Friday, March 18, 2016

The Corrupt Bargain of 2016

I recently came across a clever article on how the Republicans could nominate Trump and then elect someone else. The plan is simple in principle, tricky in execution:

1. The Republicans nominate Trump, the Democrats nominate Hilary.

2. The anti-Trump Republicans run a pair of third party candidates, say Kasich and Cruz. They get on the ballot in Texas, Ohio, and perhaps a few other states where both major party candidates are sufficiently unpopular. They stay off the ballot in any state where their presence might help the stronger of the major party candidates, probably Clinton.

3. They get enough electoral votes so that neither Trump nor Clinton has a majority, which throws the election to Congress. The House chooses the President, the Senate the VP, from among the three leading candidates. Kasich is chosen as President, despite coming in third in both popular and electoral votes, and Cruz, or possibly Trump's running mate, becomes Vice President.

When I described the scenario to my history major son he informed me that it had already happened—almost two hundred years ago. In 1824, Andrew Jackson got forty-one percent of the popular vote, John Quincy Adams got thirty-one percent, with the rest of the votes going to Henry Clay and William Crawford, all four running as candidates of the Democratic-Republican Party. Jackson was looked down on by the more civilized elements of his party, viewed as a lowbrow populist and bully. 

Remind you of anyone?

Jackson had a plurality of both popular and electoral votes but no candidate had a majority of electoral votes, so the presidential election went to the House, which chose Adams. Critics claimed that Clay had thrown his support in Congress to Adams in exchange for being offered the position of Secretary of State, widely viewed as making Clay heir to the White House. They labeled it The Corrupt Bargain.

Having had the presidency stolen from him, as he and his supporters saw it, in 1825, Jackson ran again in the next election, this time as the candidate of the (new) Democratic Party. And won.

So maybe it's not such a clever idea after all.


At 8:33 PM, March 18, 2016, Anonymous Douglas Knight said...

When Bloomberg withdrew, he specifically mentioned his belief that the House would elect the nominee.

At 11:47 PM, March 18, 2016, Blogger Shaddox said...

And that didn't end well for certain non-European residents of the country either, if we're hypothesizing parallels.

At 11:53 PM, March 18, 2016, Blogger Jay Maynard said...

If they're going to get on the ballot in Texas, they're going to have to hustle. Texas's deadline to get on the ballot is May 9, and they'll need just shy of 80,000 petition signatures from people who did not vote in either primary.

At 5:24 AM, March 19, 2016, OpenID hudebnik said...

"in 1825, Jackson ran again in the next election..." I think you mean 1828 :-)

At 7:33 AM, March 19, 2016, Anonymous BC said...

A feature and a bug of this plan is that voters will not necessarily know who the House would pick. There is some chance that the House might end up picking Trump over Kasich so that voters in Ohio wouldn't necessarily know whether a vote for Kasich was a vote for Kasich or a vote for Trump. It's unclear how voters would vote if their preferences were Kasich > Clinton > Trump or Trump > Clinton > Kasich, either in Ohio or the states where Kasich wasn't even running. That introduces unpredictability all over the electoral map, which probably works to Republican advantage since they control the House.

This presents an interesting strategy for Republicans even if Trump doesn't get the nomination, especially since a brokered convention may cause some Republican Trump voters to stay home. Republicans don't need a majority of electoral votes for any one Republican candidate; they just need to deny Clinton a majority. Suppose Cruz wins the nomination. The Republicans could run locally popular third candidates in certain states, either in swing states that Cruz would be unlikely to win or maybe even in traditionally "blue" states. (Are there any popular Republicans in California?) If voters in those states don't perceive a vote for the locally popular Republican to automatically be a vote for Cruz, then just enough states might be flipped to deny Clinton an electoral majority. Then, the Republican House would pick (presumably Cruz).

Do Republicans even need to name the same person in the party's ballot "slot" in each state? If not, why even nominate just one candidate nationally instead of nominating the most popular Republican candidate in each state, which probably would result in the election being thrown into the House (since there would be genuine uncertainty about which candidate the House would choose). With Republicans' domination in state legislatures, aren't they likely to control the House for many years, even after the next redistricting? If so, then it seems like their optimal strategy would be not to try to win an electoral majority with any single candidate but to deny such a majority to any single Democratic candidate. More generally, this strategy would seem like a natural fit for a party that controls the House but does not have a natural single national leader, e.g., a party that emphasizes state's rights and federalism and is skeptical of the Imperial Presidency.

