Mark Twain was famous for once declaring that the rumors of his death were greatly exaggerated.
One might say the same of the rumors of Donald Trump dropping out of the presidential race.
Dominating the pundit rumor mill this week have been stories that Trump is preparing to drop out of the race. Of course such rumor is fueled by those who do not like him–the establishment GOP–and all of those panicking over the continuing Trump-Khan controversy and Clinton opening up what appears to be a seven or more point lead over him. Let’s put all this into perspective.
First, ignore the polls. What is going on right now in part is the fluidity of two post-convention bumps. Trump received his 6 point bump and went into the lead and everyone reacted to that bump–including Nate Silver and Democrats who suddenly realized this was a close race–and then Clinton got her 7 point bump and went into the lead. Soon her post-convention bump will fade and within a week or so we shall have better sense of what the aggregate polls mean. But as I always tell people the aggregate polls are meaningless–we elect presidents not by aggregate polls but by the Electoral College in 51 separate races where there are only about ten swing states that matter.
Second, let’s see if the Kahn controversy has long-term legs. It may be different than Trump’s previous attacks on McCain, women, immigrants, and everyone else, but we just do not know yet. For Democrats and some swing voters his behavior is deplorable but for his core base it may not matter. For other swing voters they may be numb to his comments. Moreover, yes Trump had a bad week but the election is still more than three months away and lots can happen by then. Moreover, do not discount the power of fear and prejudice in a campaign and how it will impact the election.
Third, yes Trump has damaged himself in some ways but the big story this week was how big and small donors are starting to support him and how he has almost pulled even with Clinton. Slowly Trump may be building the infrastructure he needs to compete.
Fourth, Clinton still has her problems. Her DNC speech was weak and the bump she received was not because of her (in part because fewer people watched her Thursday speech compared to Trump’s or other DNC speakers on different nights). Clinton was good in her critique of Trump, weak in terms of the case for herself. There is still a strong underbelly of party disunity with many Sanders’ supporters and even though polls say one thing it is not sure they will really turn out for her. And finally for now, there is another batch of Wikileaks e-mails due to come out that could hurt her.
My point–the rumors of Trump’s death are greatly exaggerated–pushed by GOP who dislike him and by pundits who need to see airtime and ink. This is all noise and it does no more than confuse people, producing bad analysis.
But having said that, what if? Are there ways to de-rail or replace Trump? The answer is a qualified yes. Let me propose a way that Mitt Romney could still be elected president of the United States.
Option 1: Trump quits the race. Assume Trump takes his bat and ball and goes home before the election, what happens? Rule 9 of the Republican National Committee allows for them to select his replacement. Here is the rule.
RULE NO. 9
Filling Vacancies in Nominations
(a) The Republican National Committee is hereby authorized and empowered to fill any and all vacancies which may occur by reason of death, declination, or otherwise of the Republican candidate for President of the United States or the Republican candidate for Vice President of the United States, as nominated by the national convention, or the Republican National Committee may reconvene the national convention for the purpose of filling any such vacancies.
The Committee is not the entire body of convention delegates but those on the national committee. They could pick Mitt Romney to replace Trump. In some ways, this is Clinton’s nightmare. Earlier this week she and Obama declared him unfit to run for president and suggested he needed to be replaced. Sometimes one should not wish for something you might get. Romney would be a much stronger candidate than Trump and could well beat Clinton.
Option 2: The electors do not vote for him. Assume Trump appears to win enough electors on November 8 to win the presidency (he needs 270). Later on December 19, when the electors meet it is possible for some not to vote for Trump. Even though some states have laws requiring electors to vote for whom they are pledged, these laws punishing “faithless electors” are toothless and maybe unconstitutional. Electors could simply en masse vote for a different candidate such as Romney or in a large enough percentage to prevent Trump from getting the 270 electoral votes he needs to win the presidency. If he does not win 270 then the Constitution calls for the House of Representatives to select the president from among the top three electoral vote receivers. Assuming Romney won a few electoral votes this way to qualify as one of the top three, he could be selected as president by the House.
Remember also when the House picks the president it will be the newly elected House this November. The Constitution says that in picking the president each state gets one vote and a candidate must receive a majority of the states to vote for him or her. Right now the GOP has a majority of the delegation in more than half the states and it is unlikely that will change in November, barring a major Democratic landslide. Assume the GOP continue their hold on the majority of state delegations in the House, they could vote for Romney to be president.
Option 3: Congress refuses to certify a state delegation. Assume there is a disputed election in a state such as Florida or Ohio. There is a question over the electoral votes. Congress in certifying the electoral votes could refuse to certify the votes of a particular state and prevent a candidate from winning a majority. If that happens, then combine that with the facts from option 2 and again the House could possibly pick Romney as the next president.
While all of these three counterfactuals are unlikely, they do suggest alternative routes to preventing Trump from becoming president. Of course, he could run and simply lose and that too is a possibility, but so it could he win. Clinton is not a slam dunk.