It’s Dec. 19, a day of presidential reckoning. Today, members of the Electoral College will meet in states across the country to officially elect Donald Trump to become the nation’s 45th U.S. president — at least that’s what’s likely to happen.
But for anyone paying attention, it’s no secret that there have been plenty of calls from frustrated parties who are encouraging electors to reject Trump and, instead, help usher in another individual to the presidency (read about the details of that potential process here).
Among these efforts is a recently released viral video from Martin Sheen, Debra Messing and a number of other Hollywood performers, calling Trump an unfit candidate, and encouraging members of the Electoral College to reject him.
The celebrities’ goal? To throw the election to the House of Representatives, where the country can, instead, end up with “a qualified candidate for the presidency.” Watch the actors’ pleas below:
It’s a video that left author and attorney Tara Ross, an outspoken supporter of the Electoral College system, a bit surprised.
“Well, it certainly is surprising to see so many liberal Hollywood celebrities supporting the generally misunderstood Electoral College, isn’t it?” Ross told Faithwire. “I am wondering how many supported the institution at this same time last year. Nevertheless, I hope their support for the system continues, even beyond this single incident.”
And, while many are critiquing the celebrity video, Ross said she can personally appreciate at least one part of the actors’ request: They seem to understand that Hillary Clinton lost the election — something that has been quite hard for some critics to come to grips with since last month’s election.
In fact, the participants in the clip made it clear that they aren’t asking electors to support Clinton, with Ross saying they seemed to understand that it was “not fair or reasonable” to ask 306 Republican electors to do so.
“She lost the election,” Ross continued. “The Electoral College is not acting appropriately if it flips the policy outcome of that election.”
That said, Ross went on to discuss other parts of the video, noting that Sheen’s claim in the clip that the Electoral College’s main intended purpose is to essentially stop “unfit characters” from securing the presidency isn’t exactly accurate, explaining that the main reason the system was created was to stop small states from always being outvoted by large states.
“The Electoral College is, at its heart, a compromise between the large and the small states, ensuring that the latter isn’t completely ignored,” she said. “It is also a commitment to state control over the presidential election process (as opposed to federal control).”
As for whether the electors should assess the fitness of candidates, Ross believes the Founders likely disagreed on this matter, which is likely why she said they left the elector selection process to states. The attorney then dove into some of the historical perspectives to try and more clearly illustrate the debate.
“On the one hand, remember that our Founders created a Constitution that is partly democratic (self-governance), but also partly republican (deliberation/compromise encouraged) and federalist (state-by-state action),” she said. “As this argument goes, the office of elector could be viewed as a republican safeguard, although it’s been decades since anyone has thought about using the office in that way.”
While Alexander Hamilton published comments in the “Federalist Papers” that seemed to mesh with this interpretation of the electors’ abilities during an election, she said others seemingly disagreed with his assessment, citing a report of one voter in 1796 who reportedly sounded off about a so-called faithless elector (an elector in the Electoral College who decides not to vote for the person whom they are pledged to select).
“What, do I chuse Samuel Miles to determine for me whether John Adams or Thomas Jefferson shall be President?” the man reportedly said at the time. “No! I chuse him to act, not to think!”
As for whether the video request made by the celebrities could come to fruition, Ross said it’s never really happened before.
“Historically, nothing like it has ever happened. Perhaps the closest analogy was a situation that occurred in 1836: All 23 electors in Virginia decided that they could not vote for the vice presidential candidate, Richard M. Johnson,” she said. “The Virginia electors voted for someone else instead! These faithless votes were enough to prevent Johnson from receiving an electoral majority, and the vice presidential election was sent to the Senate for a final resolution.”
The Senate ended up choosing Johnson anyway, though, she said.
In the end, Ross, who has been vocal about the electoral process in recent months and years, said that the ideological movement this election cycle has been intriguing to watch.
First, she said protestors urged electors to choose Clinton based on the fact that she won the popular vote. But, upon realizing their arguments are “fruitless” — as the popular vote doesn’t hold sway in our system and getting Republican electors to choose her would be an insurmountable task — they moved on.
“Next, this movement suggested a second alternative: Could electors be convinced to vote for some compromise candidate instead? Of course, even that idea is difficult,” she said. “Some of the names suggested were pretty moderate politicians—some even leaned liberal. But the Republican electors aren’t looking for a moderate, almost-Democrat. They are excited about the policy outcome of the election!”
She continued, “They want to repeal Obamacare! They want Justice Scalia’s replacement to share his judicial philosophy.”
Ross said the clip shows the celebrities in question are essentially “ready to accept almost anyone” aside from Trump, showing an evolution among some from pining for Clinton to essentially wanting anyone else in the White House who isn’t a brash Republican businessman known for his oft-times contentious proclamations.
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