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Another institution Donald Trump couldn’t destroy: the Electoral College

Members of Washington's Electoral College and other officials stood for the Pledge of Allegiance before casting their votes in the Senate Chamber at the state Capitol in Olympia, Wash., on Monday.Ted S. Warren/Associated Press

Millions of Americans voted for Donald Trump in 2016 to shake up the system.

As president, Trump went a great deal further than that. He ended longstanding traditions — refusing, for example, to release his tax returns. He undermined domestic intelligence agencies. He used the Justice Department as his own personal law firm; used Twitter to fire the FBI director, among others; and reorganized a major political party around himself and his personality. He repeatedly attacked fellow Republicans, and even members of his own cabinet.

But try as he might, Trump could not break the Electoral College.

One of the oldest American political institutions met on Monday in state capitals all over the country to officially deliver the presidency. So December 14th goes down as both the most important day on the Election 2020 calendar — and, remarkably, the one with the least amount of drama.


It was an election year, after all, that began with the chaos around the Iowa Caucus. Then, in a matter of days, Joe Biden, who’d been trailing his rivals for the Democratic nomination, overtook the frontrunner, Bernie Sanders. Next, a global pandemic set in. And since Election Day, each day has brought more startling news of Trump’s efforts to undermine American democracy itself, culminating in an attempt to persuade the US Supreme Court to overturn the results of the election. It’s possible that when these Electoral College votes are officially delivered to Capitol Hill in January the conversation will continue.

Trump is still refusing to concede the election. The Constitution doesn’t require a concession; it does, however, mandate that the new president be chosen by the Electoral College.

Trump did his best to tear down the Electoral College. For weeks he tried to get state legislatures (specifically in Arizona, Michigan, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, and Georgia) to overrule the will of their states’ voters install Republican electors instead.


Had he pulled that off, a Constitutional amendment to eliminate the Electoral College might have gained serious momentum.

By late afternoon Monday, however, it was clear the electors wouldn’t be swayed. All of the key battleground states in which Trump had challenged Electoral College votes officially cast ballots for Biden. And after California’s electors cast ballots, Biden got more than the needed 270 electoral votes he needed to be sworn in as president next month.

(That said, there were some hijinx: Georgia, Pennsylvania and Nevada, all states Biden won, found a way to send to Congress a rogue slate of Republican electors’ votes for Trump as well as their legitimate Democratic electors’ votes for Biden. Republican electors to Washington in addition to as the Democratic ones. If for some reason Congress accepts the Republican delegates, then Trump would have enough Electoral College to win. However, given that Democrats control the US House, and there are a sufficient number of Republican senators who acknowledge Biden won, this seems to be going nowhere.)

Trump didn’t succeed in breaking the Electoral College because Republicans refused to bend and recognized what was at stake: American democracy itself.

Federal court judges, including many appointed by Trump, stood firm as well, dismissing a number of lawsuits challenging election results. Both the Electoral College and the federal judiciary held up well as institutions during the stress test of the administration’s waning days.

The Electoral College, in fact, is arguably the rare institution that the Trump presidency strengthened. A Supreme Court ruling during the term backed states’ ability to penalize so-called “faithless electors”, or those who don’t cast a ballot reflecting the will of their state’s voters.


Ironically, it was also one political institution whose destruction progressives might have welcomed. They’ve been arguing for years the Electoral College is anti-democratic and unfairly privileges rural, largely white states over more urban, diverse states.

It’s unclear how much momentum that movement will have when Biden takes office.

James Pindell can be reached at Follow him @jamespindell and on Instagram @jameswpindell.