A thriller about the kidnapping of the president-elect which also features a vice president-elect from a Midwestern state has gone into a second printing since its release two months ago.
The novel's author says it illustrates how the Constitution and federal laws are unclear and contradictory about what would happen if a president-elect were kidnapped between Election Day and when the Electoral College votes. In real life, the Electoral College meets Monday.In "Oath of Office," a popular, crime-busting U.S. senator from California defeats a one-term president but is kidnapped while watching election returns. The country is plunged into a constitutional crisis.
Author Steven J. Kirsch, a lawyer, said his first novel poses the question of what would happen if the president-elect were kidnapped. Would the vice president-elect be inaugurated instead?
Though the book doesn't mention President-elect George Bush or Vice President-elect Dan Quayle, the fictional vice president-elect in Kirsch's book - which he sold in 1986 - is a young senator from a Midwestern state selected to give the ticket geographical balance.
"The electors would be going through the same mental gymnastics if Bush were kidnapped," Kirsch said. "What happens in real life would be what I described in my book."
The 20th Amendment provides for the vice president-elect to become president if the president-elect dies before he can be sworn in.
But what if the president-elect were kidnapped? Would the electors qualify the president-elect as president, even though he's missing? Would the vice president-elect be named president? Or would the decision be thrown into the U.S. House?
"Everyone has agreed there is no precedent for this," Kirsch said. "There is no clear-cut answer, and if it happens, the country would be in a worse crisis than Watergate."
In Kirsch's 355-page book, Jonathan Starr defeats Arthur Sutherland to become the nation's first Jewish president-elect.
But on election night Starr is kidnapped from his San Francisco hotel room by henchmen of Tommy Duncan, a corrupt labor leader.
The country is plunged into a constitutional crisis. Sutherland, who is negotiating a secret Middle East peace plan, considers whether he should have himself declared the winner. Charles Durkin, the power-hungry speaker of the House, plots to steal the election. And the Secret Service, the FBI and the press scramble to find Starr.
"The politics would be brutal," Kirsch said. "Our allies wouldn't know what would happen. It would be so unsettling to the stock market. And people would be very worried."
Charles Walcott, an associate professor of political science at the University of Minnesota, agrees that the Constitution is ambiguous about what would happen if the president-elect were kidnapped.
"It's not anticipated in the Constitution and it's not clearly covered," he said.
However, Walcott said he doesn't believe a constitutional crisis would result. "If it should happen, a way would be found to cover it," he said. "Probably the courts would not have trouble advising what to do."
Kirsch, 37, said he began thinking about writing a book about a Jewish president while a college student in the mid-1970s. He said he found himself wondering how a Jewish president would deal with the Middle East.
He also was intrigued by what would happen if the president-elect were kidnapped. He thought about a 1933 assassination attempt on President-elect Franklin D. Roosevelt, in which Chicago Mayor Anton Cermak was killed.