On Wednesday morning, a Georgia Republican opened a new and unexpected front in the GOP struggle to digest Donald Trump.
Baoky Vu, a Decatur businessman selected for membership in the Electoral College that will officially decide the 2016 presidential contest, said he couldn’t bring himself to vote for Trump in November.
More importantly, Vu said that, should Trump win Georgia, he might withhold his ballot from the New York businessman in the Electoral College vote that follows in December. Vu was one of 16 GOP electors approved this spring in a state convention.
We are in sensitive times. Donald Trump is an eggshell topic for Republicans now, and Vu’s news set the Internet aflame.
For a few hours, anyway.
By 5 p.m., Vu had surrendered, and another potential revolution – one with national overtones – had been quashed.
“My public expressions of misgivings about our party’s nominee has led to events that would be detrimental to the promotion of our party’s platform of limited government, free enterprise, and liberty. Thus, I am tendering my resignation as a presidential elector,” Vu said in a press release that was issued jointly with state GOP chair John Padgett.
Padgett said Vu will be replaced “as instructed by our legal counsel.”
Trump supporters who had called Vu “a disgrace” can breathe a sigh of relief. Although we can probably expect Trump himself to point to this five-hour flap as more evidence that the system is “rigged” against him.
Actually, that’s not the case at all. One even could argue that Baoky Vu was doing exactly what the U.S. Constitution and the founding fathers had wanted.
But let us start at the beginning. The first thing you need to know about Baoky Vu is that he has impeccable GOP credentials and a family history that would be hard to match.
He was 8 years old when his family fled Vietnam and communism in a U.S. State Department plane in 1975, ahead of the fall of Saigon. His father, Ky Vu, had been a member of South Vietnam’s national security council. Ky Vu is 82 now, and lives in Stone Mountain.
So in essence, Baoky Vu’s Republican loyalty and sense of obligation stretches back to Richard Nixon.
On Wednesday morning, Vu sent an email to his GOP friends. You may have seen similar notes in the last few weeks.
“I will not be voting for Donald Trump in the general election. My conscience is clear but my soul is being tested,” Vu wrote. “Trump’s antics and asinine behavior has cemented my belief that he lacks the judgment, temperament and gravitas to lead this nation… Forget political incorrectness, this is simply despicable demagoguery.”
And yet this was a type of “Dear Donald” letter that we hadn’t seen before. It was unique.
In May, the state GOP convention had named Vu one of 16 electors whose names would appear on the November ballot, as constitutionally mandated stand-ins for Trump. (Hillary Clinton has a separate list of 16 Democrats representing her on the November ballot.)
Should Trump win Georgia, Vu was to have become one of 538 members of the Electoral College who actually name the next president.
Vu’s note had this intriguing line: “I take my role seriously and in the face of the difficult choice before us, I will always put America first over party and labels.”
“America First” is a slogan of the Trump campaign. But I didn’t think Trump and Vu were on exactly the same page when it came to phrasing.
When he picked up the phone, Baoky Vu and I chatted a bit about Cleveland. He was there last month with his wife, who was an alternate delegate to the Republican National Convention — for U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida.
Much of the backroom argument in Cleveland was over whether “conscience” delegates who couldn’t stomach Trump were bound to cast a first ballot for him. Trump and RNC leadership won that fight.
But now, in Georgia, that fight had cropped up again, in far more serious form. I asked Vu whether, if he could not vote for Trump in November if he would refuse Trump his vote as a member of the Electoral College as well. (Again, presuming a Trump victory.)
At first, there was silence. “That is an option,” he said.
Vu harkened back to his family’s decision to flee communist rule in Vietnam. “We hungered for the right to vote. I’m not going to throw that away,” he said. “I have the right to vote for a write-in candidate in the Electoral College.”
If he is going to be one of 538 who determine the course of this nation, Baoky Vu said he won’t allow himself to make a convenient decision that’s wrong for the country.
I asked Vu about his anti-Trump sentiments. The small business owner — he and state Rep. B.J. Pak, R-Lilburn, have a business consulting firm — said that he has never been “on board” with the New York businessman.
But Vu also said the Republican presidential candidate’s feud with a Muslim family who lost their soldier-son in Iraq was the final straw. “Whether you’re Republican or not, it’s un-American to question the patriotism of families who have sacrificed in defense of our freedom,” Vu said.
Vu had researched his options and obligations. I contacted Secretary of State Brian Kemp. His office confirmed that Georgia law does not require a member of the Electoral College to follow the dictates of the popular vote in a presidential contest.
In that regard, Georgia is like 20 other states, the group called Fair Vote reports. But the organization reports that “faithless electors” are actually quite rare.
In 44 presidential contests, only 157 electors have failed to follow the dictates of their state’s popular vote, Fair Vote says.
The men who wrote the U.S. Constitution feared (small “d”) democracy, which they often associated with mob rule. The Electoral College was the awkward device imposed between voters and the power of the presidency — just in case the hoi polloi got carried away.
We have developed a friendlier attitude toward the popular vote in the centuries since, though it isn’t complete. Legislation to encourage a push toward the direct election of the president, introduced by Republicans, died a quiet death this year — at the hands of the most conservative elements in the state Capitol.
Like Baoky Vu, opponents of the National Popular Vote bill thought the Constitution meant what it said when it came to the Electoral College.