Fake News and the Electoral College

Daily Best of the Web   —   Posted on December 16, 2016

Fake News and the Electoral College

Presidential electors harassed and threatened harm if they vote for Trump.

The following is an excerpt from OpinionJournal’s “Best of the Web” at The Wall Street Journal written by the editor, James Taranto.

Fake News and the Electoral College
Electors from the 30 states Donald Trump carried are being “hounded to abandon” the president-elect and cast a vote for somebody else when they meet Monday, the Associated Press reports. The effort will not succeed:

Whether they like Trump or not, and some surely don’t, scores of the Republicans chosen to cast votes in the state-capital meetings told AP they feel bound by history, duty, party loyalty or the law to rubber-stamp their state’s results and make him president.

A team of nine AP reporters attempted to contact all 538 electors from both parties, and was successful in reaching “more than 330 of them. . . . Only one Republican elector told AP he won’t vote for Trump. . . . Even a leader of the anti-Trump effort, Bret Chiafalo of Everett, Washington, calls it a ‘losing bet.’ ” The GOP defector is almost certainly Chris Suprun of Texas, who announced his intention last week in a New York Times op-ed piece.

Some of the details are entertaining:

“Let me give you the total as of right now: 48,324 emails about my role as an elector,” said Brian Westrate, a small-business owner and GOP district chairman in Fall Creek, Wisconsin. “I have a Twitter debate with a former porn star from California asking me to change my vote. It’s been fascinating.” . . .

Most of the pleas to reject Trump are coordinated, automated, professionally generated and, for those reasons, none too persuasive.

“We got a stack of letters from idiots,” said Republican elector Edward Robson, 86, a Phoenix, Arizona, homebuilder.

Call it the “Animal House” ploy, after this exchange from the classic 1978 comedy: “I think that this situation absolutely requires a really futile and stupid gesture be done on somebody’s part!” “We’re just the guys to do it.”

But the idiots have a lot of loud megaphones. Mediaite notes that “there’s a new celebrity PSA out” in which “Martin Sheen, Richard Schiff, Debra Messing, James Cromwell, BD Wong, Bob Odenkirk, Moby, and some other big names” urge electors “to do the right thing and step in to vote their conscience”—that is, the conscience of Sheen, Schiff, Messing, et al., who can’t stand Trump.

The spot is similar to an ad that played before Election Day urging voters to reject Trump. It’s likely to prove even less persuasive, since its targets, the electors pledged to vote for Trump, are all Republicans. Were they to heed the celebs’ call, it would be a breach of faith with both their states’ voters and their party.

The idiots are also getting plenty of respectful attention from the so-called mainstream media. Politico reports that Larry Lessig, a Harvard law professor, “claimed Tuesday that 20 Republican members of the Electoral College are considering voting against Donald Trump.”

Even 20 would be 17 short of the number required to deny Trump a majority and send the election to the House for the first time since 1824. (In that event, each state’s delegation would have one vote, with 26 required to win. Republicans have a majority in the House delegations of all 30 states Trump carried.) In any case, the under is a very safe bet:

Lessig’s claims contradict the assertions of Republican National Committee sources who report that a GOP whip operation intended to ensure Republican electors remain loyal to Trump found only one elector . . . would defy Trump. . . .

Lessig provided no evidence to back up his claim.

So this is fake news. But the idea of an Electoral College revolt is being widely propagated by anti-Trump journalists and commentators. Some of them, like E.J. Dionne of the Washington Post, more or less acknowledge that the idea is a fantasy. They offer three basic arguments for why it should be entertained nonetheless.

First, that Hillary Clinton “won the popular vote.” In a New York Times op-ed, Dahlia Lithwick and Davis S. Cohen, respectively a Slate writer and a law professor, go so far as to assert that Trump “lost the election by nearly three million votes,” a flatly false statement since the election is not decided by aggregate popular vote. (It’s like saying the 2016 World Series ended in a tie because the Cubs and the Indians scored 27 runs apiece.)

