The Electoral College will not be subverting our democratic institutions so as to save them.
For weeks, progressives stuck at the denial stage of the grief cycle had hoped that faithless electors would throw the presidency to Hillary Clinton — while those in the bargaining phase dreamed of a compromise that would deliver the White House to John Kasich, Mitt Romney, or any other Republican less wholly terrifying than the one we just elected.
Many put time and money into seeing that dream realized. Through full-page ads, online petitions, newspaper op-eds, phone calls, and a smattering of death threats, citizens tried to persuade GOP electors to vote against the manifestly corrupt and tragicomically incompetent Siberian candidate who lost the popular vote by more than two percentage points.
But on Monday, Republican electors did as they’d pledged to — in fact, as of this writing, Clinton has lost more votes to faithless electors than the president-elect. While two Texas electors refused to vote for Trump, four in deep blue Washington broke away from Clinton — three opting for Colin Powell, as an ostensible compromise offer to Trump-averse Republicans, the other backing an elder of the Sioux tribe named Faith Spotted Eagle.
Democratic electors in Maine, Minnesota, and Colorado also attempted to defect, but the states were able to preempt their faithless ballots.
The prospects of an Electoral College revolt were always dim. Some Democratic electors insist that, had Clinton given the green light to the “let’s compromise on Kasich strategy,” they may have been able to find 37 GOP electors willing to play ball. But history, intuition, and today’s results all suggest otherwise.
Had Democrats resigned themselves to this fact, it’s possible they’d have been able to register a more effective protest against the anti-democratic nature of Trump’s win.
By the rules of our system, Trump’s election was legitimate. But for small-d democrats, those rules are illegitimate. Thus, instead of trying to thwart Trump’s victory — a goal that required the profoundly unlikely cooperation of Republicans — Democratic electors could have focused on discrediting the Electoral College itself, by unilaterally refusing to fill out or send in their ballots. (One can question the merits of such a symbolic action, but it had the virtue of being within the Democratic electors’ control).
Regardless, the Hail Mary has fallen harmlessly to the turf. Donald J. Trump will be our next president. The sooner progressives accept that reality, the better their chances of changing it in four years, instead of eight.