The Electoral College meets to cast its votes and pick the next president on Monday, Dec. 19, and the unique circumstances of the 2016 race—namely, Donald Trump having lost the popular vote by millions, having an observably horrible temperament for the job, and his countless, and having major potential conflicts of interest—have left many wondering whether a surprise could be in store. In other words, could there be an Electoral College coup that keeps Trump out of the White House, or will hundreds of years of political norms come to bear and usher him over the finish line?
This question has been drawing closer scrutiny this week, thanks to the revelation of a CIA report alleging that the Russian government hacked and disseminated information stolen from the Democratic National Committee, as well as Clinton campaign chairman John Podesta, with the allegedly specific goal of advancing Trump’s chances of becoming president.
The report claims the Republican National Convention was also hacked, but that the information was never released. Party chairman and incoming White House chief-of-staff Reince Priebus denies that the RNC was hacked, though how he’d know that is unclear. While it’s important to note that there’s no publicly viewable evidence to support these claims, Politico reports they’ve resulted in at least 55 presidential electors—54 Democrats and one Republican—to demand they receive intelligence briefings before casting their votes.
Podesta himself has publicly supported this effort, which is notable. Although Clinton herself has not waded into this story in any way, she undeniably made fears that Trump would refuse to accept the results of the election an issue in the final weeks of her campaign. But for all the tumult, it remains unlikely in the extreme that the Electoral College will not select Trump come Dec. 19, even if he loses a few faithless electors in the process.
That’s because, with the exception of Texas elector Christopher Suprun, all the electors reportedly requesting these briefings so far are Democrats, and their votes are therefore already slated to go to Clinton. The only way the outcome could likely change would be if a whopping 38 Republican electors voted for Clinton instead of Trump, and so far, that’s a position embraced by none of the Republican electors, at least not publicly.
This is why Suprun’s strategy is full of holes. While he’s said that he won’t vote for Trump, he’s insisting on backing a non-Trump Republican alternative. It’s a wildly undemocratic idea—picking a random person that has absolutely no legitimacy to the office, rather than the electoral map winner in Trump, or the popular vote winner in Clinton—and it wouldn’t work, either.
If Trump somehow dipped below 270 electoral votes, but those votes didn’t go to Clinton instead, that would only mean the election would be kicked to the GOP-controlled House to decide. And unless they wanted to permanently destroy their party by ensuring their base would never support them again, which it’s safe to say they wouldn’t, they’d simply pick Trump.
Simply put, the only person besides Trump who could or should become president is Hillary Rodham Clinton, on the strength of the fact that millions more Americans voted for her. And if any Republican electors don’t want Trump, but simply can’t bring themselves to admit that Clinton is preferable and actually has a legitimate claim to the office, then they’re basically replicating what anyone who cast a write-in vote for, say, John Kasich did. Which is to say, they’re putting Trump in the White House.
Basically, given the massive unlikelihood of 38 or more Republican electors deciding to support the Democratic nominee, despite the fact that she won the national popular vote by a non-competitive margin, there’s only one answer to this question: No, there’s not going to be an electoral college coup, at least not one that ultimately changes who becomes president. It’s certainly possible that Trump will finish with less electoral votes than he rightfully won, however, and if nothing else, that’ll probably stick in his craw.