So the U.S. President (or some other country's leader) is strollin' along. I blast him with a duplication ray gun (secret service must have been snoozing). There are now two of him. How does the world react?

  • The two copies are identical at the moment of duplication. It's not like an evil twin or anything.
    • Both think they are the original. Indeed, neither one is really more original than the other.
    • They can, of course, diverge after the duplication. Given that the president is at least 35 years old though, it's not likely they would develop different personalities or anything.
    • Anything he is wearing or holding at the time is similarly duplicated.
    • The only difference is that one appeared on the left, and one appeared on the right. Other than that, there's no distinction.
  • There were a lot of witnesses.
  • This is the first known use of duplication outside a laboratory (where it was generally done on atoms).
  • Just for fun, let's say the President is known for ambition and being power hungry, treating anyone who challenges his power, including those with similar goals or principles, as a political rival or threat (but is otherwise a typical leader).

My question is, what happens to the U.S.? Reelection? Dual-Presidency? And which one of them is the man that woke up that morning, for legal purposes? What precautions would the world take to prevent similar or repeated instances?

Note: Although the leader is ambitious, he's not extremely ambitious. The point is that he thinks more in terms of power than political alignment, and doesn't like sharing power. He isn't any more violent or corrupt (sans not caring about political principles) than any other politician.

  • $\begingroup$ Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat. $\endgroup$ Jan 31, 2016 at 20:07
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    $\begingroup$ For clarification, Is the president necessarily male? You say 'he,' but I want to know if that's just gender-neutral third-person or gender-specific. $\endgroup$
    – Mikey
    Jan 31, 2016 at 20:25
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    $\begingroup$ The first lady would be p****d off. $\endgroup$
    – daiscog
    Feb 1, 2016 at 14:12
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    $\begingroup$ @Mikey I don't see how that's relevant, but considering PyRulez referred to the POTUS as "he" in multiple forms, and the fact that to date there's never been a female POTUS, it's safe to assume he in fact meant a male. $\endgroup$
    – TylerH
    Feb 1, 2016 at 17:09
  • $\begingroup$ @TylerH - it does affect my answer, but I will go with your recommendation to assume it's a male. $\endgroup$
    – Mikey
    Feb 1, 2016 at 20:00

9 Answers 9


You would be arrested. Both Presidents would be isolated away from each other and taken into custody. The Vice President would take control of the country.

An unidentified attacker just used completely unknown technology to do something to the POTUS that no one thought possible. If you were lucky enough to not be shot dead on the spot, you would be taken down, restrained, and shipped off site for interrogation. The Secret Service would be momentarily stunned by what is almost certainly an unplanned scenario, but given the circumstances, both Presidents would shortly be separated from one another purely for safety's sake. They would be shepherded off to secure sites and quite likely restrained in the process.

Who is the real president? The Secret Service certainly won't know. As exact copies no amount of verbal questioning or physical inspection is going to help. Under no circumstances would either "President" continue to act as the Commander in Chief. The POTUS was just attacked. Something unimaginable happened to him. Even if certain members of the government wanted him to continue to carry out his duties, no one could be certain who was the real one. The simplest solution, at a time when military high alert would be boiling over, is to allow the singular Vice President to assume the presidency.

After that, there would be some disturbing questions with even more disturbing answers. Once the government is stabilized, an unprecedented investigation would occur. Your ray gun would be classified and shipped off to Area 51 or another lesser known black site for study. Both Presidents would undergo thorough interrogation and medical study. By this point, there is simply no circumstance in which either of them will continue to be involved in the government. The President's family would experience a severely trying period in which two separate, but equal, people claimed to be their loved one. The world would wait for answers, but would receive none that satisfied its questions.

There's much more that could be said about the future fate of the former Presidents, but it strays beyond the scope of the question.

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    $\begingroup$ "You would be taken down, restrained, and shipped off site for interrogation." which one of me. Indeed, the secret service has no idea how many of me there are. This would probably make them nervous. $\endgroup$ Jan 29, 2016 at 6:20
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    $\begingroup$ @PyRulez I initially wrote over twice as much as I posted -- I'd flown off into all kinds of fun tangents related to the implications of this event. It really would be a fascinating situation. $\endgroup$
    – Avernium
    Jan 29, 2016 at 7:47
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    $\begingroup$ "Under no circumstances would either "President" continue to act as the Commander in Chief." Not least because the SS can't know that they're exact copies, what with it being a completely unknown technology they've just encountered. $\endgroup$ Jan 29, 2016 at 12:32
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    $\begingroup$ What if the unidentified attacker was to be identified as the VP? $\endgroup$
    – SBoss
    Jan 29, 2016 at 15:00
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    $\begingroup$ @Zizouz212 I dunno, doubling the number of people coming after you doesn't seem like that great of an idea. Sure, you might confuse some of them, but the most effective ones at catching you just doubled their effectiveness. They can sort out the duplication part later. $\endgroup$
    – Michael
    Jan 29, 2016 at 18:42

Imagine this from the point of view of the president(s). After some initial bewilderment, they assess the situation rationally.

