Hillary Clinton would have to win a clean sweep of recounts in Wisconsin, Michigan, and Pennsylvania in order to overturn the election, and even her team concedes flipping one state is unlikely.
Nevertheless, the Clinton campaign is officially contesting the outcome of the 2016 presidential election. There is no other way to describe joining Green Party candidate Jill Stein’s effort to get recounts in the three states.
After the third presidential debate when Trump indicated he might not accept the outcome, Clinton said, “that is a direct threat to our democracy.” That’s when she thought she would win. Clinton is seemingly a passive participant in the recount effort, but after her attacks on Trump, she couldn’t exactly go all in. That doesn’t mean Stein is a stalking horse for Clinton, but this certainly allows the former secretary of state to challenge the outcome without appearing to threaten democracy.
Clinton campaign lawyer Marc Elias said in a post on Medium, “now that a recount has been initiated in Wisconsin, we intend to participate in order to ensure the process proceeds in a manner that is fair to all sides. If Jill Stein follows through as she has promised and pursues recounts in Pennsylvania and Michigan, we will take the same approach in those states as well.”
Or, translated: Not our idea, just along for the ride. But if it makes Hillary president, bonus.
It would have to be all or nothing for Hillary to become the first woman president. If just two states flip to Clinton, Trump still wins. For instance, suppose the two most populous states switch and Hillary wins Pennsylvania’s 20 electoral votes and Michigan’s 16, that would bring her to just 266 and Trump down to exactly 270. A two-state scenario that includes Wisconsin’s 10 votes means even less.
Elias acknowledged this is a long shot, noting even the closest contest of Michigan, “well exceeds the largest margin ever overcome in a recount.”
As of this writing, Stein has raised $5 million on her way to $7 million for the three-state recount. We’ll know soon enough how much of that came from Clinton donors.
My book Tainted by Suspicion: The Secret Deals and Electoral Chaos of Disputed Presidential Election covers the four most controversial election outcomes; the 1800 Electoral College tie, the 1824 “corrupt bargain,” the 1876 Hayes-Tilden dispute and the 2000 Florida fiasco, plus two honorable mentions, 1888 and 1960.
Initially, I thought 2016 most resembled 1888, when Grover Cleveland won the popular vote but it didn’t matter since Benjamin Harrison carried such a large electoral vote win of 233 to 168. Similarly, Clinton’s popular vote win barely matters considering Trump’s 306 to 232 Electoral College triumph.
With the pending recounts, 2016 more closely resembles the aftermath of the 1960 election. Richard Nixon graciously conceded the race and looked like a good winner. But in light of strong evidence of voter fraud in Illinois and Texas, the Republican National Committee established a National Recount and Fair Elections Committee in Chicago on Nov. 23, 1960. RNC Chairman Thurston Morton demanded recounts in 11 states. Litigation ensued, though it never went as far as in 2000. It’s near certain that the RNC wouldn’t have carried out such an extensive effort if the outgoing vice president opposed it. Nixon though was wise enough to keep his fingerprints off.
Likewise, Clinton doesn’t have to look like a sore loser because the Green Party (at least publicly) is carrying the ball on this.
This is not a repeat of 2000, when it was reasonable to believe a recount might change the result. Nevertheless, in that case Al Gore’s campaign was directly contesting only the state of Florida. Hillary is contesting the outcome in three states.
“This is a scam by the Green Party for an election that has already been conceded, and the results of this election should be respected instead of being challenged and abused, which is exactly what Jill Stein is doing,” Trump said Saturday.
Solely blaming Stein was wise since there is no evidence to suggest Clinton spearheaded the recount effort or, separately, the petition with almost 5 million signatures calling on the Electoral College to go rogue and elect Clinton.
Given her drive to shatter the glass ceiling, only to see her own dream shattered, it’s reasonable to at least inquire if Clinton could be playing larger role than appears as a final gasp at attaining the office which she believes she is entitled.