The road to the presidency, 2016
When Donald J. Trump announced his candidacy for president of the United States, many political observers laughed. So did I. I also thought that, as the star of “The Apprentice” stumbled through the rigors of a campaign, he would fuel a forest fire of humorous columns. The situation was especially comical because he had 16 opponents, nearly all of whom had some political experience and had suffered through previous campaigns.
Over the past 18 months, I wrote a few thousand words about him. I hope they elicited a few chuckles. I viewed the experience as good fun, intended to amuse, not abuse. Like most others, I never thought that he’d make it to the Republican National Convention. But, one by one, his challengers fell like poorly placed pieces on a chess board. Little did I — or probably anyone else — suspect that Trump was a master player.
Strokes of genius When Trump told us that Mexico was sending the refuse of their society — murderers, thieves, and rapists, along with — perhaps — a few good people, I thought he meant it as a joke. He didn’t. He convinced us that he believed what he said when he proposed building a wall along our southern border. It would be a huge wall, impregnable, a national security blanket.
When our next president accused a woman moderator of being mean to him, he told the nation that “she had blood coming out of her eyes, blood coming out of her… wherever.” At the time, I assumed that he had attempted a metaphor and botched it. I convinced myself that he meant to say, “She had fire coming out of her eyes, smoke coming out of her ears.” I guess that I was wrong again because he never tried to correct the impression.
As the nomination process heated, he became more combative, even attributing certain characteristics to his opponents, like “low energy,” “liar,” and “Little Marco.” He was suspected of inciting violence among his followers, sabotaging one of the candidates in the Iowa primary, and spreading dissension within his own political party.
But, he was like Teflon; nothing seemed to stick to him. It now seems that only the media found any of the antics to be significant. His followers remained loyal, and he added more true believers as he steamrolled along. By the time the convention was held in June, he emerged as the party’s candidate. And, he was matched against a former First Lady, U.S. senator from the state of New York (his home state), and a person who had served the nation as its secretary of state. Wow! No contest.
On election day, the only real question was how close Trump would come to Hillary’s lead. His opponent hadn’t even composed a contingency speech in the unlikely event that she might fail to gain the votes that she needed. And, indeed, at the time of this writing, it looks as though she won a majority of all votes cast. But, the votes were not distributed in the right places.
You see, when we vote on election day, we’re really not voting directly for a president and vice president; we’re voting for presidential electors, known collectively as the electoral college. In December, these electors cast their ballots, and it is these votes (a total of 538) that determine who will be our next commander-in-chief.
This is the reason that we refer to our system as a representative democracy, instead of a “pure” democracy. In other words, we have “representatives” who theoretically act on behalf of the citizenry. The number of these electors is determined by each state’s number of senators (two per state) and members of the House of Representatives (apportioned according to population).
The electoral college came into existence at the end of the 18th century when our nation was forming. There were 13 states (some large, some small) that were jealous of their own rights and powers and equally suspicious of any central national government. These states contained approximately four million people, stretched out along 1,000 miles of the eastern seaboard. And, in those days, there were no telegraphs, telephones, or any other means of communications among the states other than men on horseback.
There was also a belief that political parties were mischievous, if not downright evil, and that gentlemen should not campaign for public office. Rather, the “office should seek the man; the man should not seek the office.” So, some of the Founding Fathers wanted Congress to select the president, others wanted the task to be done by state legislators, and a few favored the idea of a direct popular vote. All of these procedures seemed to be flawed in one way or another. Finally, the Constitutional Convention attendees settled on the idea of an indirect election by a “College of Electors.”
It was believed that the electors would be the most knowledgeable and informed citizens, similar to the College of Cardinals in the Catholic Church selecting the pope or the Centurial Assembly of the Roman Empire choosing its leader. Still, there was some concern about state electors voting only for their state’s “favorite son.” But, by 1800, political parties had spread across state lines, and “party loyalty” presented new problems.
In France, the direct election of a leader had ultimately produced a dictator. Therefore, the framers of the U.S. Constitution decided that there must be a “bridge” between the average citizen (who might not be erudite enough to elect a president) and the actual electoral process. So, the Electoral College was a kind of compromise that would allow citizens to vote for electors, who then would cast their votes for candidates. And this was the basis for Article II, Section 1 of the Constitution.
In 2016, with 538 electors, if each candidate were to received 269 votes, the election would be declared a tie, and the next president would be chosen by the House of Representatives. That’s why 270 was the “magic number” for this year’s election. So, although Hillary Clinton may be shown to have gathered the most votes, nationwide, Donald J. Trump had more than enough electors to become the nation’s 45th President of the United States.