At 7:56 AM, March 19, 2016, Blogger Bálint Táborszki said...

It would trigger a revolution.

At 8:53 AM, March 19, 2016, Anonymous BC said...

The House can only choose from among the top 3 electoral vote getters, and Republicans would want any strategy to rely on democratic (small "d") voting. Here is a strategy that satisfies both criteria. (I'm not talking about the Trump situation. I mean going forward as long as Republicans control the majority of House delegations.)

Use the existing primary elections to choose *two* candidates, RA and RB. In the general election, in each state, put on the ballot the candidate that did better in that state's primary, RA or RB, to run against the Democratic candidate D. There is a very good chance that none of the three candidates RA, RB, or D will win a majority of the electoral votes. Sometime between the November general election and the January (?) deadline for the House to choose the President, hold a national "post-general primary" for Republican voters to choose between RA and RB. The House members would pledge to follow the results of this post-general primary. Every step in this strategy relies completely on democratic voting: (1) the selection of RA and RB, (2) the choice of RA vs. RB in each state to run against D, and (3) the choice between RA and RB in the post-general primary.

At 6:15 PM, March 19, 2016, Anonymous Patrick said...


"Having had the presidency stolen from him, as he and his supporters saw it, in 1825, Jackson ran again in the next election" is the full quote. Jackson's election in 1824 was stolen in 1825 (when the house voted to select John Q. Adams). Jackson then ran again in the next election (in 1828).

At 3:29 AM, March 21, 2016, OpenID hudebnik said...

Oh, right. Commas in English are not associative :-)

At 3:32 AM, March 21, 2016, OpenID hudebnik said...

BC: Interesting. In the traditional primary system, party members choose a party representative, who then has to compete in a general election. In the strategy you describe, you predetermine a Republican win, and then party members choose which Republican it'll be. Sorta like running for the House in a gerrymandered safe district: all the action is intra-party, and the candidate never has any realistic need to appeal to the general public. And like running for a safe House seat, it would encourage a race to the extremes. Perhaps a short-term good idea for the Republicans, and a really bad idea for democracy :-(

At 3:38 AM, March 21, 2016, OpenID hudebnik said...

On BC's previous post: Conventional wisdom says that in a Clinton-Trump contest, Clinton wins. So any R third-party strategy this year has to take more votes from Clinton than from Trump, which means that in swing states, they run a moderate. Are there any moderate R's with national stature and name recognition (which would be necessary to make any headway in a late-entry third-party run)?

At 4:32 AM, March 21, 2016, OpenID hudebnik said...

Or is the theory that, with Trump as the R nominee, conservative R's will just stay home, so a conservative candidate like Cruz actually could take a state away from Clinton? I guess that's possible, but it would have to be a state with a substantial number of voters whose preferences are Cruz > Clinton > Trump or Cruz > StayHome > Trump. I have a hard time believing those voter profiles are large enough to swing a state.

But common-sense political wisdom doesn't seem to apply this year. This is Trumpland; the laws are different here.

At 11:35 AM, March 21, 2016, Blogger David Friedman said...


They don't have to take more votes from Clinton than from Trump. They have to take enough electoral votes from whichever major party candidate gets more of them to push the total below 50%.

Suppose that, with no extra slate, Clinton gets 280 electoral votes, Trump 260. If the extra slate takes 15 electoral votes away from Clinton, the strategy succeeds, even if they also take 30 from Trump.

One way that could work is to run a slate with candidates personally popular in a small number of states--hence my Kasich/Cruz example.

One commenter suggests that it's not doable, in that case, because it would be too late to get Cruz on the Texas ballot. But if the tactic is planned in advance, they can presumably try to get their new third party on the ballot now, withdraw if Trump is not nominated, name candidates for that party after the Republican convention if he is.

At 10:44 PM, March 21, 2016, Blogger wade faber said...

This is interesting , the suggestion is that through Republican manipulation any state would cast any electral votes outside standard two party lines . when was the last time that happened ? I can't remember . I think it would be incredible and exciting . perhaps this is the election when we start the road back to multiple parties

At 10:45 PM, March 21, 2016, Blogger wade faber said...

