Why did you delete my response asking if you had ever considered passionately arguing for a local issue rather than a national issue that your voice has nothing to stand on other than your opinion? That that opinion has a stronger voice at the city or county level.

    1. Brad Warthen Post author

      Two reasons:

      a) As everyone knows, I’ve spent most of my career concentrating on South Carolina issues. We practically never wrote about national or international issues when I was editorial page editor. Here on the blog, it’s a little different — I found when I started blogging 12 years ago that people seemed more interested in discussing national issues. But when there’s something local I think y’all will be interested in, I go with that.

      b) You said I was a Socialist, which means you were engaging in name-calling on a particularly absurd level.

      It was easier to disallow the comment than to do all the typing necessary to demonstrate that a) I’m well known for local-oriented opinions, and b) I am not a socialist.

      Why should I be forced to waste energy answering ridiculous accusations?

      1. swampbubbles

        Agreed w/ Dan. Claus could be my b-i-l who is from California; lives in Texas; and will retire in Utah…for crying out loud. Brad Warthen is homegrown – and accountable around here.

  4. Harry Harris

    The following is a rant.
    A coup d’etat by any other name is still risky business. I’m fine. You’re fine. Only our children and the middle class and working poor are going to suffer under Trump – and they wouldn’t fair much better under a Kasich, Romney, or whoever. It will be up to the Democrats to provide counterweight to the policies Paul Ryan and company have in waiting – and I don’t think the Democrats have the leadership or political will to do much.
    As far as the world stage, mainly viewed by Trump’s detractors in terms of trade issues, he will be restrained if not hogtied by those of his own party. He’ll mainly have his loose tongue to employ, not much else.
    He will go along with the strategists of the libertarian right while employing Trumpesque bluster to make himself seem relevant.

  5. Brad Warthen Post author

    OK, here’s a broader question…

    I completely grant the wisdom of what Phillip and Dave say — that the Electoral College doing its duty as envisaged in the Constitution is probably unworkable, and could lead to a greater and broader crisis than we have now.

    But let me ask this: What do we do about the fact that we have come to such a pass that it is politically impossible to do the responsible thing — prevent Trump from taking office — in a manner that is not only prescribed by the Constitution, but was put in there precisely to prevent such an unqualified person from taking office?

    I mean, must we really govern according to the assumptions of people who don’t know better, who believe that this is, and should be, a direct democracy? Is it essential that they be humored, and that a terrible thing be allowed to happen because they would object to taking legitimate steps to prevent it?

    Mind you, I’m not just speaking dismissively of Trump voters here. I’d say that a large majority of Americans (and as we know, a majority did not vote for Trump) probably think the way I just described — that we are, and should be, a direct democracy. Certainly plenty of Democrats do — look at the way they go on and on about Hillary winning more votes (and Al Gore, too, for that matter).

    And if anything, Republicans probably believe it more — since they have become the more kneejerk, finger-in-the-wind of the two parties, which is why they currently control the Congress and most statehouses.

    So must we really not do the right thing because too few people perceive it as the right thing? And if not, how does that differ from mere mob rule? Where does the genius of our Constitution come in?

    From there, it’s just a hop, skip and a jump — or perhaps a mere hop, and a short one at that — to rule by plebiscite, to government by the twitch of the moment, rather than by discernment and deliberation.

    And that’s not what the Founders of this nation intended. And I still think they had it right — a properly balanced republic is far better than a democracy…

    1. Brad Warthen Post author

      By the way, the ONE defensible argument for electors staying “faithful” is that state laws — in South Carolina and many other states — REQUIRE them to be.

      I happen to believe those laws to be wrongheaded, as they are founded in the widespread erroneous belief that we are and should be a direct democracy. Such laws have made the union less perfect. I’d throw in the 17th Amendment with that, which is fun because it usually convinces y’all I’ve gone off my rocker — but it, too, undermines the wisdom of the Framers, who intended that each part of the government be chosen by differently defined constituencies, and that the Senate was to better balance the House because it represented states rather than aggregations of voters.

      Here and there, steadily since our earliest days, lawmakers have gone along with the populist impulses that make us more a democracy, and less a republic.

      And that’ what’s popular, and that’s what the majority believes is right and true, near as I can tell.

      But since this blog is not a government with the power to impose solutions, but a free forum of ideas, I feel motivated to stand up for what is right over what is popular — even though what I say is highly unlikely to prevail.

