Unlikely but Possible Outcomes for the Presidential Race

Published on November 8, 2016 by

Obviously, our next President will almost certainly be either Hillary Clinton or Donald Trump. Most likely, that will happen because one or the other won enough states with enough electoral college votes to have at least 270.

And I’ve already discussed the unlikely event that McMullin wins Utah’s six electoral college votes and neither Trump nor Clinton has 270, so the election would be thrown to the House of Representatives, which would choose between Trump, Clinton, and McMullin. (There’s a similar scenario if Gary Johnson wins a state and McMullin does not.)

But I want to talk about some even unlikelier scenarios that are still possible:

  1. On Election Day, Clinton wins 270 votes to Trump’s 268 (or another very slim margin). However, one of Washington’s Democratic electors has already announced he will not vote for Clinton. It’s possible there could be more. If enough electors refuse to vote for her, that would take Clinton below 270 EC votes. The election would be thrown to the House of Representatives, to choose between Clinton, Trump, and whoever the defecting elector(s) choose to vote for. (Most likely: Bernie Sanders. Absent a huge post-election scandal for Trump, it’s hard to see how Sanders could win in the House, but it’s technically possible.)
  2. On Election Day, Trump narrowly wins in the electoral college, but one or more Republican electors announce they will not vote for him, reducing him below 270. The election would be thrown to the House of Representatives, to choose between Clinton, Trump, and whoever the defecting elector(s) choose to vote for. (Most likely: I’m going to say Mitt Romney, because he’s a known quantity and because he’s old enough that, if elected, he would not run for re-election, so he wouldn’t interfere with other candidates planning to run in 2020. Second most likely: Paul Ryan.)
  3. On Election Day, Clinton and Trump tie at 269. (Or announced defectors from one or both parties, or a McMullin win in Utah and/or a Gary Johnson win somewhere, will reduce both candidates below 270). Knowing that she cannot win in the Republican-controlled House of Representatives, Clinton decides to do what she can to block Trump and start a civil war within the Republican Party: she instructs enough of her electors to vote for Mitt Romney (or Paul Ryan) that he is in third place in EC votes (beating out Bernie Sanders, who would have almost no chance in the House.)  There are some possible sub-scenarios here:
    1. The Republicans in the House reject the attempt to manipulate them and choose Trump.
    2. Romney or Ryan (RoR) initially has enough support from Republicans to prevent Trump from winning 26 states in the House, but not enough to win 26 states himself.
      1. The Senate has flipped to Democratic control.  Since the Vice President is chosen by the Senate from between the top two EC vote recipients, Tim Kaine is elected Vice President. (Or, because electors didn’t defect from Kaine, he was elected in the normal way regardless of who controls the Senate.) Democrats have no incentive to get involved in the fight between Trump and RoR, because if the deadlock continues, Kaine will become acting President. As the deadline to Inauguration Day nears, the Republicans who support RoR have no incentive to give up, because they’re committed to blocking Trump. Faced with a choice between sticking by Trump and letting Kaine become acting President, or voting for RoR, Republicans in the House elect RoR as President. Trump voters are livid.
      2. The Senate stays in Republican control. Since the Vice President is chosen by the Senate from between the top two EC vote recipients, Mike Pence is elected Vice President. (Or, because electors didn’t defect from Pence, he was elected in the normal way regardless of who controls the Senate.) Trump’s supporters in the House are now willing to hold out as long as necessary, because they don’t object to Pence as acting President. However, Democrats figure out they have some leverage: they can offer their support for RoR in exchange for some concessions, while also foreclosing the possibility that Trump eventually wins enough support in the House. So RoR is elected President by a coalition of anti-Trump Republicans and Democrats. Trump supporters are even more livid, branding RoR and his Republican supporters as traitors.

 

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