How would the right react to seeing Obama reclaim the presidency after he lost the popular vote? In much the same way the left would respond to scenario No. 1: with wailing, gnashing, and a dudgeon so high that if you reached the top of it, you’d be able to touch Pluto. The Electoral College is, to be sure, a ridiculous mechanism for empowering a commander-in-chief—but it’s the way we do things around here. And the nightly assault on it in Hannityville, Coulterland, and the darker online precincts of the nuthouse right would only fuel the long-running attempt to undermine Obama’s standing as a valid occupant of 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.
3. The Recount (or Recounts) Scenario
Obama and Romney are each in possession of many talented and savvy operatives, and among the savviest and sharpest are their top campaign attorneys, Bob Bauer and Ben Ginsberg respectively. But Bauer and Ginsberg are more than mere lawyers: They are specialists in the art, science, and blade-wielding tactics involved in election recounts. (Ginsberg was a key player on Bush’s behalf in the 2000 imbroglio in Florida; Bauer’s role on Gore’s team was less pivotal, but he was in the fray as well.) This campaign has already featured extended legal wrangling in several states over those voter-I.D. laws—which means both sides have litigation-ready boots on the ground and are raring to engage already.
Given just how corset-tight the polls are in Colorado, Virginia, Ohio, and Florida itself, a Florida Redux scenario might be more likely than anyone imagines—and could even, perish the thought, play out in more than one state simultaneously. Remember how bad 2000 was? This would be much worse. And not simply because the level of partisan vitriol heading into the fracas is so much higher, but also because the disruption in terms of governing would be so much greater. As most politically sentient beings know, in the aftermath of the election, the federal government will be staring into the abyss of the so-called fiscal cliff: the expiration of the Bush tax cuts, the sequester, and another fight over the debt ceiling. Now consider the prospect of two or more months of 2000-style paralysis in the face of that challenge. The mind doth reel.
4. The Tie-Goes-to-the-Romney Scenario
Now we come to the most nightmarish possibility of all: Obama ekes out a popular-vote victory but he and Romney are deadlocked, 269-269, in terms of electoral votes. Sounds crazy, right? Yeah, of course, but all it would require is the following (entirely credible) chain of results: Romney wins the southern battleground trio and Ohio, Obama holds on to Iowa, Colorado, Nevada, and Wisconsin but loses in New Hampshire. What would happen then? The election would be thrown to the House of Representatives, where the Constitution ordains that every state receive one vote as determined by the party makeup of its congressional delegation. Today, that would likely mean 32 Republican votes and 18 Democratic ones, a composition unlikely to change on November 6—and hence, voilà, President Romney.
To be crystalline, this would not be a nightmare because Romney would prevail. It would be a nightmare because he’d prevail in opposition to the popular vote and outside of the Electoral College—through an unprecedented process in which Idaho and Wyoming would have a weight equal to New York and California. For millions of Americans, and not just partisan extremists, it would call into question our entire system of selecting the dude in charge, and make the U.S. look like a superrich banana republic around the world. To be honest, though, it would only be barely worse than Scenarios 1, 2, and 3 in terms of rending the nation asunder. Which is why, on Election Night, you won’t find me rooting for either candidate but for clarity: a solid, sustainable victory for Obama or Romney in the popular and electoral votes—52-48, say, and north of 300 EVs to … whomever.
Which I know is probably a fantasy, but, hey, a boy can dream.