I’ve been having this discussion with friends, and would like to see some input from Dopers.
As you know, the annual State of the Union address is the only time when pretty much every official of all 3 branches of government are gathered in one building. Traditionally, one individual in the Constitutional line of succession is absent in case of disaster. The way I understand it, the chosen person is told of this shortly before the address, and taken by the Secret Service to a supposedly “safe” location. However, I recall reading an article on this subject in which one member of a previous Cabinet recalled that he was merely taken by a couple of SS guys to a nearby pizza joint where they munched on a large pepperoni while watching the SOTUA on a TV. I would think that since 9/11 they have become a bit more circumspect about this process, perhaps taking the individual out of the D.C. area altogether.
But let’s suppose that a group of terrorists somehow manages to smuggle a tactical nuke into D.C. Not a huge device, but one that if detonated within a few blocks of Capitol Hill would assure the annihilation of everyone present at the SOTUA. And let’s suppose that the chosen person in the line of succession is not taken far enough away, and also perishes.
We now have the entire line of succession gone. (Along with most, if not all, of the Senate, House, and Supreme Court.) What would happen?
I would assume the military would declare Martial Law. Even assuming that the military leadership is sufficiently loyal not to attempt an actual coup, what authority would they have to reconstitute the U.S. government? I know that normally some of the first post-disaster steps would be to reconstitute the Senate by having the 50 state legislatures appoint temporary Senators, and to also have the states prepare a congressional election for the House in a reasonable time frame. But with no President, would the military even have the authority to order these acts?
And if there were a sufficiently long period of chaos and a vacuum of Federal power, do you think some of the states would declare some sort of sovereignty, perhaps in some cases entering into joint alliances with other states?
I suppose the basic question is: if a scenario like this unfolded, would it mean the end of the Republic?