Donald Trump swept aside a last-ditch bid to block his ascension to the White House on Monday, officially claiming the title of president-elect with his Electoral College victory.
Trump’s defeat of Hillary Clinton follows a desperate and unprecedented attempt by Democratic electors to foment a revolt by convincing Republican electors to vote against him, an effort that collapsed with little to show for it. Just two of the 306 Republican electors, both from Texas, ultimately cast a ballot against Trump.
One was Chris Suprun, who announced his intentions in a New York Times op-ed on Dec. 5, and voted for Ohio Gov. John Kasich. Another Texas elector voted for Ron Paul, the former Texas congressman who ran unsuccessfully for president several times.
Ironically, it was the 36 other Republican electors in Texas who pushed Trump over the threshold to clinch his Electoral College victory. He’ll end the day with 304 electoral votes, well above the 270 he needed to become president. Clinton appeared likely to finish a handful of electoral votes short of the 232 she was expected to receive.
Seven Democratic electors attempted to vote against Clinton — four in Washington state and one each in Minnesota, Maine and Colorado. But three of the seven who attempted to buck Clinton were replaced by state election officials, raising questions about whether their “faithless” votes will be counted. In Colorado, a leader of the anti-Trump Democratic electors, Micheal Baca, was replaced by Republican Secretary of State Wayne Williams for his attempted faithless vote. A Minnesota elector was replaced as well and in Maine, elector David Bright initially cast a vote for Bernie Sanders but recast it for Clinton after he was deemed out of order.
The most tumult occurred in Washington state, where four Democrats broke ranks and rejected Clinton. Three voted for Colin Powell, marking the first electoral votes for an African-American Republican, and the first time in history a major party elector crossed the aisle and supported a candidate of the opposing major party. The fourth elector, Robert Satiacum, cast his ballot for Faith Spotted Eagle, a Native American environmental activist.
Grand predictions of dozens of defecting Republican electors by anti-Trump forces proved to be wishful thinking. And throughout the day, anti-Trump Democratic electors expressed anger and frustration toward Clinton and her top allies, insisting that their silence had all but doomed the long-shot plan to thwart Trump’s election.
One Democratic elector with Clinton campaign ties claimed dozens of Democrats on the Electoral College were willing to embrace the unprecedented plan to throw their votes to a consensus Republican candidate — like Mitt Romney — as part of a strategy to coax GOP electors to abandon Trump. All they needed, the elector said, was a signal from Clinton or her top allies.
“I have no problem casting my vote for Mitt Romney,” the Democratic elector, who requested anonymity, told POLITICO.
That elector was not affiliated with the Democratic group known as the Hamilton Electors, which lobbied Republican electors to defect from Trump and cast their votes for an alternative candidate. The group of nine Democrats and one Republican — Suprun — has been in contact with Clinton’s inner circle but did not receive any signals of support or opposition heading into the vote.
A signal of disapproval would have ended the effort weeks ago, they say, but as of Monday morning, just hours before electors gathered in their state capitals to officially choose the president, there was no word about whether Clinton approved of this strategic voting effort by Democratic electors, many of whom were pledged to support her.
“I understand Clinton’s hesitation because of winning the popular vote, but I believe that she had a chance to put her country above her party and help us stop Donald Trump,” said a Democratic elector involved with the anti-Trump effort. “That is my source of frustration.”
“There’s a point at which the people’s movement needs some top-down management,” one backer of the effort said. “What we did not have … was a voice with great authority. She’s way too conflicted on it.”
Top advisers to Clinton, including campaign communications adviser Jennifer Palmieri, did not respond to repeated requests for comment. After it was clear the effort had failed, Clinton campaign spokesman Brian Fallon criticized the organizers.
“The theory here — if HRC just released her own electors, 37 Rs wld abandon Trump — tells you how half baked this was,” Fallon tweeted.
Prior to the vote, Clinton and her team refrained from public comment at all about the anti-Trump Electoral College push. Last week, however, Clinton’s top campaign adviser John Podesta supported a separate push by 80 electors — all but one Democratic — to demand an intelligence briefing for electors ahead of Monday’s vote. James Clapper, the director of national intelligence, ultimately denied that request.
Supporters of the anti-Trump effort were dismayed by Podesta’s appearance Sunday on NBC’s “Meet the Press,” when Podesta said Democrats who cast a vote for someone other than Clinton would do nothing to affect the outcome of the election.
“The question is, are there 37 Republicans?” he said, in response to a question about the strategy of voting for an alternative GOP candidate. “It’s not really what the Democrats are going to do.”
Podesta’s comment was the only public acknowledgment from Clinton’s team that it’s been eyeing the threshold of defections that would prevent Trump from claiming the presidency Monday.
Democrats were clearly divided on the issue heading into Monday. David Axelrod, a longtime top adviser to President Barack Obama, argued against efforts to vote against Clinton or Trump.
“Look, Alexander Hamilton conceived of the Electoral College and the Founding Fathers as a buffer against democracy run amok, as a safeguard against someone who was unsuited for the office to take the office. But it’s never been used in the history of our republic,” Axelrod said Monday morning on CNN’s “New Day.” “To have it happen now, despite the fact that Hillary Clinton won the popular vote and all that’s swirling around with Russia and so on, I believe would split the country apart in a really destructive way, and it would set this mad cycle in which every election the Electoral College vote would be in question.”
Meanwhile, Republicans expressed confidence that there would be no surprises when electors convened throughout the day.
“We’re very confident that everything is going to be very smooth,” said Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus, Trump’s incoming chief of staff, on “Fox News Sunday.”
Priebus suggested Democratic hostility toward Trump, combined with timed intelligence leaks about Russia’s involvement in the election, seemed to be part of a broader strategy to delegitimize Trump before he can even take office.
Republicans decried extraordinary last-minute attempts by Democrats to lobby GOP electors — who had already been bombarded by thousands of emails and letters — including door-knocks from activists hand-delivering letters urging them to buck Trump. Others described the pressure as harassment and intimidation, noting that anti-Trump protesters had planned to have a presence outside elector meetings.
Electors’ only responsibility Monday was to sign two sets of six ballots that represent their votes — one set for their presidential choice, the other for their vice presidential choice. One set gets mailed to Congress for the official counting of electoral votes on Jan. 6.
With a total of at least six faithless votes cast — 4 by Democratic electors and 2 by Republican electors — the 2016 Electoral College tied a historical record set in 1808, when six Democratic-Republican electors rejected James Madison.
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