Thursday, March 17, 2016
Fast forward to 1876 and one of the most (if not the most) controversial presidential elections ever. Rutherford B. Hayes of Ohio found himself in a virtual dead heat with rival Samuel Tilden, the governor of New York. After a first count of votes, Tildon held a small lead of 184 electoral votes, compared to Hayes' 165. Twenty electoral votes (from Florida, Louisiana and South Carolina) remained unaccounted for. To make matters worse, Democrat and Republican officials in each of those states told their respective candidate that they had won those 20 remaining votes. Needless to say, contention irrupted. Though in the lead, Tildon did not have the required votes he needed to become president. In what has become one of the most controversial moves in presidential election history, Hayes and Republicans negotiated a deal behind closed doors that essentially gave him the remaining 20 electoral votes. In exchange, Democrats secured the promise of troop withdrawals from southern states, thereby allowing racial tensions to once again enter into the equation. Hayes had his presidency, defeating Tildon 185-184, while the South had the beginnings of Jim Crow. No wonder why contemporaries of the time referred to their new president as RutherFRAUD Hayes!
Once again our fair nation enters yet another presidential election season. You don't need to be a scholar of politics or history to see that 2016 will likely be remembered for extreme partisanship. Battle lines have been drawn and only a few key states remain open to the sway of remaining candidates. As things stand now (March 17th, 2016), Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump have a clear leg up on the competition. Clinton is likely to get the nomination for the Democratic Party. The GOP nomination, however, is still uncertain. Though Trump holds a lead and will likely get the nod, establishment Republicans within the party have expressed deep concern over Trump becoming their party's candidate. As a result, several have taken to the idea of implementing some sort of strategy that would replace Trump with a candidate more to their liking.
One of the suggested plans hearkens back to some of the drama already mentioned in the elections of 1824 and 1876. If the GOP members who oppose Trump are unable to block him at their convention, one likely scenario that has been tossed about is to introduce a third candidate (somebody of moderate Republican leanings) into the race. Enter Mitt Romney.
As most already know, Romney is no fan of The Donald. He has, on multiple occasions, expressed his disdain and concern over the possibility of a Trump White House. In addition, Romney has been approached by several establishment members of his party to convince him of a potential run for the White House.
Obviously Romney would be late to the party and clearly in the rear of the pack if he were to emerge as a potential candidate. That being said, he wouldn't have to win very much in order to have a legitimate shot at the White House. This is where the drama gets REALLY interesting!
Let us assume for the sake of argument that Donald Trump wins the nomination. Establishment Republicans prove unable to oppose or replace him at their convention yet are still petrified of the Trumpster. They convince Mitt Romney that running as a third candidate is not some desperate endeavor but a strategy that employs a serious game plan with a real chance of success. How could they defeat both Hillary and Trump? Especially this late to the game? I'm glad you asked.
Romney and his supporters would be more than aware of the fact that they could never beat Trump or Clinton in a heads up match in the Electoral College. They are too far behind with too little time left of the clock for that. As a result, their game plan becomes quite simple: they play the role of spoiler. As we discussed above, to win the presidency requires winning a MAJORITY of the Electoral College. In short, this means winning 270 electoral votes. The 12th Amendment states that if a candidate is unable to win a majority of the Electoral College, the House of Representatives elects the president. The GOP controls the House by a good margin. Most of those representatives are establishment Republicans, meaning they probably are not major Trump fans. And there's also the wild card of the Speaker of the House, Paul Ryan, who just happens to be Mitt's former running mate and good friend. So Mitt Romney's game is simple: prevent both Trump and Clinton from reaching 270 and let the House (potentially) give him the nod.
The question now is, could Mitt play the role of spoiler effectively enough to prevent Clinton and Trump from winning 270 electoral votes? It's a tough road but not entirely impossible. Let's look at a few potential scenarios:
First off, let us consider the Electoral College map as it currently stands (based on historical trends and polling data). As you can see, there are approximately six battleground states up for grabs. This assumes that Hillary Clinton wins Iowa, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin, which is quite likely based on past voting trends of those states and current polling data.
In the following scenario, we give Trump Ohio, Florida, New Hampshire and Colorado (a tall order to be sure), while Hillary wins Nevada and Virginia. In addition, we give Romney Utah, which is certainly a likely outcome for the very Mormon state. As you can see, Hillary and Donald remain deadlocked at 266 each, with Mitt controlling a whopping 6 electoral votes.
In this scenario, we have Trump winning Florida, Ohio, New Hampshire and Virginia. Clinton takes Colorado and Nevada. Again, Romney wins Utah.
And finally we have this scenario where Trump wins Iowa, Nevada, Colorado, Virginia and Florida, while Clinton takes Ohio. Mitt Romney again wins Utah and New Hampshire doesn't really matter (either Trump or Clinton could win that state and still not reach 269).
Based on these scenarios a few recurring trends become quite obvious:
1.) Trump MUST win both Florida and Ohio to have much of a chance.
2.) Clinton has a clear advantage in the Electoral College.
3.) If things line up correctly, Mitt Romney could, potentially, become President by winning one single state.
Obviously this is speculation and there are a number of potential variables that could arise and derail this whole scenario. But what I hope people take away is the fact that even in our democracy the will of the people doesn't always win out. Keep in mind that we have had 4 presidential elections (1824, 1876, 1888 and 2000) in which the candidate with the most popular votes lost the election. This stuff isn't without precedent.
Personally, I would love to see a 269-269 tie someday. The implications are crazy. For more on that, click here.