President Paul Ryan? President Chris Christie? President… Elizabeth Warren!?
That might sound crazy, since none of them are even running for president.
But experts say it could happen.
In what could be the most bizarre finish to the most bizarre election season in anyone’s memory, two presidential candidates with high unfavorable ratings could BOTH end up losing.
U.S. presidents are still selected by the Electoral College, rather than directly by voters. There are 538 electoral votes, which means it takes 270 to win – and the appropriately named election-tracking website 270towin.com has 32 scenarios under which an election between party frontrunners Donald Trump-Hillary Clinton could result in a 269-269.
They’re unlikely scenarios… but no less unlikely than Donald Trump becoming the Republican nominee may have seemed just a year ago.
Considering the historic unpopularity of the two candidates, it’s not too far fetch to imagine Libertarian presidential candidate Gary Johnson managing to pick off a state or two. A late-entry independent candidate could conceivably do the same.
In that situation, it becomes even more likely that neither Trump nor Clinton would win 270 electoral votes.
According to the Twelfth Amendment, that would toss the election into the fumbling hands of Congress.
Under the Constitution, the House picks the president from the top three candidates, while the Senate picks the vice president from the top two choices.
This is where it gets wild, because it’s the incoming House and Senate that get to vote, which meets on Jan. 3 – two and a half weeks before Inauguration Day.
The House votes by state, and Republicans control 33 delegations – a number that won’t change significantly. That would favor Trump on paper. But with so many establishment Republicans refusing to support Trump (and some actively undermining their own party’s candidate), they could deadlock on ballot after ballot — and end up compromising on a candidate like New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie.
If the Senate remains in Republican control, it would likely choose Trump’s running mate – but if it flips to the Democrats in November (a very real possibility) or to a 50-50 tie (giving Joe Biden the decisive vote), the Senate could go with a liberal balance pick – perhaps Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren.
Yes, there could be a President Christie and Vice President Warren.
On the other hand, if the House can’t get its house in order by Jan. 20 and fails to pick a candidate, the Presidential Succession Act kicks in… and the Senate-selected vice-president then becomes our president.
That could mean President Warren.
Ready for this to get even crazier?
No matter who wins control over the Senate, neither party will have a filibuster-proof majority… meaning they could also have a deadlock.
With no president and no vice president, next in line of succession would be the speaker of the house.
That’s Paul Ryan.
But Ryan didn’t want the speaker job in the first place… and a battle to choose a president – especially Trump, who he only barely supports – could cause him to resign.
He could also resign because he sees the deadlocked ballots putting him in line for the presidency, and wants nothing to do with it.
That would mean the job goes to the NEXT person in the line of succession: The president pro tempore of the senate, traditionally the longest-serving member of the party in control.
If the Republicans keep control of the Senate, your next president is Orrin Hatch. If the Democrats take over, it’s Patrick Leahy.
Either would be far and away the oldest man ever inaugurated for president… setting the stage for a new crisis under a different Amendment: the Twenty-Fifth, which requires BOTH house of Congress to approve the vice president.
It’s wild. It’s unlikely. But considering the wackiness of the 2016 election so far, it’s very possible.
— The Horn editorial team