Electoral College settles Trump’s victory, but little else

Stark divisions in US set to increase as president-elect prepares to take office

Former US president Bill Clinton and governor Andrew Cuomo cast their votes for Hillary Clinton as electors at the New York State Senate in Albany on Monday.  Photograph: Nathaniel Brooks/New York Times

Former US president Bill Clinton and governor Andrew Cuomo cast their votes for Hillary Clinton as electors at the New York State Senate in Albany on Monday. Photograph: Nathaniel Brooks/New York Times

 

In Florida, protesters swarmed the state Capitol rotunda, one hoisting a “Trump Is Too Rusky” sign featuring a hammer and sickle. In Wisconsin’s Statehouse, a heckler shouted, “We’re all going to war and die thanks to you,” during the formal meeting of the Electoral College.

And in New York, an elector by the name of William Jefferson Clinton cast his vote for his wife and then came out to make plain that he believes Donald Trump won the US presidency only because of outside interference in the election.

“We had the Russians and the FBI, and she couldn’t prevail against that, but she did everything else and still won by 2.8 million votes,” Clinton said, his determined smile belying his fury.

The meeting of the Electoral College after US presidential elections has long been little more than a tradition-bound formality, with political insiders gathering to ratify the preferences of their state’s voters and distribute 538 electoral votes. Yet as with so much else in this turbulent election year, even that civic ritual was punctuated by anger and dissent.

Democrats were unable to persuade enough electors to withhold their support for Trump. He easily cleared the 270-vote threshold needed to defeat Hillary Clinton, with onlytwo Republican electors declining to cast their vote for the president-elect. But the protests at state capitols across the country offered a preview of a tumultuous inauguration and first 100 days of the new administration.

Presidential electors are bound by tradition and often state law to support their party’s candidates. But this time, many Republican electors were inundated with phone calls, emails and even threats demanding that they vote for someone other than Trump. Leaders of groups that were lobbying the electors had privately believed they had a chance to sway enough Republican electors to defect, denying him an Electoral College majority and throwing the election into the House of Representatives.

Stark divisions

But while Trump’s opponents needed 37 Republican defectors to bring his electoral-vote tally below 270, the bulk of electors who broke ranks – four in Washington state – were Democrats who otherwise would have voted for Clinton. Instead, three voted for former secretary of state Colin Powell, a Republican, and one for Faith Spotted Eagle, a Native American tribal leader who has led opposition to the Keystone XL pipeline.

Kellyanne Conway, Trump’s campaign manager, said the election “wasn’t a squeaker”.

“The professional political left is attempting to foment a permanent opposition that is corrosive to our constitutional democracy and ignores what just happened in this election,” she said. Liberals cannot, she added, “wave magic pixie dust and make this go away.”

As for whether Trump would now begin to offer a hand of friendship to his critics, Conway noted that he had met with multiple Democrats and spoken with President Barack Obama “several times”.

“He said, ‘I’ll be president of all people,’ but the left is trying to delegitimise his election,” she said. “They’re trying to deny him what he just earned. So why is the burden always on him?”

Democrats vow that burden will only increase. “There’s not going to be a grace period this time because everybody on our side thinks he’s illegitimate and poses a massive threat,” said Adam Jentleson, a top aide to retiring senator Harry Reid who next year is going to work for one of the hubs of the opposition, the Center for American Progress.

With liberals determined to confront the president-elect and Trump continuing to scorn his critics while denying intelligence officials’ assessment that Russia was responsible for hacking Democrats, the divisions so stark during this year’s campaign are on a course to grow worse.

Washington has been drifting toward perpetual political combat for more than two decades, at least since the Newt Gingrich-led Republican revolution of 1994. But this time, “People on the left are scared about Trump in a way they were not scared about Reagan or George W Bush, ” said Michael Kazin, a professor of history at Georgetown University who has written extensively on the history of liberalism.

Gearing for a fight

Moreover, the uneasiness with Trump has hardly receded in the nearly six weeks since his election. Half of Americans surveyed in an NBC-Wall Street Journal poll last week approved of how the president-elect was preparing for the job, a figure far lower than when it was asked of Bill Clinton in 1992 (77 per cent) and Obama in 2008 (73 per cent).

Democrats, after a period of shell shock from their loss, say they will offer a well-financed resistance. Trump’s cabinet selections so far, and his refusal to acknowledge Russian efforts to affect the election, have only solidified Democrats’ resolve.

But resolve will also confront a reality: Republicans control both chambers of Congress and are in sync with Trump on many issues. Democrats can make the Cabinet confirmation process uncomfortable for Trump’s nominees, but their chances to actually block anyone rest with the unlikely prospect of Republican defections.

While the left of US politics often lacks cohesion, leaders of many groups say this time will be different. The Center for American Progress and some groups directed by David Brock, a liberal strategist, are gearing up for the fight; the Democracy Alliance, a progressive umbrella group, is preparing for a March donor summit to focus entirely on how to regain power in state capitals. And a number of left-leaning activists are planning protests in conjunction with Trump’s inauguration next month.

Democrats have not resolved intraparty tensions that were laid bare in the primary between Hillary Clinton and Senator Bernie Sanders but say that they are unified in their view that the Trump presidency represents an existential threat.

The matter of what exactly to confront Trump over is harder to figure. In the next few weeks alone, progressives will be forced to decide how much money and attention to devote to Trump’s cabinet and White House appointments, his pick to fill a vacant seat on the supreme court, his financial conflicts of interest and his stated plan to quickly repeal the Affordable Care Act.

That’s not to mention unexpected foreign or domestic crises that may arise as Trump takes the oath of office.

“In terms of needing to fight Trump and get back on track in the states, the left is unified,” said Gara LaMarche, president of the Democracy Alliance. “The harder question is how you fight intelligently and strategically when every house is burning down.”

Anti-Reagan protests

While progressives were furious with how Bush came to office in 2001, he was part of a well-known political family and had run on a message of “compassionate conservatism”.

The arrival in Washington of Ronald Reagan as leader of the conservative movement, is the better comparison, Kazin said. He noted that then, as now, liberal advocacy groups and publications saw their support soar in the days after Reagan’s election and that progressives organised vast protests (a quarter of a million people descended on the capital in September 1981 for a little-remembered Solidarity Day march organised by the AFL-CIO, a federation of 55 unions).

Reagan, however, had won in a 44-state landslide, capturing 489 electoral votes and leaving little doubt about his mandate. Trump, as the protesters Monday sought to make clear, is coming to office under far different circumstances.

New York Times

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