Are you familiar with the phrase “playing both sides against the middle?” It’s an idiom loosely translated to mean someone who manipulates two opposing sides of an argument or conflict against one another for personal benefit or advantage.
The phrase is often used to describe the behavior of politicians who pretend to support both sides of an issue as a means to achieve an outcome unwanted by either side but highly coveted by the politician. In the end, this approach to unpopular and sometimes unconstitutional ideas makes it possible for the politician to appear as if he’s doing the will of the people while doing little more than protect the parties and the duopoly they own.
The reason we took this English refresher course is because we are about to see the “both sides against the middle” gambit employed by the states of Colorado and Washington as they take new steps to destroy the Electoral College.
This past Friday, the U.S Supreme Court agreed to hear appeals filed by the two states involving so-called “faithless electors” — people who refused to cast their votes for the winner of the popular vote in their states and were punished as Electoral College electors during the 2016 election.
In a statement released following the Court’s announcement, Colorado Secretary of State Jena Griswold expressed her hope that the Justices will rule to “protect the rights of the states to enforce their laws and defend the rights of Americans to chose the U.S. President,” and she further stated, “Unelected and unaccountable presidential electors should not be allowed to decide the presidential election without regard to voters’ choices and state law.”
It almost sounds like she supports the Constitution and the Electoral College, doesn’t it? Before you answer that question, remember that Colorado is playing both sides against the middle. The appeal is one side against the destruction-of-the-Electoral-College middle.
In March last year, I wrote an article about the National Popular Vote Interstate Compact (NPVIC), an agreement among several states and the District of Columbia that usurps the Constitution by permitting participating states to give their Electoral College votes to the presidential candidate who wins the national popular vote regardless of who was selected by the voters in those states. At the time of the article, Colorado had just joined Washington and 10 other states along with the District of Columbia in the compact.
The NPVIC has picked up more support since then and is now up to 16 jurisdictions representing 196 electoral votes. Once enough states join to reach the required 270 electoral votes to win a presidential election, the compact will be enacted, and winners of presidential elections will be decided by the national popular vote using what could be called “Electoral College-lite.”
Here’s where Colorado’s “other” side comes in.
There are no provisions in the Constitution or federal law requiring an elector to vote for the winner of their state, which means the Court could rule in favor of the “faithless electors” on constitutional grounds. Yet, if such a ruling were to be made, it wouldn’t be a loss for Colorado and Washington because once electors are free to vote as they wish, each state would be free to select people who will give the state’s Electoral College votes to the winner of the national popular vote regardless of who won the state.
By the way, Trump once called the Electoral College a “disaster for democracy,” and he has supported doing away with it as president because it would be “easier to win.” Just sayin’.
The electoral college is a disaster for a democracy.
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) November 7, 2012
Eliminating the Electoral College would require amending the Constitution, which is highly unlikely. But “playing both sides against the middle” will accomplish the same thing, and that’s why it could be that the Supreme Court will help pave the way for it to happen.
David Leach is the owner of the Strident Conservative.