By Steve Brawner
© 2016 by Steve Brawner Communications, Inc.
Many Arkansans are unhappy with both Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton as their choices, and so are some Arkansas lawmakers. But how many are willing to say they don’t support their own party’s nominee? So far, at least one.
Rep. David Meeks, R-Greenbrier, says he is “99.9 percent sure” he won’t vote for Trump and definitely won’t vote for Clinton.
Meeks, who last year adopted three boys under age four, says he is “a Christian first, a conservative second, and a Republican third.” He says Trump is unfit to be president, even dangerous.
“It’s more about the bullying, the intimidating, the fact that he just doesn’t seem to understand diplomacy, doesn’t seem to be humble,” he said.
Won’t his voting for someone else help Clinton because it’s one less vote for Trump? Meeks doesn’t see it that way. Trump will win Arkansas regardless, he said.
One other legislator has declared his opposition to both Trump and Clinton – the Legislature’s only independent, Rep. Nate Bell of Mena. Bell was elected as a Republican six years ago but left the party last year and isn’t running for re-election.
The outspoken Bell has very publicly opposed Trump for a long time. He says Trump promotes bigotry and “a version of nationalistic populism that is eerily reminiscent of virtually every dictator in the history of the world.”
Trump, of course, is the Republican nominee, and so therefore most Republican lawmakers will support him. Regardless of their feelings toward him, they oppose Clinton.
But Bell said few lawmakers with whom he’s spoken enthusiastically support Trump. Those particular lawmakers don’t want to offend Trump supporters, so they’re making a political calculation. They expect him to win Arkansas but lose the election, and they’re trying to remain viable.
“When he loses, someone’s going to get blamed, and typically that blame’s not going to be placed on Hillary,” he said. “The blame’s going to be placed on Republicans who didn’t support Trump sufficiently to help him win.”
Bell said he probably would keep his views much more to himself were he running for re-election in his pro-Trump district. Similarly, Meeks said it’s easier for him to stand on principle because he doesn’t have an opponent in the fall.
“Arkansas is going Trump, and it’s just not a battle that you really want to face or you really want to deal with,” he said of his fellow lawmakers.
Meeks will be considering the alternatives who have qualified or have submitted signatures to qualify for the state’s ballot, among them Gary Johnson, the Libertarian Party candidate; Darrell Castle of the Constitution Party; or a new organization, Better for America, that was started by John Kingston, a conservative donor and Mitt Romney ally. It hasn’t selected a candidate yet.
Like Meeks, Bell is surveying his options but will probably vote for Johnson. He’s imagined the various scenarios where someone besides Trump or Clinton is elected. Remember, the president is elected by the Electoral College, not the popular vote. The map favors Clinton, so the key for a third party candidate is to keep her from winning 270 electoral votes. Johnson would have to win New Mexico, where he was a Republican governor, and a few other states, including Utah, which normally votes Republican but where Trump isn’t popular. A poll by utahpolicy.com found Johnson’s support in that state rising to 16 percent.
So it’s at least imaginable that Johnson wins enough states that no candidate wins the required 270 votes. Under the Constitution’s 12th Amendment, the next president then would be selected by the House of Representatives, with each state having one vote. In that scenario, maybe some kind of coalition develops and the House picks Johnson. Meeks imagines a similar possibility, with the Senate picking a Democrat as vice president to balance the ticket.
The other possibility is that a politician with a national stature – Ohio Gov. John Kasich or Romney – runs under the Better for America banner, Bell said. Ohio has 18 electoral votes and is a critical swing state.
These scenarios are highly unlikely but possible. In 1824, Andrew Jackson won the popular vote but didn’t win a majority of electors, and the House chose John Quincy Adams.
Of course, what probably will happen is either Clinton or Trump wins more than 270 votes. More likely it will be Clinton, while Trump wins Arkansas while supported – enthusiastically or not – by almost all of the state’s Republican elected officials.