Former New Mexico Governor Gary Johnson is likely to be the Libertarian Party nominee for president, and while I have nothing against the guy, I’ve always found him to be unimpressive as a public figure. It’s possible he and the Libertarian Party might pull 5 percent or even 10 percent this cycle depending on how the Trump-Clinton matchup goes along, but there is no chance that Johnson could win.
But what if he won a couple of states, like his home state of New Mexico and some other place like Nevada or Alaska and denied Hillary and Trump 270 electoral votes, and threw the presidential selection to the House, and the VP selection to the Senate (which is the specified procedure of the 12th Amendment)? Way back in January, Andy Craig at Old Dominion Libertarian pointed out how it might go down in such as way as to deliver the White House to Johnson after all:
In this election, they are limited to choosing from among the top three candidates in the Electoral College. . .
House Republicans are in a catch-22. The vast majority consider Trump ideologically and more importantly, temperamentally, unfit to be President. Many of them have said so publicly. Furthermore, almost two-thirds of voters rejected him, and he lost the popular vote by a wide margin. The idea of a Trump presidency, particularly under these circumstances, with every Republican in Congress to blame, is seen as a nightmare scenario among GOP establishment circles.
On the other hand, few Republican Congressmen can go home to their districts and face a primary, having voted to install Hillary Clinton as President. The massacre in the 2018 mid-term primary elections would be historic, and they know it. They are caught between losing their seats in primaries, or losing their majority in the general election, to voter backlash in favor of the spurned Democrats.
In this scenario, Johnson presents a strongly appealing and compelling dark-horse option. A former Republican Governor with experience in office, and a smaller-government free-market platform, he is much more acceptable to many in Washington than dangerous lunatic Donald Trump. But he also has an appeal and acceptability to the left and center that Trump utterly lacks. The same is likely true of Jim Webb, and possibly Michael Bloomberg.
Facing deadlock and no good options in picking either Clinton or Trump, the House Republicans make an offer: the House will elect the third-party candidate President, and the Senate (still in GOP hands), will elect the Republican nominee for Vice-President. (This is made easier, since the third-place candidate for Vice President is not eligible to be elected by the Senate). This could be Ted Cruz, for example, or another relatively acceptable GOP Governor or Senator placed on the ticket in a failed bid to keep the GOP unified behind Trump.
So on December 30, 2016, a press conference is called in the Capitol Rotunda. Speaker Paul Ryan and Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, announce that both of their incoming caucuses had just voted in a special closed-door session, to elect a Libertarian President and a Republican Vice-President. A unity ticket among candidates who, between them, received a majority of both the popular vote and the electoral college. After being sworn in on January 3, the new Congress does exactly that.
And that’s how, if the stars align just right, this obscure provision of the Constitution could allow members of Congress to, in effect, veto both Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump and elevate a third-place runner-up to the Oval Office instead.
Far fetched? Absolutely. Impossible? I don’t think so. Unprecedented? Not quite. In 1824, a very similar scenario played out among John Quincy Adams, Andrew Jackson, and Henry Clay. Jackson, seen as unfit despite being the clear popular vote winner, was passed over in favor of popular runner-up Adams.
Sounds farfetched to me, too, but a Donald Trump nomination seemed farfetched just three months ago.