The man who claims to be the greatest deal-maker in America is in high-stakes negotiations with the electoral college.
The brief analysis in this piece assumes a lingering, never-ending influence from the self-proclaimed billionaire, even when he loses the GOP nomination. By spending enough to garner one of two long-term outcomes, he is on the cusp of making himself the deciding factor in 2016: a swinging, unpredictable political pendulum. Assuming a third-party bid from Trump, he could:
1) Assist the GOP: Target only a select number of states, pulling just enough electoral votes to block either side from reaching the necessary 270, effectively handing the election of POTUS to the House, where state majority delegations each get one vote; and the election of Vice President to the Senate, where each Senator gets one vote (presumably would select a Republican). This has not occurred since John Quincy Adams’s 1824 election, and only once before that, in 1800, when Jefferson was selected over Burr.
2) Assist the LEFT: He spreads out his money advantage across the entire country to pull smaller blocks of votes off the GOP’s candidate, effectively handing the electoral college to the left.
Electoral College tie explanation can be found here (see An Electoral College tie, explained).
Without going into speculation that he will tap Dave Brat for his Virginia operations, or the fact that their interests and antics seem to align in many ways, this strategy has the potential to go down as the greatest political maneuver in modern American history, in essence something between a masterful execution of game theory and his own thesis in “The Art of the Deal,” where the power of negotiation and manipulation comes before brute strength (which isn’t his thesis at all, queue “The Art of War”). Of course, as Trump himself said after the first debate, when asked why he will not pledge against a third-party bid, “it’s” all about gaining leverage. Whatever “it” is that he’s after, I have no idea.
Judging by the states targetable – those showing the most vulnerability of a majority voting bloc selecting Trump – he would have to decide between pouring millions into states like South Carolina, Alabama, Mississippi, Arkansas, and Texas (yes, TEXAS), or thinly spread his resources across the entire nation.
Obviously, these states are likely strongholds for the GOP. In order to execute his strategy – gaming the system so he himself decides who becomes the next President – he would need to target several other combinations of states. This rolling, changing strategy is now common in presidential campaigns due to the rapid dissemination of information and misinformation.
Most interesting to note is this: in the event no candidate garners 270 electoral votes, or in the event of a tie, state majority delegations to the House of Representatives vote on behalf of the entire state. So, Virginia could go dark blue in the presidential election, but if the map re-draw ordered by the 4th U.S. Circuit Court fails to reverse the GOP’s 8-3 congressional delegation, and the GOP maintains a majority of state delegations across the nation, the presidential vote in the case of an electoral college tie could stay red. It goes against everything this nation was founded upon and is a huge flaw in our Constitution. Think about that for a moment.
This scenario would trigger a Supreme Court battle for the White House and likely cause most Americans to scratch their heads and wonder what the hell is going on. It would make the Bush-Gore 2000 fiasco look like a traffic scuffle in a local courthouse. This makes it all the more important why the 4th U.S. Circuit is rushing the decision to re-draw Virginia’s congressional map, as are other courts with similar edicts in other states like Arizona (see What the heck is going on in Arizona redistricting at Election Law Blog).
So, how does Trump win here? What’s his prize? That’s anybody’s guess, but one thing is abundantly clear: he’s not in this race to win the White House. Maybe he’d like to take his skills to the office of Secretary of Trade. Maybe he’s being puppeteered. Maybe he’s just having fun.
His motivations are hidden behind the kind of bombast that can target and win the hearts of maybe, maybe, 25% of Americans, and thus create this pendulum of decision that can swing either way.
Maybe he’s after the king-maker role sought by so many: single-handedly deciding the next President of the United States. That’s one hell of a deal, and I think the American people should back out now.
Beck Stanley is a graduate of Hampden-Sydney College and works in his family’s insurance business in Bedford, Virginia. At 24, he serves as the youngest member of the Bedford Town Council.