When the Electoral College meets Monday, Donald Trump will be confirmed as president without much drama and despite the threats of so-called faithless electors.
They call themselves “Hamilton Electors.” “They” are a couple of dissident Republicans, Michael Baca of Colorado and Bret Chiafalo of Washington, and a D.C. public relations firm.
The “electors” are a mostly theoretical set of Republicans who would defect from Trump to deny the president-elect the 270 votes he needs to take the oath of office next month.
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“Hamilton” is, of course, Alexander Hamilton – Founding Father, “bastard brat of a Scotch peddler,” toast of Broadway and, most relevant to our discussion, author of Federalist 68.
The “Federalist Papers,” as they’re commonly known, are a collection of 85 newspaper editorials authored in 1787 and 1788 by Hamilton, James Madison and John Jay using the pseudonym “Publius,” making the case to ratify the Constitution we know and mostly love today.
Remember, the U.S. is not a democracy, strictly speaking. We’re a republic. We have a Constitution written to keep the worst popular political impulses in check.
That’s why until the 17th Amendment came along a century ago, state legislatures, not the public directly, elected U.S. senators. It’s also why we have an Electoral College and why all the yammering about Hillary Clinton’s popular-vote victory doesn’t amount to much.
Federalist 68 is Hamilton’s case for the Electoral College. “The process of election affords a moral certainty, that the office of President will never fall to the lot of any man who is not in an eminent degree endowed with the requisite qualifications,” he wrote. “Talents for low intrigue, and the little arts of popularity, may alone suffice to elevate a man to the first honors in a single State; but it will require other talents, and a different kind of merit, to establish him in the esteem and confidence of the whole Union.”
The “Hamilton Electors” claim Trump is just the sort of low man the founders wanted to guard against. But their case is thin, and their remedy would do far more violence to the constitutional government they claim to revere than simply letting the process run its usual course.
Besides, these guys would need a miracle. As of Thursday, the “Hamilton Electors” website claimed 21 were on board. That leaves “just 16 more to stop Trump.”
Suppose those 16 electors somehow materialize over the weekend. Then what? The Constitution requires the election go to the Republican-controlled U.S. House, where odds are Trump would still get the job.
That’s no small irony, given Trump’s longstanding disdain for the Electoral College. “The electoral college is a disaster for a democracy,” he tweeted after Mitt Romney’s defeat in 2012. Last month, he said on “60 Minutes:” “I’m not going to change my mind just because I won.”
Look, we know the president-elect has a lot to learn. But the best possible outcome of all this is already taking shape. Part of the Constitution’s genius is how it teaches us about republican government in spite of ourselves.
Trump’s unlikely candidacy and election has inspired progressives to revisit America’s founding. Of course, their whole strategy seems to be predicated on rediscovering republicanism and trying to use it as a weapon against weak-sister Republicans.
The reality is faithless electors won’t derail the Trump presidency before it starts. But the Electoral College hullabaloo might lead to a revival of proper civic education.
Republicans and Democrats alike are taking new interest in the powers and prerogatives of Congress as enumerated in Article I of the Constitution. We might see genuine oversight of this administration.
Once you start down this road, it’s difficult to stop. People might read the other 84 Federalist papers. They might rediscover proper limits on government. Four years from now, maybe we’ll all be republicans again.
Ben Boychuk is managing editor of American Greatness, a journal of conservative opinion. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.