Visiting Assistant Professor of Government David Rivera and Associate Professor of Government Sharon Werning Rivera published an oped on the Electoral College’s upcoming vote for president on Dec. 15 on the online site, Medium. The article, Ability, Virtue, and Donald Trump: What Alexander Hamilton Would Say about the 2016 Election, contends that Hamilton’s rationale for the existence of the Electoral College is startlingly relevant—even prescient—at the present moment in our nation’s history.
The Riveras write that in The Federalist No. 68, Hamilton allows that a candidate for the presidency who is devoid of the “requisite qualifications” might on occasion nonetheless win the trust of the voters on the basis of “talents for low intrigue, and the little arts of popularity” (i.e., duplicitous populist appeals); democracy is not perfect. A strength of the proposed Constitution, however, is that the Electoral College would serve to block such an individual from becoming president and instead make sure that the post went to a candidate “pre-eminent for ability and virtue.”
The authors review many of Trump’s statements and policy positions taken during the campaign through the lens of Hamilton’s criteria of “ability” (defined as sound judgment) and “virtue” (defined as a willingness to put the interests of the polity and its citizens ahead of one’s own). Their review finds the president-apparent to be sorely lacking in terms of both attributes. Moreover, the authors also discuss several ways in which Trump has further demonstrated deficits of both judgment and selflessness since election day.
The article’s conclusion is that were Alexander Hamilton alive today, he would urge members of the Electoral College to recall one of the original purposes of that institution. In particular, in line with the effort already underway by two self-described “Hamilton electors,” he would support working with Democrats to elect a “compromise candidate” consisting of a moderate Republican. Should that option not prove viable, they contend that the Framers of the Constitution likely also would look kindly on electors casting their votes for a much more qualified candidate from an opposing party.