Jim Clark: Could the Libertarian ticket shock Trump, Hillary? (opinion)
August 12, 2016
Holy moly, Batman. One week, polls have Trump over Hillary by 5 points; next week, it's Hillary over Trump by 11 points. And, as I go to press, Reuters has Clinton at 42% and Trump at 39%, a drop of 8 points in a matter of days.
What does it all mean? Polling methods may be obsolete with the reduction in land lines and increase in cell phones; pollsters may be contacting people at different stages of the news cycle, and/or voters are fairly well undecided.
Interesting that this state of flux coincides with Libertarian presidential and vice-presidential candidates Gary Johnson and William Weld visiting UNR in Reno last Friday. Both are former Republican governors (Johnson of New Mexico, Weld of Massachusetts) with excellent credentials for governance. Local Republicans may recall the Libertarian message of Congressman Ron Paul (R-Texas) resonated so well in Nevada that adherents (we called them "Paulistas") actually won control of the Nevada GOP.
What makes the Johnson-Weld candidacies so interesting is that both Trump and Clinton's high negatives seem to have voters shuttling between them. The Libertarian message (small government, no wars, pro-choice, anti-common core) could resonate equally well with both GOP and Democratic voters so as the fall campaign drags on perhaps they will pick up more support.
Johnson-Weld are polling at about 12% nationally. If another major Trump gaffe or Clinton misdeed hits the media, they could cross 15%, a major step which would qualify Johnson for the presidential debates.
But crossing the 15% support line is a long way from winning, right? Maybe, maybe not. When the founding fathers cobbled together the Constitution, their biggest challenge was how a chief executive would be selected.
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The final rule provides that each state gets to appoint a number of presidential electors equal to the number of representatives in Congress … the Senate plus the House (so Nevada, with four congressmen and two senators has six).
In short, voters don't elect a president, they elect slate of electors pledged to vote for a presidential candidate. If a majority of Nevadans vote for the Democratic candidate the electors pledged to that candidate go to Washington in mid-December (after the November election), join electors from other states, and a majority officially elect the US President.
All except two states are winner-take-all, so if Hillary gets 50 percent plus one, she gets all six Silver State electoral votes. Currently, there are 538 electors under this Constitutional formula, so the winner of a majority (270) will be president.
If no candidate gets a majority the Constitution provides that the election goes to the House of Representatives. Each state's congressional delegation gets one vote. There is no obligation for the House to follow the popular vote, only to decide among the top three candidates.
Has this ever happened? Yep. In 1825, the Andrew Jackson-John Quincy Adams race ended in the House, and in 1876 the Samuel Tilden-Rutherford B. Hayes race went to the House.
Many other candidates, including Lincoln, Kennedy and GW Bush, came within a whisker of congress deciding their race.
So, given the Bernie Sanders "revolution," the constant drip, drip, drip of Hillary misdeeds and Trump's seeming inability to get along with the GOP "establishment," who do you think House members, having to agree on a single vote for each state delegation, will support if the race lands in their lap?
I forgot to mention … historically deals have been made. Republican Hayes won by promising three southern state delegations he would remove federal troops from the former Confederate states. Adams carried the House with Henry Clay's support, after which Clay was appointed Secretary of State, seen at the time as a "corrupt bargain."
Those are the rules. Use your imagination. If the Johnson-Weld ticket comes in third, could they still win the prize? Stranger things have happened.
Jim Clark is president of Republican Advocates. He has served on the Washoe County and Nevada GOP Central Committees. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.