That Donald Trump is the nominated Republican candidate has already made this presidential election quite unusual. That the supposed conspiracy theories about Hillary Clinton’s health problems are turning out to be true (forgetfulness, coughing fits, fainting …) is also unusual.
What else is or could be unusual?
Hillary is almost 69 and Trump is 70, though Clinton seems more likely to succumb to illness. Though it has never happened before, no presidential candidate has died or withdrawn after being nominated. Between Trump and Clinton it seems this election is going to be won by the one with the lowest negative perceptions on the day. Either of them being perceived as having a serious illness before election day could be so negative as to hand the election to the opponent.
Either Hillary Clinton or Donald Trump becoming incapacitated before
- election day, or
- after the election but before the electoral college votes, or
- after being elected but before inauguration, or
- in office
is not unthinkable. The first 3 scenarios have never happened. However there have been a few cases which have come close.
- William Henry Harrison (February 9, 1773 – April 4, 1841) was the ninth President of the United States (1841). He was 68 years, 23 days old when inaugurated, the oldest president to take office until Ronald Reagan in 1981. Harrison died on his 32nd day in office of complications from pneumonia, serving the shortest tenure in United States presidential history.
- In the election of 1872, Horace Greeley was the Democratic nominee for President, but the Democrats lost the general election to the Republican ticket, headed by Ulysses Grant. After the popular vote, but before the Electoral College vote, Greeley died. Because the Democrats had no chance of winning the election, given the outcome of the popular vote and the number of electoral votes already secured by Grant, the party did not bother to stipulate to their electors who an official replacement candidate would be, and most of the Democratic electors in the states that the Democrats had won cast their votes for people other than whom their party had nominated.
- In 1912, James Sherman, the Republican candidate for Vice-President (and the incumbent Vice-President under William Howard Taft) died on October 30 of kidney disease, a few days before the general election on November 5. The Republican National Committee scheduled a meeting to be held after the general election, on November 12, to select a successor, and Sherman’s name remained on the ticket for the general election. The Republicans lost, however (the Democratic ticket of Woodrow Wilson and Thomas Marshall won), and decided on November 8 not to meet as they had planned.
Both the Democratic and Republican parties have appropriate Bylaws in place to cater for most eventualities:
Both the Republican and the Democratic parties have rules in their bylaws governing how to fill the vacancy. The Party Chair calls a meeting of the National Committee, and the Committee members at the meeting vote to fill the vacancy on the ticket. A candidate must receive a majority of the votes to win the party’s nod.
The same process would happen if the vacancy were to occur after the general election but before the Electoral College voting. If a vacancy should occur on the winning ticket, it would then be the party’s responsibility to fill it and provide a candidate for whom their electors could vote. ….
A vacancy could occur at the top of a winning ticket during the period after the electoral votes had been cast but before the President-elect had been sworn in. … No President-elect has in fact failed to be sworn in. Nevertheless, the rules for what would happen if a President-elect were to be unavailable to be sworn in actually became a part of our law with the adoption of the 20th Amendment in 1933. This amendment was passed primarily to shorten the length of time between the general election and the beginning of the new administration (inauguration day was moved from March to January). But it also specified that if, at the time of the inauguration, the President-elect has died, then the Vice-President-elect becomes President, and if a President has not yet been qualified by that time, then the Vice-President-elect acts as President until a President has been so qualified.
With either Clinton or Trump as President, the possibility that their term has to be completed by their Vice Presidents is quite high.