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A Nightmare Scenario in the 2020 Election

The opinions expressed by columnists are their own and do not necessarily represent the views of
AP Photo/ Evan Vucci

The popular vote win by Hillary Clinton in 2016 is all we have heard since a few days following election night, and it has been the genesis for Democrats to declare that our democracy is under attack. It spawned hashtags like #NotMyPresident and #Resistance among others. Since then, the Democrats in Congress have called for everything from changes to the election process, to impeachment, to elimination of the Electoral College. It is outrageous, they claimed, for the clear choice of the majority of Americans to not be declared the winner of an election. That is, after all, how democracy is supposed to work. They have absolutely refused to accept such bogus results. Never mind that the Founding Fathers set up the whole system to work exactly the way it had worked. Those same men would be pulling at their powdered wigs in frustration after having explained over and over that they designed a republic, or a representative democracy, not a true “every person in America has an equal say on any and every issue no matter how uninformed they might be” form of government. None of these common sense and/or contextual arguments appeased the masses who have continued to claim that Donald Trump is an illegitimate occupant of 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.  

As inconsolable as some on the left have been over the fact that their preferred candidate won more of the nationwide popular vote, but still lost the election, it could have been worse. Just imagine the level of disbelief followed by complete outrage bordering on insanity that would ensue were their chosen candidate to win both the majority of votes nationwide AND a majority of electoral votes and still not be elected President. As incomprehensible as this meltdown scenario seems, it has already happened, and it could definitely happen again.

The Presidential election of 1824 is by most accounts the craziest election in the history of American politics and is, quite possibly, the first of many, many times that a Democrat has claimed to have been robbed of a fairly won election. The election featured four candidates, the two most prominent being John Quincy Adams and Andrew Jackson. When the general election dust settled, Andrew Jackson had secured both the most number of votes (151K to 113K) and the most electoral votes (99 to 84). At that time, 131 electoral votes were needed to win the Electoral College and be declared the president. Since none of the candidates secured the necessary votes, the contingency rules of the Twelfth Amendment to the Constitution took over, throwing the election to the House of Representatives to choose the president from the top three candidates. Based on some backroom brokering and quid pro quo with Speaker of the House Henry Clay, Adams convinced a majority of states’ contingencies in the House to vote for him, thereby electing him the sixth president of the United States, democracy be damned.

I’m sure you’re thinking that with a result like this so long ago, the good folks in politics, in all their collective wisdom, made the necessary changes so that this type of miscarriage of electoral justice could not happen again. Spoiler alert: they did not and it can. And 2020 is shaping up to be the kind of election year when something crazy could happen, again.

Here’s just one way (maybe not the most plausible but still possible) that the election could get taken out of the hands of the general electorate and get thrown into the House to yet again decide on the next president:

  • Joe Biden secures the Democratic nomination for President after a crazy primary season and maybe even a brokered convention.
  • Donald Trump, to the surprise of no one, is found not guilty in his Senate trial and cruises to the Republican nomination for President.
  • Bernie Sanders and ardent supporters refuse to accept a second defeat for the Democratic nomination lying down, and his campaign stages a hugely successful populist third party candidacy.
  • On election night, Joe Biden is able to flip the states of Michigan, Wisconsin and Florida in extremely close fashion, but in a wild turn of events, loses the much more left leaning states of Washington, Oregon and Vermont to Senator Sanders’ populist movement.  The final tally has Joe Biden winning a majority of the popular vote and winning the most electoral votes at 265 compared to 251 electoral votes for Trump and 22 electoral votes for Sanders.
  • Since Biden is a mere 5 electoral votes short of securing a majority of electoral votes to win the Electoral College, the election is tossed to the House where each state has one vote based on a majority of their Representatives votes. All three candidates are still eligible.
  • The House of Representatives, still controlled by a Democratic majority and Speaker Pelosi, to the surprise of most who don’t follow this stuff, have 26 states that would likely vote Republican (based on their delegation make-up). In contrast, only 23 states would likely vote Democrat. And Pennsylvania, with its 9 Democratic Representatives and 9 Republican Representatives, would be a definite toss-up.
  • At the end of a much politicized and highly contested House election, Donald Trump is once again declared the winner and takes the White House for four more years.

Amazing political theater aside, can you imagine the total meltdown by over half the country and most of the media outlets if Donald Trump wins again, this time by becoming the second President to lose the vote on election night, but win an election in the House of Representatives? Safe spaces would no longer be safe based on perilous overcrowding.

On the one hand, as someone who is fond of both the historic and the dramatic, it would be beyond intriguing to cover an election of such epic-level craziness and political pandering and backstabbing that it would easily surpass 1824 as the most insane presidential election ever. On the other hand, it would likely push the country totally off the edge of political sanity and stability to a place where none of us are comfortable dwelling. Election challenging inquiries and investigations would be the only issue in national politics for the foreseeable future, with louder cries to burn the whole system to the ground. As entertaining as it is to discuss, I’m pretty sure most of us hope this next election is decided on election night. And as a bonus, maybe we can all accept the results and move on.            

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