      But then again, what do I know about what is likely to prevail? Just short months ago, I was contemptuously scoffing at the belief among Trump voters that their guy could actually get elected…

      1. Brad Warthen Post author

        Oops, I didn’t finish the thought. As I said, “I happen to believe those laws to be wrongheaded…” but they are LAWS.

        And I believe we should obey laws. Even though these intentionally undermined what was intended in the Constitution.

        Anyway, that’s the one defensible reason for electors to stay “faithful.” The one intellectually defensible reason, that is, since I suppose trying to prevent a civil war is also defensible…

        1. bud

          Laws can and at times should be changed.

          Brad you get a lot right but you are seriously missing the big picture. This is not a one off which will correct itself in the next election. No. this is a major, fundamental flaw in our constitution . It can be patched over with the interstate popular vote compact currently with 11 states on board. We just need states with about 100 electoral votes to sign on then poof, no more odious electoral college.

            1. bud

              I disagree. At times laws MUST be ignored. Many Jim Crow laws come to mind. Rosa Parks absolutely should not have moved to the back of the bus. And yes the electors should ignore state laws concerning the electoral college when it goes against their conscience. I would suggest those kinds of laws are examples of mob rule.

              1. Claus

                And those ignoring the laws should be prosecuted for violating the law. Some feel income taxes are immoral and refuse to pay them, should we prosecute them? How about those who feel speed limits are a violation of their civil rights, should they be forced to pay their speeding tickets?

              2. Bryan Caskey

                You’re now getting into distinguishing laws which are unjust and unjust. There’s a lot to unpack in this issue. A good start is with Martin Luther King, Jr., paraphrasing St. Thomas Aquinas when he wrote:

                “An unjust law is a human law that is not rooted in eternal law and natural law. Any law that uplifts human personality is just. Any law that degrades human personality is unjust. All segregation statutes are unjust… An unjust law is a code that a numerical or power majority group compels a minority group to obey but does not make binding on itself. This is difference made legal. By the same token, a just law is a code that a majority compels a minority to follow and that it is willing to follow itself. This is sameness made legal.”

                The question then becomes: Are the state laws requiring electors to vote based on the outcome of that state’s vote “unjust” according to Dr. King and St. Thomas Aquinas?

                I think the answer is clearly not. These laws are in place, (and have long been in place), and everyone is willing to be bound by them, except for a few who simply want the other outcome having lost contest under the rules that everyone agreed to prior to undertaking the election. These laws do not degrade the human spirit as segregation laws did. If you want to change the electoral college, fine. Have at it. I’m a fan of it for reasons already stated. I think it’s a fair argument to say the electoral college isn’t the best way to choose a chief magistrate, but don’t try to convince me that the law is unjust.

                As I said earlier, it’s something else entirely to simply cut down the laws because you want to achieve a specific end result, which is what Roper argues for in A Man for All Seasons. In response, Sr. Thomas More correctly points out that the laws are there (man’s laws, not God’s laws) to act as a backstop, and we keep fidelity with the laws for, if nothing else, our own sake, lest the Devil turn ’round on you.

                I know that you, Brad, and others strongly believe that Trump is the Devil and that he should not be given any benefit of the law.

                However, I would urge you to heed Sir Thomas More’s warning.

                1. Brad Warthen Post author

                  No, I don’t believe he’s the Devil. The Devil is a lot smarter than Donald J. Trump.

                  Oh, he’s got some evil in him, as we all do. After all, he’s one of the most prominent worshippers of Mammon on the planet.

                  But he’s not the Lord of the Flies himself. He’s not the lord of anything. He’s too low, too crude, too base for that. See what I did there? I revealed some evil in myself…

                    1. Brad Warthen Post author

                      I assure you, sir, that I not only honor the law, but I tend to scrupulously follow the Immemorial Custom of the Service.

                      That Trump cove, though — I would not have him on my quarterdeck.

                      Have you encountered the class divide in gunrooms in the series? It’s a divide between those who pass for seamanship, and those who pass for gentleman. Cook would be an example of one who was an excellent seaman, but wasn’t a gentleman — he lacked “interest.”

                      Well, Trump is one who would pass for neither. He knows nothing about the ins and outs of the job, and he’s certainly no gentleman. He’s someone who has, you know, done well for himself in trade. He should have been content with a cushy job in the City.

                      For my part, I have little interest in finance, but have a man of business for that sort of thing.

                      Mr. Babbington, when you write to your father, give him my compliments and tell him my bankers are Hoares

                    2. Bryan Caskey

                      “Have you encountered the class divide in gunrooms in the series?”

