Donald Trump made a bold statement in Altoona, Pennsylvania on Friday. He stated, “The only way we can lose in my opinion — I really mean this — in Pennsylvania, is if cheating goes on.” That may turn out to be true, in a way.
I am not suggesting that there will be actual voter fraud. Despite the rash of laws passed by republican state legislatures that affect voter registration and documentation, there is very little voter fraud. According to Loyola Law School professor Justin Levitt, there have been 44 cases of potential voter fraud between 2000-2014 out of more than a billion votes cast, and some of those cases may have been clerical errors. Voter ID laws are designed to suppress participation by groups who typically vote for democrats and really have very little to do with preventing voter fraud.
On Friday, Mr. Trump said that his supporters need to watch the polling places on election day to prevent cheating. What would supervision by untrained, biased voters do? What specifically does Mr. Trump believe would be prevented? I not sure what Mr. Trump envisions, but I suggest republican leaders may undertake a course of action which he could consider cheating, but it can’t be stopped by an army of Trump observers.
Donald Trump has said and done some unpopular things since the Republican National Convention a few weeks ago. He had a running feud with the parents of a fallen heroic army officer, he has made statements which seemed to promote gun violence against his opponent, to suggest women need to change jobs if they are victims of sexual harassment, and to invite Russia to hack Clinton’s emails. He refused to endorse Paul Ryan, apparently in retaliation for Ryan’s reluctance to jump on board the Trump bandwagon.
These were serious mistakes with significant repercussions for the candidate. Trump’s support rose from less than 41% before the Republican National Convention to nearly 46% a week later, while Clinton’s support fell about 1% following the Democratic National Convention. This was a huge opportunity for Trump, but his mistakes squandered that advantage. For the first ten days of August, the support numbers diverged from a statistical tie to an 8% advantage for Clinton – Trump went down 4% and Clinton went up 4%. The effect in battleground states was even more significant, and if things don’t improve soon for Mr. Trump, he does not appear to have a path to victory in November.
And that is the situation which may cause the Republican Party leaders to abandon their candidate. If there is little hope for a Trump victory, those who want to position the GOP for success in future elections will distance themselves from the negative impact of his rhetoric. Trump comes across as racist, anti-Hispanic, anti-Muslim, sexist, extremist and often ignorant. This is not the image with which the Republican Party would like to be identified. If Trump isn’t going to win anyway, the thinking would go, then let’s not hurt ourselves for a generation by sticking with his unpopular views. Well, unpopular with the majority of voters who are not white, middle-aged men.
So what would the Republican leaders do? The easiest thing is to throw support to Gary Johnson, the Libertarian Party candidate for president. With strong Republican support and a pervasive distrust of Hilary Clinton in the electorate, there is a chance that Johnson could actually win the election. Probably not, but it could happen.
What might prove more successful is playing the Twelfth Amendment game. If the Republican Party claims Johnson as their own and piles money into the swing states with negative advertising against both Clinton and Trump, it’s possible that no candidate will win the required 270 electoral votes in the presidential election. Or rather, the first presidential election.
According to the Twelfth Amendment to the Constitution, the House of Representatives holds an election to choose the next President from the top three popular vote getters should no single candidate receive 270 electoral votes. For that election, each state has one vote and the District of Columbia has none. That means that sparsely populated, highly conservative states like Wyoming and Alaska have the same voting power as much more populated, democratic California and New York. Put another way, one Wyoming voter has the power of sixty-six California voters.
Many Republicans would not be happy with a President Gary Johnson, but they may still think he’s better than a President Trump, and they should be able to block the presidential initiatives that they find disagreeable.
Another option is to orchestrate a major write-in campaign for a popular lawmaker like Paul Ryan. Once again, the goal would be to prevent Trump or Clinton from receiving 270 electoral votes by targeting the swing states and states not won by either major candidate during the primary campaign. It would certainly be a long shot, but the excitement of such a campaign may lead to a high Republican voter turnout which should help the candidates in House, Senate, state and local elections. If the campaign is successful and the House decides on the next president, there’s no question that Ryan would win.
And Donald Trump would consider that cheating. The Republican Party will have actively worked to keep their candidate from winning the election. While this is a perfectly reasonable strategy in this strange, strange political year, Donald Trump would have a right to feel cheated.
In order to ensure that the party won’t take such drastic action, Mr. Trump need only start playing along. He needs to stop alienating so many potential voters based on race, religion and gender. He needs to support the leaders in the Republican Party; he needs to be an asset, not a liability. In short, he can’t be the Trump of the primaries.
Those are definitive statements, and if there’s one thing about this election that seems certain, it’s that old rules don’t apply. Anything can happen, and perhaps the most certain thing is that there will be large surprises to come. Russia will release more damaging material from their hack of Democratic organizations. Republicans in the House will launch a new investigation of Clinton. Trump will say something outrageous which offends a voting demographic (okay, that one was easy).
And, if leaders in the Republican Party are certain that Trump cannot win the presidency, they may “cheat” and work against him so that they will get Hispanic, Muslim and women’s votes in future years. Perhaps Donald Trump shouldn’t have put the idea into their heads.