Have you ever heard of Evan McMullin? He’s an independent candidate for president running in Utah and he has a chance of winning the state. Mormons are not huge fans of Donald Trump. Top Mormon-Republicans Mitt Romney and former Utah Governor Jon Huntsman have openly opposed Trump.
The 40-year old McMullin is a former Republican staffer and former CIA operative. Born and raised in Utah, and a BYU graduate, he can certainly make the claim that he’s a home-grown, Mormon candidate. He likes to say that he was fighting terrorists while Donald Trump was judging beauty pageants.
The latest controversy in Utah is that a white-nationalist group has sent robocall messages into Utah attacking McMullin saying he has a lesbian mother and “two mommies”. He’s firing back at the RNC and Utah Republicans for supporting these types of attacks (which the RNC has disavowed). The GOP does, however, see him as a hurdle they need to overcome.
Utah only has 6 electoral votes, so why is it important?
In a very close election, McMullin’s victory in Utah could deny Trump a majority in the electoral college.
Today, RealClearPolitics “no toss up” map forecasts 273 votes for Clinton/Kaine and 265 for Trump/Pence (the inclusion of VP candidates in this discussion is important, further down).
Based on the map below, if Colorado swings to Trump, he would have 274 votes to Clinton’s 264. However, if Utah goes with McMullin instead of Trump, then it would be: Trump/Pence 268, Clinton/Kaine 264, and McMullin 6. No candidate would reach the magic number of 270 required.
Map: RealClearPolitics “no toss up” forecast (November 2)
No majority? Then what happens?
This is where it gets really interesting under the 12th Amendment. The House of Representatives then elects the president and the only candidates eligible are those that received electoral colleges votes: Trump, Clinton, and McMullin in this scenario.
But it’s not a one member, one vote scenario. Rather, each state’s delegation receives one vote. California = Vermont in terms of voting strength. Crazy rules but they’re stuck with them.
The Republicans will most likely have a majority in more states than the Democrats . Representatives can vote for any of the three candidates so it’s highly likely Trump would become president, even if Hillary won more electoral votes (but less than 270).
However, the House is only voting for president, not vice-president. The Senate elects the vice-president.
There is a reasonable likelihood that the Dems could control the Senate. Or there could be a tie (in which case Vice President Joe Biden would break the tie since he would still be in office). RealClearPolitics has the Senate at 47 Dem; 46 GOP and seven toss-ups today. Thus, there could be a split ticket. Imagine Trump-Kaine.
In a further constitutional fantasy scenario, House Republicans could choose the ‘real’ conservative, McMullin, and catapult him to the presidency. Highly, highly improbable, but not unconstitutional.
Another possibility: Faithless Electors
Some states do not require their electors (that comprise the electoral college) to vote for the presidential candidate with the highest popular vote in their state. In practice, they almost always do. There have been cases of an elector going astray – a Washington Republican voted for Reagan instead of Ford in 1976, a Minnesota Democrat voted for John Edwards instead of John Kerry. But those stray votes were not material to the outcome.
It is possible that some electors could abandon their candidate and go another way. The pressure on them would be massive if they did so, and, indeed, very contrary to the wishes of the voters.
In the final analysis, I think Hillary is going to win though it’s getting pretty uncomfortable, and moreso since my last post.
Yet, as Al Gore knows, anything can happen even after the votes are counted.
ps. A fictional account of electoral college machinations was written by US political journalist Jeff Greenfield in his book “The People’s Choice”. A good read for inveterate political junkies.