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On January 20, Republican Donald J. Trump will raise his right hand, place his left on the Bible and swear to “faithfully execute the Office of President of the United States, and will to the best of my ability, preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States”.
After a long-shot push by a small-yet-vocal grassroots movement of detractors to block him from the White House, the last remaining barrier to Trump’s ascension to the presidency fell away early this week as GOP electors across the nation voted to quickly solidify his majority.
Half a dozen electors broke ranks with their parties to cast a “faithless” vote for a third candidate, the largest number to do so in more than a century. Despite two Republican electors in Texas voting against their candidate, that state put Trump over the 270 votes needed to win. He finished with 304 to Democrat Hillary Clinton’s 227.
Florida’s Anti-Trump contingent, quickly pulled together on social media by various groups includingDemocracy Spring and a Tallahassee activist group led by Lakey Love, lined the halls of the Capitol as electors and their guests made their way into the Senate chamber, which was closed to the public. A small group of peaceful protesters had requested access to the proceedings but were stymied in the office of the Assistant General Counsel to the Secretary of State, who was said to be “out to lunch”.
Even so, the approximately 200 activists sang songs and chanted phrases like “Climate Change is Real” and “Say No to Hate” under the Capitol’s rotunda while the vote went according to the GOP script. All 29 party faithful cast their ballots first for Trump and then for his running mate, Mike Pence.
Elector and Florida representative Blaise Ingoglia closed the ceremony, describing the unprecedented amount of attention the electors had received during this election cycle. He said they had experienced an “intrusion on your privacy, taking away from your family time”. The gallery applauded.
After the nationwide votes were tallied, Democracy Spring’s Philadelphia-based Deputy Mission Director Curt Ries told FRANCE 24 in an email, “Although we are disappointed that only two Republican Electors had the courage to stand with the people and reject Trump, we are heartened by the incredible display of people power that took place on December 19.”
Ries estimates that 7,000 people came out to protest at all 50 Capitol buildings. “Going forward, we will use that people power to stop the kind of systemic corruption that produced a Trump presidency. We will mobilise to end voter suppression, abolish the Electoral College, and get big money out of politics.”
A few minutes later, as the slate of electors posed for “class pictures” and left the Senate floor, the remaining protesters behind velvet ropes in the hallway called out: “Love Trumps Hate!” and “Shame! Shame!”
Making her way past them, first-time elector Robin Bernstein and her husband told FRANCE 24 the protesters were “sore losers” who should know that “Mr. Trump will keep our country safe so we can travel again.”
Bernstein reported receiving thousands of emails, letters and calls in the last few weeks, “most of them the same”. But there is not a shred of doubt in her mind about Trump, who is a personal friend from Palm Beach, where their “kids grew up together”. The Bernsteins mentioned they are members of Trump’s exclusive Mar-a-Lago club and Trump International Golf Course.
When asked if she was concerned about some of the president-elect’s cabinet appointments or his proposition to build a wall or impose a Muslim registry, she shook her head. “I’m Jewish, and this is totally different than what happened in World War II. All he wants is a temporary ban until they figure out how to sort the good ones from the bad ones.”
Bernstein added, in French, that Trump would be a “meilleur ami” to French people “so what happened in Paris, Nice and Orlando won’t happen anymore”.
Sharon Day, another elector and Republican National Committee co-chair, told AP the letters she had received were “amusing” and said, of the protesters, “What lemmings they are.” By the time she spoke to FRANCE 24, just after casting her ballot for Donald Trump, she had softened her rhetoric on the letters and postcards: “I didn’t even read them.”
Asked what she was hoping for from a Trump administration, she said: “I’m looking forward to big changes to jobs, the economy, less governance, less regulations and to repeal Obamacare.” She could not clarify what kind of healthcare plan would replace it.
Tallahassee lobbyist Brian Ballard, who was a top Trump fundraiser and now serves on his transition team, was a bit gentler about the letters he had received. He told FRANCE 24 some of them were “nice, but they didn’t affect me in any way”.