It has been difficult to discern exactly what the anti-Trump protesters are protesting. The election is over. Donald Trump will be president after Jan. 20.
As it turns out, they have five demands, according to CNN. One is the Electoral College deny Trump the presidency. Another is assuring Americans know they believe Trump is “not my president.” The other three are some variation of making a statement. About 4.5 million people have signed a petition posted on Change.org demanding the Electoral College make Hillary Clinton president.
“Hillary won the popular vote. The only reason Trump ‘won’ is because of the Electoral College,” the petition says. “But the Electoral College can actually give the White House to either candidate. So why not use this most undemocratic of our institutions to ensure a democratic result?”
I write about the four previous elections where the electoral vote and popular vote split in my book, “Tainted by Suspicion: The Secret Deals and Electoral Chaos of Disputed Presidential Elections.” Unlike in the1824 “corrupt bargain,” the 1876 Hayes-Tilden standoff and 2000 hanging chads debacle, there is no formal dispute of the outcome this year, at least not from Hillary Clinton.
It’s most similar to 1888, when Benjamin Harrison won a decisive Electoral College victory over Grover Cleveland, but lost the popular vote. There were no legal grounds for a dispute for Cleveland then or Clinton now.
But there is certainly an informal dispute against Trump by the millions protesting across the country—as aimless as it might seem. In that sense, malcontent Democrats this year are behaving more similar those Democrats chanting “Tilden or blood” after the 1876 election.
Occasionally, these marches led to riots. The walkouts by high school students, some encouraged by teachers and administrators, led to one 15-year-old Trump supporter getting beat up by class mates, while other acts of violence have taken place against those who admitted to voting for the president-elect.
The violence is not that different from what happened in 1876 when Democrats were demanding that year’s popular vote winner Samuel Tilden be president, as it seemed Republican Rutherford B. Hayes would likely ascend to the presidency. From “Tainted by Suspicion:”
Henry Watterson, publisher of the Louisville Courier-Journal and a Democratic Congressman from Kentucky, on Jan. 8—which he called “St. Jackson’s Day” because it marked the Battle of New Orleans—called for “the presence of at least 10,000 unarmed Kentuckians in the city” to march on Washington to ensure Tilden was elected. His friend Joseph Pulitzer, still building a vast newspaper empire, went further, calling for 100,000 people “fully armed and ready for business,” to ensure that Tilden becomes president.”
Angry Democratic mobs across the country would chant, “Tilden or blood,” and reportedly in a dozen states, club-wielding “Tilden Minute Men” had formed threatening to march into Washington to take the White House for their candidate. This came to Tilden’s chagrin, who sought to calm the rowdiness, as he didn’t want to be responsible for an insurrection, nor did he see it as a viable path to the presidency.
Today’s angry Democratic mob perhaps aren’t yet chanting Hillary or Blood as they did in 1876. But some are getting violent. Plus, the Democratic mobs in 1876 (and for that matter in 2000) had some rationale for their post-election temper tantrums. In 2016, Donald Trump clearly won the election, so it’s puzzling to figure out what the protest is about.
Even the popular vote argument is very weak since Hillary’s near million vote advantage came almost entirely out of California. If anything, that makes the case for the Electoral College since one or two large states shouldn’t overwhelm the will of the rest of the country.
The Electoral College votes on Dec. 19. It’s a safe bet that a month and a day later Trump will be inaugurated, at which point declaring that Trump, “is not my president,” will just be factually wrong no matter how angry the mob is.