Last night, the New York Times published an editorial written by Christopher Surpun, a “Republican presidential elector” from Texas who says that he will not cast his electoral college vote for Donald Trump, despite Trump winning the state by nine points. Surpun doesn’t say who he will vote for, but he urges his fellow electors to “unify behind a Republican alternative” (he suggests, um, John Kasich).
This revelation of conscientious objection from one of the 538 people tasked with cementing the country’s choice for president was unsurprisingly praised by some liberals. Here is a sampling of two different but prominent voices on the left:
After spending months hounding Donald Trump over whether he would fight his eventual loss, Democrats now find themselves in the position of having to get behind any rogue attempt at reversing his win, from funneling money to Jill the Scammer’s fake GoFundMe to Surpun’s (and others’) pledge to cast a protest vote at the electoral college level.
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Back when Hillary Clinton’s victory seemed to most people to be all but assured, politicians and pundits from both sides who were united in a mission to deny Trump the presidency saw his wavering on the matter of the election results—specifically during the third debate—as his ultimate moment of treason. That night, ex-Obama speechwriter and current The Ringer podcast host Jon Favreau tweeted:
The stated danger of Trump “refusing to accept the result of the election” was mostly theoretical. Election results are challenged through legal means at every level of democracy every single year, but in Trump people saw someone who might attempt to crack the very bedrock of the nation. In an article for the Huffington Post published two days before the election, reporter Julia Craven outlined what might happen if Trump rejected the validity of the election. She listed three outcomes: undermining the next president, triggering violence, undermining democracy.
The first one seems silly now with the tables flipped, though the second still feels ominous given the culmination of Pizzagate. But it’s the third that is most pertinent at the moment, with Stein’s recount bid already mostly dead and liberals forced to rally around random electoral college members willing to make a final stand against the president-elect. Craven didn’t mention the possibility of an electoral college mutiny when she wrote about “undermining democracy,” but that’s exactly what Surpun is proposing.
For all the fears of what could happen when people refuse to accept the results of an election, this is the most real. Thankfully almost every other elector will represent his or her state’s wishes, but you don’t have to stretch your imagination at all to see how the precedent of electors voting for whomever they feel like could one day be wielded against a (Democratic) president-elect who poses no imminent danger to the country. In fact, such a column probably would have been written (though not published in the Times) had Clinton won, and surely neither Joy Reid nor Matt McGorry would have been celebrating such a stand.
Democrats should try and creatively use the courts to litigate the actual vote, but 538 people conspiring together to decide the president is about as un-democratic an electoral process as one could imagine. The electoral college minimizing the impact of individual voters by usurping the popular vote has rightly been a cause célèbre on the left after the election, but it’s intellectually impossible to take that position while also cheering on one of the 538 when he says he’s going to take matters into his own hands. Donald Trump won, and reacting to that by arguing that we should further consolidate power among a few hundred elites shows that thought leaders on the left still haven’t internalized any lessons the election taught us.