                      A bit. I enjoy all the gunroom scenes, with the unspoken rules that go along with it. I think it was in Ionian Mission, where the divide between Babbington (who had his step) and Pullings started to become an undercurrent as well. I was so glad that Pullings came through that battle after O’Brian sort of head-faked that he had been killed.

                    3. Brad Warthen Post author

                      Pullings is a good sort, and a fine seaman. “The Maiden,” as the people of Kutali called him, for the mildness of his manner.

                      In other words, he was a born gentleman, although definitely not in the British class sense — which is why Babbington, with his superior interest, was promoted ahead of him…

                2. Claus

                  Brad I wish you’d write an equally thought out comment on Hillary… just to see what you think of her. I suspect she’s spender her days playing with and tending to the needs of her two grandchildren, maybe taking them to the park to feed the ducks, baking cookies…

                  1. Brad Warthen Post author

                    Right, so… why would I be writing about her? Had she won, I’d be writing about her a great deal. Now, she’s of the past.

                    And if she is spending her time with her grandchildren, I envy her. I’d like to have her money, no need to work, and be able to hang with the kids all the time. There’s nothing I love more than that…

                3. bud

                  Let’s set this just/unjust aside for the moment. There are states that do not legally bind electors. Those electors can and should vote for what they think is in the best interest of the country. That’s what they were elected to do. And yes Trump IS the devil.

                4. Claus

                  bud I’d bet that most of those electors who “that’s what they were elected to do” were elected because nobody else wanted to do the job. It’s like being on a PTA or HOA board. The only people who want to do it are people who have nothing else to do not that they were the best people for the job.

    2. John

      Maybe someone with a better background in civics could help me out. I think you (Brad) are confusing direct democracy vs representative democracy with democracy vs republic. Correct me if I’m wrong, but doesn’t the Bill of Rights confer the status of “republic” to us through the concept of inalienable rights conferred to individuals not collectives? I’m not sure how giving one person one vote when choosing a community leader undermines the idea of a republic.

      Re the “mob rule” issue you worry about, the exclusionary model you recommend (i.e. only electors have the final say, or white men, or landowners, or whatever group is the “wisest” of the moment) seems like it undermines the Bill of Rights much more than counting votes by counting individuals. Just asking for honest clarification here.

      1. Brad Warthen Post author

        As I recall, Madison used “republic” to mean “representative democracy,” as distinguished from (shudder) direct democracy.

        Over the course of my life — particularly after I joined the editorial board, and learned how much better my ideas became when they were tested in debate with a group of thoughtful people — I’ve come to believe more and more in the wisdom of choosing representative democracy over direct.

        It’s not because elected representatives are better or smarter than other people. It’s the process. If you come up to me out of the blue and ask me to give thumbs-up or thumbs-down on an important issue (which is what we do in a referendum), I won’t make nearly as good a decision as I would if you send me as a delegate to study and confer and debate and discern along with a group of people who have different perspectives from mine. (For one thing, it enables me to choose from an infinite number of possible solutions, instead of just “yes” or “no.”)

        It’s about the deliberation. It’s about the discernment.

        Anyway, that’s one way to define “republic.” It’s also used in broader senses, such as covering any sort of up-from-below system of self-government particularly as opposed to a hereditary monarchy.

        As for the method of election, I see that as having more to do with checks and balances. The Framers deliberately set it up so that different parts of the government were elected differently, making them better able to check and balance each other. Only the House was supposed to be directly elected popularly. I thought that was smart, too.

        As for the Bill of Rights, which were added onto the Constitution… The role of those is to establish us as a “liberal democracy”, guaranteeing the protection of certain rights. I don’t see those as having anything to do with our being a republic, specifically. You can have such liberal rights in a monarchy — the British do, although they don’t codify them the way we do…

    3. bud

      Let’s come down to earth here and just recognize, without all this high minded talk about whether a republic works better than a pure representative democracy. Here is a real world example of how badly this electoral college idea has failed. Brad you browbeat people endlessly about voting Trump because of how bad he would be. Frankly we don’t absolutely know that yet. But what we DO know with 99% certainty (unless the electors do vote no on Trump) is that the current version of our POTUS selection process worked against selecting a reasonable person. Yet you dance around that ridiculously obvious truth and retreat into Federalist papers or Hamiltons intentions as if that inoculates you from an uncomfortable truth. And that is you are flat wrong about the practical value of the electoral college.

