Ernest Istook: #NeverTrump’s Plan for Washington Insiders to Steal the Election

AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster
AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster

OREM, UTAH — Washington insiders would pick America’s next President under the dream scheme of the #NeverTrump movement. Their plan is sinister: If even one state backs a third-party candidate, it could enable Congress to pick the next President instead of the voters.

People may think they’re protesting by backing someone other than Trump or Clinton, but instead may play into the hands of this #NeverTrump scheme to empower Washington insiders.

How does it work? This plan was proposed by Glenn Beck Show head writer Stu Burguiere; incredibly it centers on deep-red Utah and then radiates out to other states. The goal is not to win in November but to deny both Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton a majority in the Electoral College. Then victory comes by shifting control to Washington.

Under the 12th Amendment to the Constitution, the House of Representatives would pick the President from among the top three electoral finishers; the Vice-President would be chosen by the U.S. Senate. The ultimate Washington, D.C., insiders would be in charge, namely the Congress. 

Should Congress fail to decide, the Speaker of the House by law becomes President. Because the House would vote by states, not as individuals, the chances of a deadlock are increased by any tie votes within state delegations as well as by backroom dealings.

The politicking would be intense just like the only other time this happened. In 1824, Andrew Jackson had the most popular and Electoral College votes but not a majority. Speaker Henry Clay maneuvered the House of Representatives into choosing John Quincy Adams, who had received only 31% of the popular vote. Adams rewarded Clay with the Secretary of State position; Clay considered that job his stepping-stone to the White House, just as Hillary Clinton now hopes it will be for her.

Could history repeat itself? Yes, if 2016 is as close as the race in 2000. George W. Bush won by a razor-thin 271 electoral votes (with 270 required out of 538 total). Each state gets a minimum of 3 electoral votes, so if any state had gone for neither Bush nor Al Gore, the 2000 election likewise would have gone to the U.S. House.

In the Trump-Clinton match-up, a third candidate’s win in a single state could shift the race into the House. The #NeverTrump movement is packed with inside-the-Beltway power players who have proven their ability to influence Congress. Would a Republican majority be trustworthy to resist pressure? Or would this be a re-play of its failures to fight against Obama?

The plan’s first step is to win at least one state. Candidate recruitment focused on Utah with its 6 electoral votes and polls showing both Clinton and Trump only around 35%. A home-state alternative was recruited and announced on August 8th. Evan McMullin is a Utahn, Mormon, former CIA officer, former Goldman Sachs investment banker and former Congressional staffer all rolled into one. One poll shows him suddenly at 9% in Utah. He’s been gifted with a flurry of favorable national media attention that has the earmarks of an orchestrated effort. A push is underway to get a Mitt Romney endorsement for McMullin.

As the Washington Post reports, “The people who drafted McMullin to be the “Never Trump” independent candidate are some of the Republican establishment’s most well-known operatives: Bill Kristol, John Kingston, Joel Searby, Rick Wilson.” 

News reports indicate McMullin is already on the Presidential ballot in Utah, Iowa, Louisiana, Colorado and Minnesota. He says he plans to sue Texas for a ballot slot. And ballot qualifying deadlines are still ahead for ten more states.

The “let’s-let-Congress-decide” plan only needs one state, but Burguiere’s published plan (which he calls #Bailout2016) describes the attainable target states are first and foremost Utah, followed by Idaho, Wyoming, North Dakota, Montana, Louisiana, and Kentucky. 

Three other alternatives are on the ballots in 21 states apiece, namely Libertarian Gary Johnson, the Green Party’s Jill Stein, and the Constitution Party’s Darrell Castle. But none of those have McMullin’s Beehive State advantage of being both a Utahn and a Mormon, plus those Washington and Wall Street connections which make him attractive to the #NeverTrump plan.

Trump fared poorly in Utah’s Republican primary and the state party establishment is not unitedly behind him. Governor Gary Herbert, Utah House Speaker Greg Hughes and Senator Orrin Hatch are with Trump. Senator Mike Lee has withheld any such announcement. Lieutenant Governor Spencer Cox says he does not plan to vote for Trump. 

The crucial question is how many people are willing to throw away their votes? Millions of Americans yearn to show their disgust with Washington. That righteous anger has powered the Trump phenomena. But voting for a third-party candidate could be America’s biggest backfire. Electing Hillary Clinton would be tragic, but letting Washington insiders pick our next President would be the ultimate betrayal of the American people.

Former Congressman Ernest Istook teaches political science at Utah Valley University, the largest school in Utah. He also is president of Americans for Less Regulation.


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