Add up the states Donald Trump won in this year's presidential election, and you end up with 306 electoral votes, more than enough to put the Republican amateur in the White House. In practice, however, that's probably not the number he'll end up with.When members of the Electoral College meet in two weeks to officially
choose the next president and vice president, most of their votes aren't automatic. Actual people, effectively anonymous to the American public, will be responsible for casting ballots that decide the election.And though it's widely assumed that electors will vote the way they're supposed to, history offers plenty of examples of "faithless electors
" who go their own way. This year will apparently add to the list: Texas' Christopher Suprun, pledged to the Trump/Pence ticket, has decided he cannot support the GOP nominees. In a New York Times op-ed
, Suprun, a paramedic and 9/11 first-responder, explained his reasoning.
The election of the next president is not yet a done deal. Electors of conscience can still do the right thing for the good of the country. Presidential electors have the legal right and a constitutional duty to vote their conscience. I believe electors should unify behind a Republican alternative, an honorable and qualified man or woman such as Gov. John Kasich of Ohio. I pray my fellow electors will do their job and join with me in discovering who that person should be.Fifteen years ago, I swore an oath to defend my country and Constitution against all enemies, foreign and domestic. On Dec. 19, I will do it again.
This is, of course, exactly what many progressive activists have been hoping for: a Republican elector, driven by a sense of patriotic duty, concluding that Trump simply doesn't belong in the Oval Office.But while I don't like dashing progressive hopes, it's worth noting that Suprun's declaration isn't likely to change the outcome of the election.It's simply a matter of arithmetic: to deny Trump the presidency, 37 Republican electors would need to break ranks, pushing the president-elect below the 270-vote threshold. Right now, there's just one.Sure, there's still time for some Electoral College members to change their minds ahead of the Dec. 19 vote -- an event that's usually ignored as a ceremonial, pro-forma part of the process -- but there's no reason to believe 36 other
Republican electors are prepared to deny their party's candidate the presidency.That said, Politico reports
on a group of Democratic electors who have an alternative strategy in mind. Note that Suprun can't bring himself to support Trump, but he's not voting Democratic, either -- his op-ed says he intends to back a different
Republican. A group of electors from Colorado and the state of Washington, pledged to the Clinton/Kaine ticket, are wondering how far they can go down a similar path.The group's members are calling themselves "Hamilton Electors" -- named after Alexander Hamilton, who wrote about the Electoral College exercising its own judgment after an election -- and these Democrats are considering a plan
to elect a non-Trump Republican.
At least eight Democratic electors are promising to defect from Clinton and support a Republican alternative to Trump. [...]The Democratic electors have already revealed that they're close to a consensus pick for whom they will vote: Ohio Gov. John Kasich.
Apparently, the idea is, if Democratic electors support a Republican, and a Trump elector (Suprun) supports that same Republican, perhaps other GOP members of the Electoral College will be more inclined to jump on the bandwagon, knowing that at least a member of their own party would be in the White House.I'd caution Trump critics from getting their hopes up. For one thing, many states have laws preventing electors from freelancing at the Electoral College (Hamilton Electors are prepared to sue to overturn those untested statutes). For another, there's no evidence to suggest 37 Republican electors, including Suprun, have any interest in such a gambit. We don't even know if Kasich, or someone like him, would consider such a role under these circumstances.Odds are, the Electoral College will back Trump in two weeks, and he'll take the oath of office next month. But if that changes, and it starts to look like Trump has a potential problem, the ensuing political crisis will be unlike anything Americans have seen in generations.