The theory goes, then, that the electoral college vote shouldn't hew to the mostly winner-take-all tradition with which we're familiar. Instead, since Clinton got more votes, those electors should support her, where possible, and hand her the presidency.
Is it possible? Theoretically. Will it happen? Ha ha ha ha ha no.
Let's jump to the end.
As it stands, Trump leads Clinton in 30 states worth a total of 305 electoral votes. Clinton leads Trump in 20 and D.C., for 233. (Let's skip the Nebraska and Maine congressional-district electors for now.) She currently leads him by about 230,000 votes.
One theory for how the election could be thrown to Clinton is by having electors in states that aren't legally bound to uphold the popular vote switch from Trump to Clinton. There are 25 states that mandate electors uphold the will of the electorate, meaning that there are 25 that don't. (D.C. has a mandate; Virginia has enough of one that we'll count it.) So in a state like Texas, which has no mandate, the 38 electors could, theoretically, all vote for Clinton. If they did, she'd have 271 electoral votes, and waltz into the White House. (We're just going to set aside the cranky people who've already said they don't want to vote for Clinton.)
That's not super realistic, though. I mean, it's Texas. You think you're going to do that to Texas and not face repercussions? A more likely scenario is to take the electors in those 25 states and let them divvy up their votes however they want. (We call this the legal split in the chart above.) If we do that, the results change — and Clinton still loses, 260 to 278.
Well, since Clinton did well nationally, why don't we just divvy up every elector this way? (The total split.) If we do that . . . Trump does better, getting 279 electors to Clinton's 259.
How is the margin so wide even with a proportional allocation all the way down? Simple. States Trump won he won by wider margins than the states Clinton won. On average (according to current totals), Trump got 48.8 percent of the vote in each state to Clinton's 44.7. In states Trump won, he won by an average of 19 points. In states he lost, he lost by an average of 17. That discrepancy adds up, even though many of those states are small with low electoral vote totals.
What's more, divvying up across the board means that Trump gets electors in New York, New Jersey and California where he was otherwise shut out.
Regardless, you can't do that. In half of those states, you're not allowed by law to vote for someone other than the winner of the state. Granted, it's very possible that the Supreme Court wouldn't uphold those laws if they were challenged, since the Constitution doesn't mandate that rule. (Read more here.) If we're going to travel to the boundaries of reality, though, let's at least take the path of least resistance.
What is true is that the electors in those 25 states, where they're not bound by law, can vote for whoever they want. So the split in Texas doesn't have to follow the lines of the voting in that state. If someone could convince 38 folks to vote Clinton, there's no legal way to keep them from doing so.
But the effect would almost certainly not be what the left intends. It would almost instantly spur a constitutional crisis, pitting a fairly small group of Clinton loyalists against Trump supporters who will feel — justifiably — as though they were robbed. Those Trump supporters would likely be joined by a substantial portion of Clinton backers who would prefer President Trump to the immediate collapse of the American government.
None of this will happen. I strongly support the speculative gaming-out of political scenarios, but I also recommend that people leaven those flights of fancy with an acknowledgment of what will actually happen. Clinton came very close to being the president on two separate occasions. She will not be the president in 2017.