To say that the Electoral College should defer to the national popular vote is an exercise in question-begging, one to which Dionne devotes a full paragraph:

Yet defenders of the electoral college cannot claim that following the state results is an explicit “constitutional” obligation. The Constitution makes no mention of popular election of electors, leaving the manner of their selection to the states. It’s worth asking why the national popular vote should be seen as meaningless while the state-by-state popular vote should be regarded as sacred.

We’d rephrase the question to use a less loaded term than “sacred,” but in any case the answer is that in all of living memory—to be precise, in every election since 1880—every state has allocated its electors on the basis of popular vote. (In 1876 the Legislature of newly admitted Colorado appointed the Centennial State’s electors.) Twice before, in 1888 and 2000, the losing candidate had a nationwide popular-vote plurality, a statistical anomaly that had no bearing on the outcome.

The Electoral College is consistent with the U.S.’s constitutional character as a union of states. We suppose we can understand why one might prefer direct nationwide election by popular vote, but the way to achieve that would be through a constitutional amendment. Good luck with that: It’s unlikely the requisite 38 states would agree to defer to California (where Mrs. Clinton’s margin was more than four million, meaning that Trump “won the popular vote” in the other 49 states combined.)

The second argument is Trump is really, really bad. As David Pozen, another law professor, puts it in another New York Times op-ed:

Many of Mr. Trump’s critics believe he is not just an embodiment of the unqualified trickster with “talents for low intrigue, and the little arts of popularity” feared by Hamilton; they believe he is a one-man constitutional crisis who empowers white nationalists, conflates his business interests with the public good and displays contempt for the rule of law. They fear he could use existing institutions to destroy our liberal democracy, just as autocrats have done abroad.

If only Trump’s critics had thought to make those arguments during the campaign! But of course they did, ad nauseam, and voters in 30 states with 306 electoral votes, found them unconvincing, or at any rate less convincing than the arguments against Mrs. Clinton, who by any reasonable accounting is no bargain either. In other words, Pozen’s argument is another exercise in begging the question.

The third argument is the claim of “Russian interference,” which this column discussed Monday. Again, this was widely aired during the campaign, with Mrs. Clinton even calling Trump a “puppet” of Vladimir Putin during a presidential debate. (Trump’s rejoinder: “You’re the puppet!”)

The only new element of the Russia story is that the Central Intelligence Agency reportedly has now expressed the opinion—in a secret report whose existence somebody leaked to the press—that the Russians were trying to help Trump win rather than just to cause general mischief. Other U.S. intelligence agencies reportedly do not agree with the CIA.

So we have reached a point where the liberal left wants to throw out the results of an American election on the say-so of . . . the CIA! Frank Church must be turning in his grave.

When the electors meet on Monday, the outcome of their vote will be very close to 305 for Trump, 232 for Mrs. Clinton and 1 for somebody else. The “Animal House” crowd will have one more opportunity for a really stupid and futile gesture—on Jan. 6, when Congress meets to certify the results. One representative and one senator can raise an objection, which both houses will then have to consider. It happened in 2005, as CNN reported at the time:

Alleging widespread “irregularities” on Election Day, a group of Democrats in Congress objected . . . to the counting of Ohio’s 20 electoral votes.

The challenge was defeated 267-31 by the House and 74-1 by the Senate, clearing the way for the joint session to count the votes from the remaining states.

The move was not designed to overturn Bush’s re-election, said Ohio Rep. Stephanie Tubbs Jones and California Sen. Barbara Boxer, who filed the objection.

Since Republicans will retain majorities in both houses, no meritless objection will be sustained next year either. Congress will certify the result, and President Trump will be sworn in two weeks later. How will the Times and the Post explain to their readers that all the news they saw fit to print about faithless electors and congressional challenges was fake?

For more “Best of the Web” from The Wall Street Journal’s James Taranto click here.