John Heilemann at New York Magazine suggests four ways in which the election on Tuesday, November 6, could be headed for a nightmare of narrow ‘illegitimate’ wins or deadlocks. I don’t think any of these apocalypses are likely. They are based on the assumption that the election outcomes talked about will result in widespread protests. In doing so, they reveal a common misunderstanding of American political life: that it features so much partisan wrangling, so much political disputation that a narrow or ‘illegitimate’ election will plunge the nation into crisis. Au contraire, political life in the US is more quiet quiescence, more calm acceptance of political shenanigans than anything else. As you read below, remember that the 2000 election handover to George W. Bush, engineered by the US Supreme Court, could have sparked similar protests but any chance of that was shouted down by both parties, eager to get back to business as usual.
Here are Heilemann’s scenarios.
1. The Romney Squeaker Scenario
[I]t’s perfectly possible for Romney to end up with a bit north of 50 percent of the popular vote. Then proceed to the electoral vote, where the GOP nominee has always faced a difficult path to 270. But imagine that Romney achieves the first step of carrying the three southern swing states—Florida, North Carolina, and Virginia—which he may well do. And then either (a) takes Ohio plus Colorado, Iowa, or Wisconsin; or (b) falls short in Ohio but wins both Colorado and Wisconsin as well as Iowa, New Hampshire, or Nevada; or (c) conquers Colorado or Wisconsin plus all three of the smaller swing states. In any of these eventualities, Romney would win the White House with 271 to 276 electoral votes. This would amount to the narrowest possible victory—and one that would all but certainly provoke the left into a howling fit.
My call: unlikely to happen. Not the squeaker itself but the ‘howling fit’ part. A little huffing and puffing, and then, back to the usual programming.
2. The Reverse Gore Scenario
[I]t’s not hard to conjure a scenario in which Romney wins the popular vote narrowly, as Gore did then—but Obama winds up playing the role of Bush….Obama’s national popular-vote weakness is to no small extent a result of his staggering weakness in the South and Appalachia, where he trails Romney in many states by 20 or 30 points—far more than his advantage in the deep-blue West and Northeast…despite the tightness of the race nationally, the margins of advantage he holds with Latinos, African-Americans, young voters, and college-educated white women, and their concentrations in the battleground states, are what gives him many more routes to 270 than Romney has. How would the right react to seeing Obama reclaim the presidency after he lost the popular vote? In much the same way the left would respond to scenario No. 1: with wailing, gnashing, and a dudgeon so high that if you reached the top of it, you’d be able to touch Pluto.
Again: unlikely. Would the opposition that Obama would face be any worse than he already has in the past four years?
3. The Recount (or Recounts) Scenario
This campaign has already featured extended legal wrangling in several states over those voter-I.D. laws—which means both sides have litigation-ready boots on the ground and are raring to engage already. Given just how corset-tight the polls are in Colorado, Virginia, Ohio, and Florida itself, a Florida Redux scenario might be more likely than anyone imagines—and could even, perish the thought, play out in more than one state simultaneously. Remember how bad 2000 was? This would be much worse. And not simply because the level of partisan vitriol heading into the fracas is so much higher, but also because the disruption in terms of governing would be so much greater….in the aftermath of the election, the federal government will be staring into the abyss of the so-called fiscal cliff: the expiration of the Bush tax cuts, the sequester, and another fight over the debt ceiling. Now consider the prospect of two or more months of 2000-style paralysis in the face of that challenge.
What 2000-style paralysis is Heilemann talking about? That business got settled pretty quick. Remember all the calls for putting the election behind us?
4. The Tie-Goes-to-the-Romney Scenario
Now we come to the most nightmarish possibility of all: Obama ekes out a popular-vote victory but he and Romney are deadlocked, 269-269, in terms of electoral votes….all it would require is the following (entirely credible) chain of results: Romney wins the southern battleground trio and Ohio, Obama holds on to Iowa, Colorado, Nevada, and Wisconsin but loses in New Hampshire….The election would be thrown to the House of Representatives, where the Constitution ordains that every state receive one vote as determined by the party makeup of its congressional delegation. Today, that would likely mean 32 Republican votes and 18 Democratic ones, a composition unlikely to change on November 6—and hence, voilà, President Romney.
To be crystalline, this would not be a nightmare because Romney would prevail. It would be a nightmare because he’d prevail in opposition to the popular vote and outside of the Electoral College—through an unprecedented process in which Idaho and Wyoming would have a weight equal to New York and California. For millions of Americans, and not just partisan extremists, it would call into question our entire system of selecting the dude in charge, and make the U.S. look like a superrich banana republic around the world. To be honest, though, it would only be barely worse than Scenarios 1, 2, and 3 in terms of rending the nation asunder.
Indeed, of all the scenarios listed by Heilemann, this strikes me as one that has the makings of a genuine disaster. It would not ‘rend the nation asunder,’ but it would force a closer look at the Constitution, which might be interesting for a while, before everyone decides that it’s better leave it alone. If it were to happen, which according to most polls, seems unlikely.