First it was the “Hamilton electors.” Then Christopher Suprun, a Texas elector, is making good on a promise he made back in August not to support Trump for president. And now Harvard law professor Lawrence Lessig has created an “Electors Trust” that provides free counsel to Republican electors thinking of defecting from Trump.
Could this be the leak that turns into a stream that cracks the dike?
On November 8, 2016, something happened that the framers of our constitution never anticipated: Someone deemed unqualified to be president by a large number of members his own party got a minority of the popular vote but is now on track to become president when electors meet on December 19 to elect, as Hamilton wrote, “some fit person as President.”
In this most peculiar of political seasons, here is a peculiarity worth pondering. Scores of individuals in the winning political party expressed serious reservations before the election about the fitness—not the policies, but the fitness—of the party’s nominee to be president. This is unprecedented.
Mr. Suprun and the other so-called ‘faithless electors’ take their charge seriously. But the real faithless ones are the nearly 200 Republican leaders who leveled devastating attacks on Trump’s fitness throughout the long and tortuous primaries and campaign. They appear either to have folded or else been spending time at the job board in the Trump Tower lobby.
In case you (and they) have forgotten what these leading Republicans said about Trump up until the votes started rolling in, here is a sampling:
• a “phony”, “demagogue,” and “fraud”; if elected would “greatly diminish the prospects for a safe and prosperous future”; and whose personal qualities included “bullying,” “greed,” “showing off,” “misogyny,” and “absurd third-grade theatrics” (Mitt Romney, 2012 Republican presidential nominee, now a finalist to be Trump’s Secretary of State).
• “everything a governor doesn’t want in a president” (Nikki Haley, South Carolina Governor and Trump’s designee to be United Nations ambassador).
• “offensive and demeaning”; has “victimized” women with his “inappropriate behavior” (John McCain, Arizona senator and 2008 Republican presidential nominee).
• doing the “country a great disservice….. Name one sports team, university, publicly held company that would accept a person like this as their standard bearer” (Lindsey Graham, South Carolina senator).
• “his ill-informed comments cause dangerous events to escalate and possibly spin out of control at a time when our world is beset with conflicts”; is “lacking the temperament, the judgment and the self-discipline to heal the divisions in our country and to be commander in chief”; “appeals to the worst instincts of the American people ― inflaming prejudices, looking for scapegoats, and worsening the divisions that are in our country”; “a person who never seemed to learn from his mistakes and who seemed to be incapable of recanting his ill-chosen words”; is likely to “make a perilous world even more dangerous” (Susan Collins, Maine senator).
• “employing the kind of hateful rhetoric and exploiting the insecurities of this nation, in much the same way that allowed Hitler and Mussolini to rise to power in the lead-up to World War II” (Christine Todd Whitman, former Republican governor of New Jersey).
• “endorsing a brand of populism rooted in ignorance, prejudice, fear and isolationism” (Henry Paulson, George W. Bush’s treasury secretary).
• has not had a single “economic concept come out of [his] mouth except for protectionism and lower taxes. If you put those two together, that is a recipe for disaster” (Carlos Gutierrez, the same Bush’s commerce secretary).
• “a sociopath, without a conscience or feelings of guilt, shame or remorse” (Gordon J. Humphrey, former Republican senator from New Hampshire).
Like Mr. Suprun and the others, these Republicans had very serious doubts about Trump’s fitness for the job. But unlike Mr. Suprun, it doesn’t much seem to matter anymore. If it does, it’s being kept a secret.
The news has gotten even worse since the election. Trump’s refusal to eliminate conflicts of interest around the world signals that his priorities remain what they have always been—himself and his brand (“hotter than before,” he told the New York Times).
His vague promise last week via Twitter to leave his “great business” without offering details provides cold comfort, given his documented record of dissembling and changing his positions as it suits him. In case we need more proof, reports today indicate Trump will continue to resist calls to divest.
Fortunately, Republicans who were actually serious in their concerns—rather than political opportunists wanting to distance themselves from someone set to go down in flames and drag the GOP with him—still have a shot at reclaiming some sense of integrity.
If indeed there were any principled Republicans who opposed Trump because of his clear lack of qualifications, they should do everything in their power to convince the electors not to hand the presidency to Trump.
Even if they do not succeed, they will demonstrate that their objections were more than political opportunism. They will strike a blow against the ever-growing cynicism around politics and politicians, which is so obviously corroding our civic fabric. They, like Mr. Suprun, will be an example to the rest of us.
But if they do not even try, they will, once again demonstrate that this cynicism is well-founded, that a politician’s words are only good until the votes are counted. We will continue to wonder why voter turnout is so low and public apathy, particularly among younger Americans, is so high.
Will we really need to wonder?