  6. David Carlton

    Brad, quite apart from the chaos that would ensue from an elector revolt, it ignores the simple fact that the EC hasn’t seriously worked the way Hamilton intended it to since the 1820s. Hamilton didn’t intend for the EC to “overrule” the voters, as has frequently been alleged. He didn’t want the voters to have any part in choosing the President, and so wanted a set of local notables specially chosen for the task to convene for the purpose. The Constitution doesn’t even require that the electors be elected; it hands the method of their choosing to the states to exercise at their discretion. Thus as late as 1860 in South Carolina, the General Assembly chose the electors.

    But by then it was the only remaining state to be so ornery. The reason? The party system. As the first modern mass national parties began to form at the end of the Era of Good Feelings, they realized that the only glue that could hold a national party together was the contest for the presidency. However, there were (as now) no”federal” elections for the presidency or any other office. Therefore, in order to allow people to vote for president, the Electoral College needed a runaround: instead of local notables exercising their independent judgment, people would be presented with slates of party hacks whose sole purpose was to rubber-stamp their party’s nominee. That way, you, I, or Doug could go to the polling place and know that when we vote for those no-name electors we’re really voting for the presidential candidate of our choice.

    Alas, the American electorate did that on November 8, and I don’t like the choice any more than you do. But the people who voted that Texas paramedic into office elected him to cast his vote for Trump; he was placed on the ballot by the Texas Republican Party for that purpose, and that purpose only. For him to decide that he was elected to exercise his own judgment isn’t “faithless” in some Orwellian sense; it’s faithless in common sense, because he ran under false pretenses, claiming to be the faithful transmitter of the voters’ will when he had no intention of doing so. It’s not likely that his declaration resulted from a sudden epiphany about Trump; we’ve known what he is all along. To let a bunch of no-names who haven’t been vetted by the voters (I have no idea who the Tennessee electors are; do you know any of the SC electors?), and who Hamilton himself would reject as unqualified for their office, start making their own decisions would make a mockery of democracy. Maybe it would be a good thing to make a mockery of democracy, or this particular half-assed version thereof. But the legitimacy of our political system is under enough stress as it is; this would blow it to smithereens. There’s a reason why John Kasich has repudiated this movement.

    1. bud

      David if I understand you correctly you’re saying the current version of the electoral college is merely a crude approximation of the popular vote. If so it’s nice to see someone who recognizes this for what it is. I would disagree however that the electors voting against Trump would be a bad thing. Trump is really scary and it’s worth risking some chaos to keep him out of office.

      1. Harry Harris

        You seem to think things could go wrong. Are there warning signs?
        The EPA will be run by an oil-aligned lawyer who thinks its usefulness is long past.
        The Education Department is in the hands of a voucher enthusiast who has no experience as an educator and has no experience as a public school student or parent.
        The UN Ambassador has no diplomatic or foreign policy training or experience.
        The National Security Adviser suspects Muslims of being unfit for admission to the country, and isn’t sure the Clintons were not running a child-sex ring out of a pizza parlor.
        HUD will be in the able hands of a surgeon who has no administrative experience, but thinks government assistance builds dependency and dolefulness.
        The Attorney General doesn’t like Black Lives Matter folks, but apparently thought the KKK was OK if they weren’t smoking pot.
        Health and Human Services is to be run by a Doctor/former legislator who wants Medicare converted to a kind of premium support plan forcing people into private plans run by the insurance industry (Medicare Advantage style) and who wants to loosen-up regulation of the rest of the health care insurance system.
        The chief political strategist is an ultra-right tactician who has used fake news, smear campaigns, and other deception as a chief MOI.
        Treasury will be headed by a hedge-funder who pushes tax cuts for higher incomes and has old-people-foreclosure running through his veins.
        The Commerce secretary will be a buyout specialist with some valuable experience paying-off lawsuits and fines and running a mine that proved not only unsafe, but deadly for 12 workers.
        What could go wrong?

    2. Brad Warthen Post author

      Yet ANOTHER thing that parties have done to this country!

      David mentions the Era of Good Feelings. Could we have another one of those, please? We had more than on Great Awakening; can’t we have another one of these? Please?

  7. Bryan Caskey

    I hear you people talking about ignoring the laws to get to a desired outcome. Saying “it’s worth risking some chaos” to get your desired outcome. My thoughts on the subject would best be expressed by Sir Thomas More:

  8. Bart

    I did a little math using information from Wikipedia.
    Total Votes by Candidate and then deducting the vote totals from 3 states, California, NY, & Illinois for each candidate to demonstrate the power of just 3 states if the popular vote was used to decide the winner.