This is interesting , the suggestion is that through Republican manipulation any state would cast any electral votes outside standard two party lines . when was the last time that happened ? I can't remember . I think it would be incredible and exciting . perhaps this is the election when we start the road back to multiple parties

At 11:22 AM, March 22, 2016, Blogger cinc210 said...

True, but most of Trump's ideas are in line with Pat Buchanan that thinks you can manufacturer all products in the us with high tariffs. Also, the anti-immigration is also from Pat Buchanan. Its just Trump comes across nastier than Buchanan did. Pat ran in 1992 and got second place. So, with losing 5 million factory jobs; and the illegal immigration just peaking in 2006, and just slightly going down since then this explains Trump's rise. It was worst this time along with the trade since in the early 1990's it was losing 2 million jobs and the illegal immigration was mainly in California in 1992. I myself think that Trump's followers should work more than one job or work for Uber or Lyft but they will not listen to me. I'm against the high tariffs Republicans were spoil for years on the aerospace jobs when defense spending was high. This is why they react when factory work goes down.

At 11:01 AM, March 23, 2016, Blogger James said...

Under the 12th Amendment the Senate can consider only the top two candidates receiving electoral votes for Vice-President. So the choices would likely be Hillary and Trump's running mates.

Another alternative would be for Red State legislatures to choose the electors rather than the voters. They do have this option under Article II. Do this in a few states the would expect to vote for Hillary (Florida, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin) and you could through the election to the House.

At 7:49 PM, March 23, 2016, Anonymous Power Child said...


Some qualification is needed around the term "Trump's ideas." Trump himself is politically indecisive; his record proves it. However, he's good at telling people what they want to hear so they'll give him permission to do what he wants. (He spells this out in "The Art of the Deal." See Slatestarcodex's review.) He's apparently better at telling Republican voters what they want to hear than actual Republican leaders are. Of course, actual Republican leaders are basically all very out-of-touch with their voters, and don't even know what their voters want to hear.

I couldn't tell if you were being sarcastic about Trump's followers getting Archie-Bunker-style second jobs as taxi drivers. Isn't one goal of a prosperous nation that things become easier and you don't have to work a second job just to have a decent life?

At 3:25 AM, March 25, 2016, OpenID hudebnik said...

Yes, I misspoke: in place of "any R third-party strategy has to take more votes from Clinton than from Trump" I should have said "for an R third-party strategy to work, it's more important to take [electoral] votes from Clinton than from Trump." The difference in number of electoral votes, a fortiori popular votes, is unimportant, only how many electoral votes you take from the otherwise-winner.

The conclusion stands, however: whom could the R's run, where, to tip a state that would have gone for Clinton into a state that goes third-party? Kasich in Ohio is the only possibility I can think of. 18 electoral votes is not to be sneezed at, but it's still unlikely that one state would be enough to make the strategy work. And Ohio voters would know that Kasich couldn't win nationally, so they'd be consciously voting for the pig-in-a-poke of "whomever the House chooses." Given the current popularity of Congress, and the nihilistic extremism of the House in particular, that would be quite a gamble.

At 11:58 AM, March 25, 2016, Blogger David Friedman said...


Congress, as I understand the rules, can only pick one of the three top scoring candidates. So, in the case you are considering, it would be Kasich, Trump or Clinton.

But I have my doubts about Ohio for a different reason. Kasich isn't going to pull many Democratic voters, although doubtless a few. And even though Kasich beat Trump in the primary, Trump got a significant number of votes. So a likely result is to throw Ohio to Clinton, which isn't the desired outcome.

At 11:25 AM, March 28, 2016, Blogger Mark Kaminsky said...

An interesting wrinkle is that if the election goes to the House (to pick the President) and Senate (to pick the VP), and they both can't "agree" on a choice (which requires a majority of the state delegations - one vote per state - of the House, and a majority of the Senators in picking VP), then the Line of Succession comes into effect until they do choose. I.e. the Speaker of the House, currently Paul Ryan, becomes acting President of the United States! Thus the choice of President is supposed to be limited to the three top electoral vote getters (and top two VPs in the case of selecting a VP), but in practice, they could install whomsoever they want as Speaker of the House, and that person could become acting President until either the House or Senate decided otherwise (or the next election). If the Senate picks a VP then that person becomes acting President until the House picks a President, so the both the House and the Senate have to cooperate for the Speaker to become acting President.


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