Their primary motive is to retain power. And, while each may view the copy of himself as a threat to this, they quickly realize that the primary threat is that they both will be removed from power completely due to the instability the situation creates. Therefore, they have a strong incentive to cooperate.

They quickly agree that the vice president should take control of the presidency temporarily. The fact that they make this decision, rather than it being imposed upon them, means they are still in control of the situation. They are able to frame this as temporary incapacitation, similar to the president going under anesthesia for surgery, creating the expectation that they will resume power as soon as the situation is resolved.

Now that the immediate crisis is averted, they work together on a solution. Note that I don't think it likely that they will be separated, locked up, etc. Everyone is confused and doesn't know what to do in this situation. Arresting the President of the United States is not the sort of thing one does unless you are absolutely certain that it must be done. This is career suicide, and the people close to the president got there in large part due to their deference. Absent a clear, immediate threat, this is just unlikely to happen.

When the two presidents start discussing the issue, they realize that they immediately agree on everything. In fact, they often start saying the same thing at the same time. Each realizes that the other being in power is practically indistinguishable from himself being in power, since the other does exactly what he would do anyway. They lose a desire to compete for the spot, and in fact each ends up wondering whether it would be better for the other to have the top office. They would still get everything they want out of the presidency, while having a lot more freedom. (In the end, they both realize they still want to be president, but they don't feel so strongly about this when it is an exact copy of themselves in the job).

They realize the impossibility of shared office, so they decide on a coin flip who will be president. The other one will, however, still take an active role as an "adviser". Government and the public happily accept this solution. The one selected as president is given a prominent tattoo in order to prevent any future crisis of identity.

Everything is great...until their divergent lifestyles cause their personalities and preferences to diverge. That is when trouble starts brewing...

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    $\begingroup$ I think that the biggest issue the president would face is the possibility of losing his family. $\endgroup$
    – NPSF3000
    Jan 29, 2016 at 8:48
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    $\begingroup$ They both stay president and get twice as much work done. Maybe merge data once a day? $\endgroup$
    – RedSonja
    Jan 29, 2016 at 9:23
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    $\begingroup$ I like it all except the tattoo thing. I think they'd more likely take turns. Secretly! They'd say they flipped a coin and the loser went off the a monastery somewhere. But in reality, they both do the job. Maybe take turns when one wants a vacation. $\endgroup$
    – Shane
    Jan 29, 2016 at 20:18
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    $\begingroup$ You're assuming they have no real selfishness, that the similarities they see (how can they know they're truly identical?) make them trust one another, and that they would not initially realize that they would inevitably diverge. Power is like a drug, it is no comfort that the person getting your share looks and thinks like you do. Their incentives are only to create appearances of cooperation. The various Services would suspect this as well, and act on it as a threat not unlike insanity. $\endgroup$
    – kaay
    Feb 1, 2016 at 10:25
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    $\begingroup$ Another thought: "they realize that they immediately agree on everything" - yeah, like on "there can't be two top dogs". If I were as ambitious and competitive as OP describes them, yet knew how to lose, I'd jump at the 50-50 coin toss, the loser agreeing to bear a mark forever designating him as #2. Then for #1 this becomes a balance of utility vs assassination threat, a comfortably familiar dilemma. $\endgroup$
    – kaay
    Feb 1, 2016 at 10:40


You might think there would be no way to deny an event like this that was widely seen on television, but it's such a surprising thing to happen that people would be reluctant to believe. And American politics loves conspiracy theories.

The event is immediately declared Top Secret. The news agencies are reminded that it's extremely illegal to talk about it. They cut away from the breaking coverage, briefly state that it appears to have been a hoax, and carry on as if nothing had happened.

White House staff are told that for anti-terrorist security reasons the President now has a body double, like General Montgomery. The President now appears to be getting a lot more work done. White House press releases contradict one another a bit more than usual. Nobody notices.

