Could Donald Trump drop out of the presidential race? It seems doubtful that his ego would permit him to slink away like the World’s Biggest Loser. But Republicans are reportedly preparing for the possibility of replacing him with another candidate, in the unlikely event that happens. ABC News reports that party rules stipulate that, if Trump voluntarily exits the race, the 168 members of the Republican National Committee would pick a replacement.
Here’s the problem: Balloting deadlines in key states might make replacing his name with another candidate’s name on the ballot into a massive logistical nightmare.
For instance, in order for Republicans to replace Trump’s name in Ohio — which is all but certainly a must-win state for the GOP — Trump might have to quit and be replaced by the RNC within the next five days. That’s right — five days.
The deadline for major and minor parties to submit names for the ballot in Ohio is August 10th, according to a spokesman for the Ohio Secretary of State’s office. That’s five days away.
Now, it’s possible that Republicans could get a replacement name on the ballot in Ohio if Trump quits and gets replaced after that date. But here it gets very complicated. Joshua Eck, a spokesman for Ohio Secretary of State Jon Husted, tells me that Ohio law does not provide for a process by which a replacement presidential candidate can be added to the ballot after that date — but it does not preclude that from happening, either.
“Ohio law is silent on replacing presidential candidates on the ballot,” Eck tells me.
What this means is that if Trump were to quit and be replaced at some point later than five days from now, the battle over whether the replacement name could be added to the ballot in Ohio would very likely go to the courts, and would be decided there.
Another possibility at this point would be that the Ohio state legislature could pass a law making it possible to allow the Republican Party to add a replacement name to the ballot after the deadline, election law expert Rick Hasen tells me.
“State legislatures have very broad powers to set election laws in presidential elections, and I would expect the Republican-dominated Ohio legislature to do what they need to do in order to deal with this,” Hasen says. “But Hillary Clinton supporters would likely challenge this, too, in court. So if this deadline has passed, there’s no question this issue will end up in court no matter what.”
As an added wrinkle, Eck also tells me that military voters from Ohio will begin casting their ballots in around 50 days.
Or take Pennsylvania. A spokesperson for the Pennsylvania Department of State emails me this:
August 15th is the last day for candidates who were nominated at the primary election to withdraw from the ballot. The Department of State’s Election Bureau will prepare paperwork for the party, which consists of a letter and a substitution nomination certificate. The deadline for major parties to file substitution paperwork is August 25th.
That’s 10 and 20 days away, in which time Trump would have to quit and be replaced by the RNC. Of course, it’s possible that Republicans could go to court after that date and still get a replacement on the ballot.
The bulk of the dates for certifying the names of major party presidential candidates are in August and September — 35 states in total. The GOP, then, would have until about mid-August to find a replacement nominee and still be able to get his or her name on the ballot in enough states to be competitive in November.
For example, if Trump dropped out in late August, his name would already be certified to appear as the Republican candidate for president in at least 18 states. If he dropped out in September, that number could rise to more than 30 states. The Republican Party would have few options available to it, at this point, to remove Trump’s name and replace it with their new nominee. They would likely have to look to the courts.
This is why Politico’s Anna Palmer reports that Republicans privately say Trump quitting would create a huge quagmire. “Republicans could be forced to wage state-by-state legal battles to get a new candidate on the ballot,” Palmer writes, adding: “That would be a time-consuming and expensive exercise for the RNC.”
There’s one last permutation, and this one is really out there. Josh Putnam, a political scientist and expert in election rules, tells me that one possibility is that Trump, having quit, could still have his name on the ballot in many states even as his replacement campaigns in his place. Voters would select Trump, while actually intending to select his replacement, after which the electors from each state would also vote for his replacement.
“While voters will be voting for the presidential candidates, they are actually electing electors to participate in the electoral college,” Putnam says. “If a slate of Republican electors is elected in a state, then they could vote for the replacement candidate should Trump drop out of the race after the deadlines above.”
It’s hard to overstate what a mess that would make, though. It would have to be communicated to millions of voters that they should cast a vote for Trump in the knowledge that they are actually picking his replacement.
The bottom line is that it’s possible Trump could quit and be replaced. But unless it happens very quickly, it’s likely to create a profound logistical nightmare for Republicans, one that would hit them just when they’re trying to ramp up a replacement presidential campaign, even as the race is entering its frenzied home stretch — and all in service of a likely loss in any case.