    Trump received 62,853,327 total votes
    Clinton received 65,515,369 total votes
    A difference of +2,662,042 votes for Clinton

    (3) states with the total votes for each candidate
    California – Clinton received 8,739,638
    Trump received 4,477,458
    Clinton’s margin +4,262,180

    New York – Clinton received 4,211,765
    Trump received 2,678,939
    Clinton’s margin +1,532,826

    Illinois – Clinton received 3,090,729
    Trump received 2,146,015
    Clinton’s margin +944,714

    Clinton’s total margin was +6,739,720

    If these three state results were not included in the final vote tally, the results would be:
    Trump – 53,550,915 Clinton – 49,473,237
    Trump’s margin would be +4,077,678

    Consider the results at your leisure and think about one thing. If the popular vote becomes the rule to decide who our president should be, these three states alone would have been the deciding factor by a large margin. Is this what our founders were trying to avoid happening?

    Do we actually want 2 or 3 states with large populations with very distinct political and ideological leanings to be the determining factor when choosing a president?

    I am not happy with Trump at all and anyone who has read my comments is aware of how I feel about the man. But, he did win the electoral college vote by a decent margin and unless something extraordinary happens within the next few weeks, he will be sworn in. At this point, we can hope Congress will become united with Democrats and Republicans in a joint effort to keep Trump in line and perhaps change the atmosphere in Washington for the better.

    1. Claus

      Now you know why Trump won, he didn’t just campaign in just the large populated states, he hit every state and those people voted for him. He visited traditionally blue states, Hillary stuck to her core solid blue states and the states that she needed to win. I bet the Democratic candidate in 2020 won’t make that mistake again.

    2. Lynn Teague

      Maybe we need to come to terms with bring a majority-urban nation. We are, and prairie dogs don’t get a vote. In the longer term you can ignore an urban majority even less easily than the suburban/rural minority that decided this election, at least not without great peril to the nation. Those same urban areas produce the majority of the conomic activity and won’t stand for being second/class citizens forever with the nice folks of Hillbilly Elegy calling the shots.

  9. Doug Ross

    It’s not three states, Bart. It’s worse. It’s four cities. NYC, Chicago, L.A., and S.F.

    If we want a President of Urban America, get rid of the electoral college.

    Run a candidate who appeals to a broader base of Americans across many states and you win.

    1. Bart

      I agree Doug. I used the three states as an example but was aware of the impact of just the four cities you listed and they do reflect a disproportionate percentage of voters in large cities vs. rural or suburban areas.

    2. Phillip

      San Francisco? not even in the top 10 cities. Houston, Dallas, Phoenix, all much larger. Of course, Trump lost both Dallas and Houston, too(don’t know about Phoenix). But “appealing to a broader base” cuts both ways, doesn’t it? If Trump hadn’t run the kind of campaign he did, he could have narrowed the margin of defeat enough in urban areas to win the popular vote.

  10. Harry Harris

    “Consider the results at your leisure and think about one thing. If the popular vote becomes the rule to decide who our president should be, these three states alone would have been the deciding factor by a large margin. Is this what our founders were trying to avoid happening?

    Do we actually want 2 or 3 states with large populations with very distinct political and ideological leanings to be the determining factor when choosing a president?”

    Do we want candidates promoted by the worst parts of the right wing theocratic-minded voters who want their form of morality codified into law choosing a President over a majority of the citizens? Look at the ideologues and rookies who will make up the next cabinet. The Supreme Court will likely leave us gerrymandered to the height of oligarchy. Pick your poison.

    1. Brad Warthen Post author

      “the right wing theocratic-minded voters who want their form of morality codified into law…”

      You said that like it’s a bad thing, Harry. 🙂

      But seriously, folks, no, I don’t want that. Nor do I want elections decided solely by godless, postmodern, tradition-hating heathens who dwell in soul-devouring cities.

      I sort of want everybody to have a say…

  11. Bryan Caskey

    Don’t the electors take an oath to vote the way their state’s voters did? Don’t some electors actively campaign to be be electors on the basis that they will vote the way the state votes? And now some are thinking about breaking their word?

    This doesn’t seem brave or honorable to me. It seems like the stubborn refusal to accept the consequences of actions and now breaking a promise. But I’m probably a bit old fashioned that way.

    1. bud

      That’s why oaths and pledges are wrong. If Trump really does shoot someone in Time Square does the pledge still apply? Since he is actually breaking the law any pledge is null and void.

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