WASHINGTON — On July 22, balloons dropped and Republicans cheered in Cleveland. They had formally nominated Donald Trump as their presidential standard-bearer. He had accepted. A marriage was cemented.
On Saturday, many Republicans around the country asked: Can we get a divorce?
Dozens of Republican leaders are calling for a change at the top of the ticket just 30 days before the election.
But it’s probably too late. Ballots have been printed, votes in some states have already been cast. Still, there are various legal scenarios, however far-fetched, in which a switch could be made.
To figure it all out, we spoke with Rick Hasen, an election law expert and a professor of law and political science at the University of California Irvine School of Law.
Is there a way for the party to take the nomination away without Trump’s consent?
The rules provide only for a replacement of a candidate in the event of a vacancy, a withdrawal, or a death. Some have argued that the [Republican National Committee] could come and change the rules, thereby replacing him against his will. From what I’ve seen from RNC people so far, that is not going to happen.
Another possibility is that without him withdrawing, the Republican leadership could say, “Vote for Trump,” but we’re going to encourage the electors to vote for someone else in the Electoral College.
What happens if Trump withdraws or rescinds the nomination?
If Trump withdraws, the Republican National Committee would name a replacement for him. Presumably that would be [vice presidential nominee] Mike Pence, but it wouldn’t have to be. And Trump’s name would still be on the ballot because it’s too late. People have already started voting. There’s all kinds of reasons why a court is not going to let his name be replaced on the ballot. However if Trump withdraws and another person is named, then the Electoral College Republican electors would likely vote for that person.
It’s possible some of those electors would still vote for Trump and some would vote for Pence. And then you don’t get a majority. Or it has to be decided by Congress or the courts.
This all is extremely unlikely. But if we’re talking about what’s possible, that’s possible.
So the ballots having already been printed seems a big complication.
Yes. It’s too late to change the ballots. August was the latest they could have done something.
What about the early voting that has taken place? What happens if someone has already cast a ballot for Trump, but the party says Trump is no longer the nominee?
You can imagine a situation where a candidate dies in the middle of voting. Where there’s not controversy, but the candidate cannot serve.
There’s a likelihood that the electors would vote for whoever is the replacement nominee. But this is a lot more complicated, because we have a living candidate who says he’s not withdrawing.
Is there a scenario where Trump stays on the ballot, but pledges to resign on inauguration day?
Sure. Yes. He can say that. He’s said a lot of things. Why would anyone believe him? If he says he won’t serve, then Mike Pence becomes the president if the Trump-Pence ticket is the one that receives the majority of Electoral College votes. But think of how politically unrealistic it is for someone to get votes in a close election by saying they will not serve if elected.
So the area it gets complicated is with the Electoral College, and transferring people’s votes from Trump to someone else?
Some states have laws that prevent an elector from voting for anyone other than the person who won the state. Those rules might be ignored, people might challenge them. Congress might deal with that, courts might deal with that.
Can it get more complicated?
If no one gets a majority of votes in the Electoral College, which could happen if the Trump and Pence combo was bigger, then the election would go to the House. Under the rules set forth by the 12th Amendment, each House delegation would get one vote. A majority of these votes would lead to the next president. We’re really into not only uncharted waters but politically extremely unlikely events.
So these are all pretty far-fetched, right?
The most likely scenario is that Trump remains the nominee, and Republicans distance themselves from him and try to run on the claim that a Republican Senate and House are necessary to prevent Hillary Clinton from getting what she wants.