The President's family are confused by his apparent short-term memory loss. His wife suspects he is having an affair. This might even be true, but he has the perfect alibi.

Would the President compete with himself? Absolutely. But he'd do it covertly, like he's done his whole career. Once one of them is sure he has more loyalty from his secret service team than the other, he can strike. A presidential event is disrupted by a lunatic with a gun, as happened to Lincoln, JFK, Reagan. The President is shot at close range, but thanks to heroic medical efforts he survives and makes a full recovery. But he doesn't seem to have a double any more..

  • $\begingroup$ Some people would disbelieve it, no doubt, but I don't think the government could prevent the video from being widely available. News agencies just don't obey government orders in the U.S. (see several controversies in recent years about disclosure of intelligence). And there is no way they would keep it off the internet, even if the major networks did somehow agree not to show it. $\endgroup$
    – user16107
    Jan 29, 2016 at 10:56
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    $\begingroup$ It's easy to doctor video evidence. Authorities would just declare that the video evidence is fake, which is easy to believe, because the video evidence shows something that is clearly impossible. $\endgroup$
    – gerrit
    Jan 29, 2016 at 11:24
  • $\begingroup$ @gerrit: that's a high-risk tactic, since the person who did it (or their clone) may well have the ability to reproduce the feat many times on other subjects in front of other witnesses. But I suppose the effect of additional cloning operations after the first are outside the scope of the question, so we can assume it's not going to very quickly become impossible to claim it's impossible :-) $\endgroup$ Jan 29, 2016 at 15:48
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    $\begingroup$ If the person with the cloning gun goes on a "mass shooting" spree then things become very different, as the concept of "identity" takes a serious hit and everyone starts accusing everyone else of being a clone. But even cloning a few hundred random people merely creates an endless legal and political headache. You'd have to start cloning millions to truly achieve chaos. $\endgroup$
    – pjc50
    Jan 29, 2016 at 16:05
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    $\begingroup$ @pjc50 cloning millions is phase two. It's a lot of work, but I can help myself. $\endgroup$ Jan 29, 2016 at 21:44

With my tinfoil hat firmly in place, I think the most obvious answer is that regardless of the number of witnesses, there would simply be a coup. One or both of the Presidential duplicates would be quietly killed by the CIA and the VP would take over the running of the country.

You've stated that there were lots of witness, but what did they witness? Someone used some pyrotechnics to try to abduct the President and replace him with a doppelganger. It failed and both the Pres and his double were killed in the ensuing gunfight. I blame ISIS.


While this would be novel, the almost certain response would be to pick one and make that one the current legal President. There is zero provision in US law for copresidents, so that would be a non-starter. One or the other would have to be selected. There is no provision for scheduling a midterm election, so this would almost certainly be done judicially. Coin flip is as likely as any other method. Or I suppose we could let the First Spouse choose.

There is a very small chance that both would be disqualified and the Vice-president would be promoted.

If done in the President's second term, it's possible that the one who does not stay President might run for another term. It depends on that person's exact legal status. Are there now two people, one of whom was and is the President? Or had both been President and only one is now? If the former, then the one who is not President could run for President without worrying about previous terms limiting eligibility. If the latter, then one is essentially losing a chance to be President. I think the latter interpretation is more likely, but anything could happen.

If this happened in a President's first term, this creates an interesting situation. One could be President while the other runs for President. Then the one who doesn't run then could run in four years. So three terms between them, even though both lost a term of eligibility. Or they could be considered the same person and limited to two terms between them. The former seems more likely, but anything is possible.

Note: I'm generally ignoring issues not related to the presidency itself. For example, most Presidents have been married. Which of the duplicates is married? But that seems worthy of its own question.

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    $\begingroup$ Without wishing to raise yet another birther crisis, the one who's ruled "not to have already served two terms" and therefore could be eligible to run in future, might on the same grounds be ruled "not to be over 40 years old" and perhaps even "not to be a US citizen" or "not to be a legal person". After all, if the events that happened before the split "didn't happen to him" such that he hasn't already commenced two terms, then that ruling could include all the events of his birth and former life. $\endgroup$ Jan 29, 2016 at 15:50

Both would have a claim to the presidency. Since both are ambitious enough to become president, neither will let go of the job without a fight. Nor will they cede the power to the vice president, who may try to oust them as well.

