This year’s elections saw a lot of unusual, unexpected, and unprecedented developments. So nobody should be shocked at any unexpected developments when the electoral college meets on Monday. Having said that, Democratic activists have been barking up the wrong tree by emphasizing the national popular vote. The reason why this strategy was guaranteed to backfire is the nature of the electoral college.
The electors are not randomly chosen people. They are local politicians and activists who are nominated by their state party. In short, they are not the people who are likely to surrender control of the White House to the other party. By the rules that are currently in place, the Republicans have won the White House. So while, the Constitution, theoretically, allows these electors to vote for Hillary, practically these electors will not vote for Hillary.
What had potential (and what still might result in an unusually large number of defections) was to emphasize that Trump is not a Republican. Republican electors are unlikely to vote for Hillary Clinton. They might vote for Ted Cruz or Mitt Romney or John Kasich. For Republican electors, there are a lot of competing considerations — who the voters of their party and state chose versus the traditional interests of the Republican Party versus the future of their party (both if they allow Trump to become President and if they block Trump’s election). If enough Republican electors voted for somebody other than Trump, it would merely kick the election to the House where Republican representatives would face the same problem. (While there would be some incentive to simply not reach a decision and let Mike Pence run things, eventually they would need to reach a decision so that they could move to other items on the agenda.)
In short, the issue for Republican electors (and perhaps later for the House) is whether to go with Trump or another Republican. While there are certainly good reasons for the Republicans to block Trump, the default position is to vote for Trump. By winning the election, the Republicans have gotten themselves into a position where neither choice will be good for the country or good for the Republican Party. My hunch says that by the end of the day tomorrow, it will be official that Trump is the president-elect (as opposed to simply the presumptive winner). While there were chances for some Democrats and Republicans to join together behind a third candidate over the past five weeks, those chances have passed. As during the Republican primary, somebody beats nobody.