The Electoral College Could Be the GOP’s Final Option to Dump Trump

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When electoral votes are deposited in this ornate box in December, "faithless" GOP electors could throw the contest to the House.
Photo: Chip Somodevilla

With all of this week’s swirling speculation about how Republicans might somehow be rid of Donald Trump as their presidential candidate, a new and final option has now popped up, thanks to a Republican presidential elector from Georgia named Baoky Vu. As the Atlanta Journal-Constitution’s Jim Galloway has reported, Vu, a naturalized citizen originally from Vietnam, has now publicly threatened to withhold his electoral vote from the Republican nominee if Trump carries Georgia in November.

Could he do that? Yes. Georgia is one of 21 states that do not formally bind individual electors to the popular-vote winner in that jurisdiction. The other 29 states (plus D.C.) do legally bind them, and offer sanctions for noncompliance, which suggests something less than a complete assurance that “faithless electors” can be stopped even in those states.

But here’s the stab-in-the-back scenario for Trump. Let’s say he wins the electoral vote by a spare handful on November 8. Between then and when electors vote in December, just enough Republican electors to deny Trump a majority get together and vote for somebody else — say, Paul Ryan. The contest would then be thrown into the House, where each state delegation would cast a single vote for one of the three top electoral-vote winners. Ryan (or whomever the faithless electors settled on) would be just as legitimate a candidate in that scenario as Trump or Clinton, and the temptation to House Republicans of seizing this final opportunity to save their party and the country from a President Trump by electing their own leader would be very, very powerful. Indeed, putting Ryan into play would not even require a single elector beyond the minimum needed to stop Trump just south of 270.

This has obviously never happened, at least at the presidential level. But there is precedent for “faithless electors” throwing a vice-presidential election into the Senate, as the Constitution provides. In 1836, 23 Virginia electors got wind that Martin Van Buren’s running mate, Richard Johnson of Kentucky, was living in sin with an African-American women. Good southern white racists that they were, they abstained in the Electoral College balloting for vice-president, denying Johnson a majority. The Senate duly elected the alleged miscegenist anyway, but the Virginians kept their lily-white political petticoats all clean and starchy.

Now, obviously, if Republican electors begin abandoning Trump not because he’s a know-nothing but because his campaign is a garbage fire, this is all pretty moot, because the tycoon won’t be winning any on-paper Electoral College victories that need to be overturned. And in fact, it’s unlikely any more “faithless” Republican electors will emulate Vu’s public stance, since the conspiracy to elect Paul Ryan (or whomever) will only work if Trump does well on November 8 — just not too well.

But given all of the signs of paranoia in Team Trump past and present, Baoky Vu has, if nothing else, supplied them with a new nightmare and conspiracy theory.