Like many thoughtful voters, I have privately wondered what would happen if John McCain, Hillary Clinton, or Barack Obama were to die after being nominated. The question, in this unusual election, is often pushed aside, but reality gnaws at it.
Today’s potential nominees seem at greater risk than usual. McCain’s age and his silence about his health raise concerns. Clinton generates angry reactions from the significant numbers of those who consistently tell pollsters that they “hate” her. Obama forces America’s unresolved racial bigotry into the light, adding volume to whispered epithets against those still called the “N” word by too many.
Obama’s perceived vulnerability gets the most attention, but a search of the Internet reveals a torrent of queries from those evaluating McCain’s life expectancy. Speculation that a Hillary-hater might try to harm her is verbalized least, but the Secret Service agents assigned to her probably understand that possibility.
CNN’s Larry King asked Michelle Obama if she worried that “terrible things could happen?” Her perfect answer was, “Of course [terrible things could happen], but so could wonderful things.”
In response to concerns about his age, McCain introduces his hearty mother, closing in on 96. If he has her genes, goes the implication, he’s good for two terms.
Assassination speculation, of course, hides behind the media’s uncharacteristic desire not to appear tasteless and the public’s fear that confronting such a possibility might push a wacko into action. Given America’s history, however, this prospect cannot be trivialized.
Many believe the Constitution has the answer if a nominee who is not yet elected or sworn-in dies before taking office. The 20th Amendment, however, only addresses the succession of those already elected.
In his book, After the People Vote: A Guide to the Electoral College (AEI Press, 2004), John C. Fortier, who has taught at Harvard, Boston College and the University of Pennsylvania, writes that a presidential or vice-presidential nominee who dies before Election Day in November, is replaced by the national committee of that candidate’s party. Such committees also select the replacement if a candidate were to die or resign after the November elections, but before January 6, when the Electoral College votes.
If a candidate elected in November dies between January 6 and the January 20 swearing-in, the constitutional line of succession applies.
In 1972, when vice-presidential candidate Thomas Eagleton resigned from the Democratic ticket topped by George McGovern, the DNC chose R. Sargent Shriver. In 1968, the Democratic convention hastily coroneted Hubert Humphrey when Robert Kennedy, the assumed standard-bearer, was killed.
Now, neither Clinton nor Obama can amass enough primary delegates to go to the convention in Denver as the nominee-apparent. Superdelegates are widely cited as the “deciders” regarding this year’s ticket. No other scenarios, however dark they may seem, are broadly discussed.
DNC chair Howard Dean’s influence on the democratic (and Democratic) processes may be tremendously underrated, as may be that of RNC chair Robert M. Duncan. At least the forefathers (“in their wisdom”) won’t be blamed — or credited — with the outcome should America face a president chosen by committee.
: This Just In
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