In the last few weeks of the election, accusations and rumors have been hurled between Republicans and Democrats regarding the eligibility and suitability of their respective candidates. Hillary Clinton was portrayed as untrustworthy and too old and sick to be elected, and Donald Trump was categorized as sexist and racist. These accusations beg the question: what would actually have happened if one of the presidential candidates had to drop out of the race this late in the game? Something similar occurred in 1972 when George McGovern’s running mate, Senator Thomas Eagleton, withdrew in July after it was revealed that he underwent electric shock treatment for mental health. 

On the weekend of September 11, after a video was publicized of her seemingly fainting after leaving a memorial service in New York City, and then the announcement that she had been diagnosed with pneumonia a couple days earlier, Clinton was attacked as “one sick lady” and untrustworthy. In June, a video showed her exaggeratedly recoiling in response to a question from a reporter. In response, reporters like Sean Hannity floated the theory that Clinton was actually having a seizure. Similar rumors have also circulated about Clinton’s physical strength, possible dementia, and permanent brain injury from the concussion and blood clot she suffered in 2012 after a fall. The negative attention on Clinton’s health is quite similar to 2008 when John McCain, who would have been the oldest person ever to be elected president at 72, faced similar scrutiny resulting from the fact that he had fought melanoma in 2000,.

Clinton could only have been replaced if she herself decided to step down. If she had dropped out, the party would likely have held an emergency meeting to consider a possible replacement, and Joe Biden and Bernie Sanders would have been likely names in the running. According to the bylaws of the Democratic National Committee, a national committee meeting would be held “for purposes of voting to fill a vacancy on the National ticket, a quorum shall be a majority of the full membership present in person.”

This is a unique presidential race where both candidates are actively being called to drop out based on opinions that they are unfit to be president. A recent poll revealed that nearly 20 percent of Republicans want Donald Trump to drop out of the race. Similarly, Politico reported 70 percent of “GOP insiders” wanted him to drop out. These numbers have drastically risen, especially since the release of the tapes where the nominee spoke about sexual assaulting women. If he had ended his bid for the White House, the RNC could have selected another nominee without holding another convention. According to Rule 9 of the Republican National Committee rules, the vacancy may be filled by the party committee instead of a convention. If the committee decides to fill the vacancy themselves, each state representative present is entitled to the same number of votes as it was allowed at the convention.

Although neither candidate dropped out, given the accusations, specifically surrounding their suitability for the Oval Office, such considerations are important to understand. This election has been an anomaly in many ways, but understanding what would have happened if Trump or Clinton dropped out could help us avoid a similar situation in the future.

Image credits: Gage Skidmore/Flickr

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