As if this presidential season weren't sufficiently surreal, consider what might happen if Michael Bloomberg jumps into the race. The former New York City mayor has let it be known he's considering a third-party run if Bernie Sanders captures the Democratic nomination, to give the country a centrist alternative to a socialist scourge of Wall Street and the extremism of Donald Trump or Ted Cruz. In a three-way race featuring those candidates, the vote could be badly splintered, with no candidate getting the 270 Electoral College votes necessary to become president. What happens then? Something that has occurred just once in American history — back in 1824.
If no candidate gets the necessary Electoral College votes, the Constitution calls for the House of Representatives to select the president. The House delegation from each state casts one collective vote. Since Republicans have a House majority in 33 states, they'd presumably elect the Republican nominee — even if he came in second or third in the popular vote. It's also possible, however, that one of the presidential candidates could negotiate for House members' votes by promises of Cabinet positions or other political goodies. In 1824, that's exactly what happened. Andrew Jackson won the popular vote with 40 percent, but House Speaker Henry Clay put together a coalition for John Quincy Adams, who became president despite getting just 30 percent of the popular vote. The grateful new president then appointed Clay secretary of state — a deal Jacksonians called “the corrupt bargain.” Imagine something similar occurring this year, in a country already full of mad-as-hell voters. Yeeesh. There are two obvious takeaways from this scenario: The Electoral College is a loaded gun sure to go off again. And without anybody warning us, we may have all been transported to Bizarro World.