What if neither Mitt Romney nor President Obama wins on Nov. 6?
What if we wake up on Wednesday, and find out that in several states the outcome is in doubt, and neither President Obama nor Mitt Romney is the clear winner? America could be heading for court battles that will make Florida in 2000 look like a tussle at the local PTA.
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In an election where both candidates are polling at a statistical tie, we are poised for a perfect storm of election controversy. And if it emerges, it will be very difficult to resolve easily.Skip to next paragraph
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The hatred level on both sides seems to have risen to new heights in contemporary politics. Moderates are an endangered species in Congress and both parties seem convinced that the other is not just wrong, but evil. The “Big Sort” continues to separate Americans into red and blue churches, workplaces, counties, and social networks.
The Supreme Court itself has lost esteem in the eyes of the public. In 2000, Democrats, led by Vice President Gore, accepted the court’s narrow ruling for Bush. Would partisans, particularly those on the left, be willing to see the court put a conservative in office in a contested election – twice in 12 years?
And asking the high court to resolve one state’s deadlocked disaster of an election recount is a piece of cake compared to resolving multiple states in dispute, each raising different issues, under different state laws, with different governing precedents and procedures.
Ultimately, I’m sure the nation would survive a two- or three- or four-month election court battle. But the costs would be extremely high.
How would markets react to another protracted period of struggle over election outcomes? How about our allies and potential enemies around the globe?
And a lot has to happen immediately after the election that involves compromise between the lame duck Congress and Mr. Obama – not least of which is avoiding the “fiscal cliff” come January. Could that happen while Republicans and Democrats are fighting in the county courthouses of Ohio and Florida and Virginia for every dimpled chad and questionable voter registration?
Great nations often decline most rapidly via internal power struggles. Rome had no greater enemy than strife among Romans for the right to rule. The stakes in this election could not be higher, in ways that most people don’t realize.
Bigger than any single issue, bigger than the entire agendas of both candidates, looms the question: Can America still peacefully exchange power without bitter controversy and weeks of uncertainty?
So, before you hope that your candidate wins, hope that one of them emerges with a clear victory. Or if there is no clear winner, that the candidates and the parties are governed by reason and the greater interest of the country, instead of by passion, recrimination, and self-interest.
No matter which side you support, a President Romney or a President Obama would be much better for America than a President Nobody for months on end.
Jeremy D. Mayer is an associate professor in the School of Public Policy at George Mason University where he also directs the masters program in public policy. This op-ed is adapted from a longer commentary in The American Interest.