While the idea of replacing Trump has been a fantasy for some “Never Trump” Republicans for months, the reality is that removing him from the ticket at this point would be exceedingly complicated. Here’s a look at some of the questions that Republicans are mulling.
The recording that emerged Friday revealing Donald Trump speaking in vulgar and demeaning terms about women sparked extraordinary backlash from Democrats and Republicans, raising questions about whether the Republican Party could dump its nominee at the last minute and find someone more viable a month before Election Day.
While the idea of replacing Trump has been a fantasy for some “Never Trump” Republicans for months, the reality is that removing him from the ticket at this point would be exceedingly complicated.
Here’s a look at some of the questions that Republicans are mulling.
Is it too late for Republicans to replace Trump?
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“It’s the equivalent of a triple bank shot, really,” said Benjamin Ginsberg, a lawyer at Jones Day who was national counsel for the presidential campaigns of Mitt Romney and George W. Bush.
Ginsberg said that the Republican Party did not have a mechanism to replace a nominee just because it wants to. The party’s rules state that “The Republican National Committee is hereby authorized and empowered to fill any and all vacancies which may occur by reason of death, declination, or otherwise of the Republican candidate for President of the United States.”
That essentially means that Trump would have to die or become incapacitated for the Republican Party to replace him.
But isn’t “otherwise” in the RNC rule book open to interpretation?
The use of the word “otherwise” has led some people to suggest that the party has some leeway for ridding itself of Trump. However, election-law experts do not agree.
The issue came up before the Republican National Convention when critics of Trump mused about ways to keep him from winning the nomination. Josh Putnam, a political science lecturer at the University of Georgia, addressed the idea on his blog, FrontloadingHQ, in August and deemed it a nonstarter.
“The intention there was to allow the party latitude to replace someone who was incapacitated, neither dead nor dropped out of the race,” Putnam said. “It’s not about what to do if someone made some controversial comments on a tape 11 years ago and we want to replace them now.”
Putnam concluded that Trump’s dropping out of the race is the most probable scenario for getting him off the ticket absent a health calamity.
What if Trump did decide to quit?
If Trump dropped out of the race, the RNC would have to race against the clock to find a replacement that members could agree upon.
The rules committee would scramble to determine who would be eligible to be nominated and how such a nomination would proceed.
The 168 RNC members representing state delegations would have to hold a vote and, as Trump did at the convention in Cleveland, the new nominee would need to win at least 1,237 delegates to become the party’s standard-bearer.
Haven’t deadlines to get on state ballots passed?
Trump and the vice-presidential nominee, Gov. Mike Pence of Indiana, are already on the ballots across the country, and Ginsberg said that swapping the nominee would require a dizzying amount of litigation to try to get states to add someone else’s name and reprint their ballots.
Adding to the complexity is the fact that early and absentee voting has started in many places and presumably many ballots have been cast for Trump. Ginsberg says that the laws are murky here, with voters technically picking “electors” who are bound in some states to whoever is the nominee and in other states to the specific candidates. Ideally for the party, votes cast for Trump would go to the new nominee, but that would probably be subject to litigation.
“It is an exercise of lawyers’ fantasies to imagine the litigation that would take place,” Ginsberg said. “You would have to amass an army of lawyers and send them to each state.”
Is there any precedent for all of this?
There is. Richard Winger, the editor of Ballot Access News, points out that in 1912, the Republican incumbent nominee for vice president, James Sherman, died in October. His name remained on the ballots but all the Republican electors voted for the new vice-presidential nominee, Nicholas Murray Butler, who had been chosen in late October by the national Republican committee.
On the Democratic side, the death of Horace Greeley in 1872 came after the election but before the Electoral College cast its votes. In that case, most electors voted for other presidential and vice-presidential candidates. Congress rejected the posthumous votes by Democratic electors that went to Greeley, who had lost to Ulysses S. Grant.
“The electors are the deciders,” Winger said. “I suspect there are a few Republican electors who expect to be elected and who are planning to vote for someone other than Trump. I think both Evan McMullin and Gary Johnson are trying to persuade various likely Republican electors to vote against Trump in the Electoral College in December.”
What if Republicans really, really wanted to dump Trump?
The RNC could try to change its rules (or its rules about changing rules) and come up with a new way to find a different nominee.
Of course, this would probably bring chaos and cause Trump and his legions of supporters to declare the process “rigged.”