Donald Trump’s surprising (though not unforeseeable) election has provoked a wave of fear and anger among his opponents. But much of it has been misdirected into denial or despair rather than effective channels of political mobilization. The clearest symbol of this misplaced energy is the campaign to persuade members of the Electoral College to deny Donald Trump the presidency.
The first thing to note about this effort is that it is utterly hopeless. The electors in the Electoral College who would need to be flipped are Republican politicians who were selected for their party loyalty. They have no incentive to deny the nomination to a candidate who won heavy support among Republicans at the polls, and indeed, available reports on their thinking indicate no enthusiasm whatsoever for them to ignore their states’ results. Even if this tactic were to miraculously succeed, and the Electoral College denied Trump a majority, it would only throw the contest into the Republican-controlled House of Representatives, which would elect him anyway.
Second, and more important, denying Trump the presidency through an Electoral College coup is not a procedurally legitimate response. The presidential election is a quasi-democratic process. A fair system — defining the term the way we do when Americans elect a governor, union president, PTA chairman, or new ice-cream flavor — would award the presidency to the candidate with the greatest number of votes. The Electoral College gives voters in some states more power than voters in others, without having any reason to do so that justifies the violation of the democratic principle. And yet it is close enough to a democratic system to have legitimacy. Trump could win with minus-2 percent of the vote, but he couldn’t have won with minus-4 percent of the vote. The rules of the game were known in advance and respected by all sides. Trump’s clear national-vote defeat refutes his desperate boasts to represent the national will, but it does not negate his legal right to the presidency.
Nor does Russia’s interference in the election. Yes, Trump encouraged Russia to hack his opponent,…