Operation Victory Denial: A Modest Proposal


- A majority of the electorate is unhappy with the performance of President Barack Obama and would like to remove him from office. Faced with the choice between reelecting President Obama and voting for a blank-slate alternative, the electorate chooses the blank-slate alternative.

- However, a majority of the electorate is also underwhelmed by the actual alternatives to President Obama, deeming none of the Republican contenders to be worthy of their preference. Faced with the choice between reelecting President Obama and voting for any actual opponent from the opposition party, the electorate chooses to reelect the President. Indeed, the more they learn about the alternatives to President Obama, the less they like them.

- Moreover, even the Republican primary electorate cannot bring itself to choose a candidate to run against President Obama. That electorate has been resolutely unwilling to reconcile itself to Mitt Romney as the nominee. Instead, it has swooned for a parade of at-best semi-plausible alternatives – first Perry, then Cain and now Gingrich – in a desperate attempt to find someone – anyone – they might actually want to vote for.

- If the GOP primary electorate picks a “not-Romney,” they will probably be picking a candidate that will perform disastrously in a general election. If they pick Romney, they will be picking a candidate hobbled by tepid support from his own base and not demonstrably effective at winning over the electorate generally.

So: what to do? After all, you’ve got to nominate somebody. You can’t beat somebody with nobody.

Or can you?

Operation Victory Denial is a strategy designed to capitalize on the fact that President Obama is eminently beatable – just not beatable by any individual candidate willing to run against him. Therefore, to beat him, I propose that the GOP not nominate anybody. Let a thousand candidacies bloom – and let the people of the several states register the full panoply of their actual electoral preferences.

Of course, when I say “let a thousand candidacies bloom” I don’t mean let everybody do whatever he or she wants. Far from it. This is, after all, a plan – a plan to deny President Barack Obama a reelection victory. Rather, I’m suggesting the GOP field the best candidate in each state to defeat Barack Obama in that state.

Field Chris Christie in New York, New Jersey and Pennsylvania: a tough-talking no-nonsense former prosecutor who’s a moderate on social issues could make inroads deep into blue territory. Field Mitch Daniels in Indiana, Ohio and Michigan: a successful and conservative but soft-spoken midwestern Governor who favors speaking more softly internationally. Field Marco Rubio in Florida: a rising-star Senator with matinee-idol good looks and a lock on the Cuban vote. And so forth.

What’s that you say? These people aren’t even running in the primary? Of course not – would you want to be a part of that circus? And they won’t be running a national general-election campaign either. They’ll just be asking the people who know them best to choose: would they rather stick with President Obama? Or make a change for someone better – someone like a popular local Governor or Senator.

With the optimal candidate running in each state, the GOP will be free to present itself properly to each segment of the nation. Barack Obama, being only one man, will have a harder time doing this without being vulnerable to the charge of trying to be all things to all people – a charge that Newt Gingrich, who will be the GOP candidate on the ballot in Georgia, Alabama and Mississippi, and Mitt Romney, who will be the GOP candidate on the ballot in Utah, Nevada and Idaho, will be ideally positioned to level at him in massive national ads that, naturally enough, won’t mention the GOP candidates for President in swing states like Ohio or Florida who might suffer if they “went negative.”

If that’s not enough to achieve victory denial, draft Hilary Clinton to run as an Independent in key states – New York, Florida, California, Illinois – to draw support away from Barack Obama. What’s that you say? Hillary Clinton would never run? I didn’t say Hillary Clinton. I said Hilary Clinton – he’s a Republican donor from Buffalo, owns a big chain of supermarkets. Hilary’s his middle name actually – Herbert Hilary Clinton – but we’ve sounded him out and he’d be willing to switch his name around, Eisenhower-style, to help the cause. Particularly if we promised him a cozy ambassadorship after the election. (His wife is asking for Paris, but I bet she’d settle for Luxembourg.)

Having Hilary Clinton on the ballot would give Democrats and Independents the opportunity to express their opposition to Barack Obama, and their regret that they chose him last time around, an opportunity they would not otherwise have in this election. Not to include her (I mean, him) would really be a disservice to democracy, when you think about it.

Of course, after all this effort, it’s still unlikely that any Republican candidate (or Hilary Clinton) would win a majority in the Electoral College. President Obama is relatively popular in some places, after all – Oregon, Rhode Island and Hawaii are probably out of reach no matter what. And the GOP vote, by design, could be split among as many as a dozen candidates. Not only would any GOP candidate be unlikely to win a majority; they would be quite unlikely even to win a plurality.

But this is where the beauty of the Electoral College kicks in.

The strategy is called “victory denial” because that’s what the objective is: not victory for any particular Republican nominee, but denial of victory to President Obama. All we have to do is keep the President under 270 electoral votes.

Why is that? Well, as we learned in the 2000 election, the winner of the Presidential election is not the winner of the popular vote, but the winner of the vote by the electors, who are themselves chosen in state-by-state contests. But what happens if nobody earns a majority of the electors?

In that case, the House of Representatives would choose the President from the top three finishers in the Electoral College. Not on the basis of one vote per representative: on the basis of one vote per state delegation.

The GOP currently controls 33 of 50 state delegations. The Republicans might lose the House in 2012 – though, with favorite sons running in the Presidential election all over the country, down-ballot candidacies should experience an exceptional surge of support, making such a loss less-likely, and pickups in the Senate more likely than would otherwise be the case. But regardless of what happens in the Congressional elections in 2012, it is very likely that the GOP will retain a majority of state delegations. There are just so many reliable little red states.

Therefore, if Operation Victory Denial is a success, the Republican Party’s state delegations in Congress will decide who the next President is.

Now, you might say, wouldn’t they be obliged to pick the winner of the popular vote? I don’t see why they would. They didn’t in 1824. Moreover, they could argue, if President Obama could not get reelected with either a popular vote or an Electoral College majority, would it really express the will of the people to return him to the White House, just because he eked out a plurality?

Clearly, in this scenario, the people will have spoken, and they will have chosen a Republican alternative to succeed President Obama. They just can’t agree on which one.

So: let them vote Obama out. And then, after the votes have been cast, the Party can decide who they’ve elected instead.

Reelection contests are referenda on the incumbent. They have to be – that’s the only way the electoral process can hold incumbents to account. Without that check, with one party deemed the only responsible governing party, and therefore assured of reelection no matter how much they screw up, democracy would deteriorate into a corrupt tyranny. If the Republican Party can’t coalesce around a candidate that can actually beat President Obama, then Operation Victory Denial is all that will stand between America and that grim future.

Operation Victory Denial. It’d be a victory for democracy, really. When you think about it.