The implication is that, if the electors chosen in November were to conclude on December 19 that Donald Trump was a frenzied byproduct of democracy run amok, they would be constitutionally justified in choosing Hillary Clinton instead.
I would fervently like to believe that this argument is sound history and constitutional law, and that it has some chance of preventing Trump from becoming president. But historically it’s more or less backwards. At the most basic level, America in 2016 is not a nation in which “the people” have been seduced into enthusiasm for a majoritarian demagogue. Hillary Clinton, not Donald Trump, is “the people’s choice.” A Trump presidency, God help us, will be a minority government, the product of the Framers’ electoral-vote system working exactly how it has all too often worked.
I see nothing in the record to suggest that the Framers actually feared a situation in which a designing schemer would command majority popular support but be blessedly blocked by wise electors. Many, or perhaps most, of them, from the record we have, feared the reverse.
That is, they believed that, with the exception of George Washington, no political figure would ever become well enough known (after all, the population of the U.S. in 1787 was nearly four million people!) to command a popular majority. “Nineteen times out of twenty,” delegate George Mason predicted, the state electors would not produce a winner. When that happened, the delegates decided, choice of a president would be thrown into the House of Representatives.
Today’s electoral-college supporters often quote Alexander Hamilton’s Federalist 68: “the immediate election [of the president] should be made by men most capable of ana[y]zing the qualities adapted to the station, and acting under circumstances favourable to deliberation,” Hamilton wrote.
The Federalist, brilliant as it is, isn’t a definitive guide to what the Framers “intended”—it is a sales document, written after the fact at high speed in order to convince wavering voters in New York to support ratification of the Constitution. Hamilton here is a car salesman explaining that the undercoat package might seem useless but is really worth it.
Here’s why the “deliberation” idea of electors is false. Under Article II § 1 cl. 3, the electors never meet as a group. They meet “in their respective states” on a date set by Congress—“which Day shall be the same throughout the United States.” Kept resolutely apart, they vote once and only once. If by chance, a majority of electors nationwide favor one candidate, he or she becomes president. If there’s a tie, or no candidate gets a majority, then the House decides. The electors get thanked and sent home.
In short, nobody in 1787-88 thought of the electors as anything but what they are today—faceless hacks whose ideas and judgment are neither wanted nor permitted. I’ve been present when electoral candidates were selected; the main criteria were party loyalty and patronage. Wisdom is seldom sought after, and would be pretty much useless.