The presidential election is not over. The election on November 8 was the mechanism for each state to select its slate of electors, who will not themselves elect the president and vice-president until December 19. That six-week gap has never been more crucial. We can all observe Donald Trump’s conduct during that time, but by the time the members of the Electoral College are called upon to exercise their judgment, they will, as Alexander Hamilton explained, “possess the information and discernment necessary to” evaluate him in ways that the public at large could not. And if the electors take the Constitution and the wellbeing of the country seriously – if they are conscientious – they will watch carefully.
Already, some electors, calling themselves the Hamilton Electors, are pushing, not to elect Hillary Clinton (despite her having received the majority of the popular vote by at least 2.5 million), but for a bipartisan effort to elect a compromise candidate, probably a Republican, to prevent Trump from becoming President. And with good reason. Trump is poised to take an oath to the Constitution and to violate it at the very same time. The Constitution prohibits government officials from receiving gifts or compensation (“emoluments” in the language of the Constitution) from foreign governments. Yet Trump is eager to use his new position to increase his personal wealth. His hotel in Washington, for example, has hired a “director of diplomatic sales,” and foreign diplomats are lining up to stay there to curry favor with him. And the New York Times has detailed numerous possible conflicts of interest around the globe, including ways that Trump’s business could benefit from favorable acts by foreign governments. As Richard Painter, former ethics counsel to President George W. Bush, explained on CNN, the electors will violate their own duty if they vote for Trump without assurances that he will not violate his oath even as he takes it.
Trump has no regard for the truth, for preserving our government and civic institutions, or for promoting national unity, even at a time when he has every reason to be gracious. He claimed on Sunday night, in the form of a Twitter storm, that he would have won the popular vote except that “millions of people voted illegally.” This is entirely false. Let us be clear about what Trump is doing here: in response to formal, legal recount efforts (which will ensure the accuracy of the vote count but are not expected to change the result), he is making utterly baseless accusations – accusations that serve only to undermine confidence in American democratic institutions. And the insinuation that these illegal voters are undocumented immigrants, combined with claims he made during the election about voter fraud in cities and “other communities” serve only to stoke racial division and suspicion.
This latest temper tantrum, along with other actions, belies Trump’s claims that he wishes to be “president for all Americans” and – when pressed – that he denounces white supremacy. He has appointed the incendiary Steve Bannon as his chief strategist, a man who, by his own account, provided “the platform for the alt-right,” part of the white nationalist movement. And he has failed to personally acknowledge – much less denounce – the more than 800 documented incidents of harassment and hate crimes in the first ten days after the election, including many in which the perpetrators expressly invoked his name. In light of all this, Trump’s recent claim that he does not know why his campaign and election have “energized” white nationalists is either an outright lie or remarkable ignorance.
For any elector to reject the popular vote in their state is highly unusual, and for enough of them to do so to affect the result would be unprecedented. It certainly would itself be divisive. Some of Trump’s supporters warned of violence if Trump lost what they believed might be a “rigged” election; they might make good on those threats if he is not installed in the White House. But now is a seminal moment. The electors should carefully evaluate whether Trump’s post-November 8 conduct is worthy of their votes. And if not, a bipartisan majority should choose a responsible Republican instead of Trump. For electors of both parties, such an action would elevate love of country over party and political advantage. It would be the most patriotic of acts, it would honor the Constitution, and it would remind us all that – like it or not – we are in this together.