When two people have a claim to the presidency, the Supreme court decides. Courts in America have been known to decide exactly equal elections with a coinflip, and since there is no possible other basis to decide here, the supreme court will do the same here.

Given this, there are two possible outcomes. The first: each copy is satisfied with a fifty/fifty chance, and they take their shot. The loser walks away with nothing but a lifetime of lucrative public speaking engagements.

Second, a 50% chance of losing their life's work is too much to bear, and the copies decide to work out a power sharing agreement. One copy stays president, and the other gains no official power, but negotiates a deal to make up for it. For instance, he becomes foreign secretary in a few months, and when the first copy has served his two terms, the second copy runs for office with the first's backing. To ensure a fair deal, they set up the conditions first, and then flip a coin to decide who gets which half of the deal.


A duplicated president, no matter his/her good/neutral/evil alignment could still exploit the situation to get things done.

The whole affair is immediately hushed up. (You stipulated a lot of witnesses, but that is not necessarily a barrier, and makes revelation more interesting.) More duplicates are made, if possible. (A secret government program begins to clandestinely copy service persons in some special command unit, if possible.)

The dupe presidents leverage his/her newfound ability to seemingly be in two places at once to affect a supernatural power to travel great distances instantly. This is used to intimidate enemy heads of state, but the masses are led to believe s/he is a conventional president.

Additional psychological games can be invented to unhinge adversaries with feigned godlike powers, especially the appearance of having survived a clearly fatal attack.

World peace is ushered in by this creepiness behind the scenes of politics.


Pretty much what happens in The Santa Clause 2 - namely, that both Presidents enter into a state of conflict over who's the executive. Now, the question becomes, does either President have an alibi that can testify to his authenticity? Does it just so happen that a person or camera, say, saw you escorting the fake president to a more secret location to await the arrival of the real President?

Failing sufficient evidence pointing to either President, the government is now in a bit of a dilemma. As the US Constitution, to my knowledge, does not currently prescribe a course of action for this event, either one of two things would happen:

1) As stated above, both Presidents would agree to allow the Vice President to assume the office of President

2) The US & state legislatures would ratify a Constitutional amendment to solve this and future similar contingencies. They might choose, for example, to make the Vice President assume the role until the federal government can figure out who the true President is, or until his term is up.

  • $\begingroup$ Neither President has any history that the other one doesn't. $\endgroup$
    – Cullub
    Feb 1, 2016 at 17:47

I think the other answers are missing a very clear issue that's not specific to the fact that he's the President of the United States: only one person may legally be considered to be themselves.

If it did come to the point that the issue had to be dealt with in public (as opposed to the government covering it up and coming up with an extralegal situation privately), there would likely be a court case (in what juridiction, I don't know) to determine which of the two individuals claiming to be Barack Obama (or whoever) is actually Barack Obama. Unless Congress passes a law to address the situation (which they may) the second, unrecognized Barack Obama would become a stateless person with no identity, and no claim to the presidency. The "real" Barack Obama would continue his presidency legally unencumbered, though I can't imagine what the public reaction and political fallout might be.

Of course, the situation could be simplified somewhat if Barack Obama is legally removed from office as president. This could be done by both men simultaneously resigning (because regardless of which is the "real" one, you know he resigned), or if the 25th Amendment is invoked, both men simultaneously submit a letter under Section 3 (same reasoning as resignation), or, the simplest solution, a majority of the Vice President and cabinet determine Barack Obama unable to serve and thus make the Vice President Acting President.

  • $\begingroup$ The question made it pretty clear that the premise is that both are exactly identical and none can be identified as the real one. A court would have no basis to decide which one is the real one. $\endgroup$
    – Philipp
    Jan 30, 2016 at 21:36
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    $\begingroup$ @Philipp in real life courts often apply laws to situations that were never forseen (or perhaps even thought impossible) by the lawmakers. I'm sure they'd at least give it a try. Of course, the 25th amendment provisions that I mentioned would resolve the question much more cleanly. $\endgroup$ Jan 30, 2016 at 21:40
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    $\begingroup$ I'm with Philipp - the premise is, indeed, that there is no identifiable "2nd instance", and, this being the head guy, the courts can't demand the ditto-shaped blocks to squeeze into the least ill-matching hole hoping the situation resolves itself, e.g. by suicide - Joe Average Squared would just have their life made miserable while bureaucrats hide behind mountains of Sacred Paperwork. For the Prez, that wouldn't fly. $\endgroup$
    – kaay
    Feb 1, 2016 at 14:29

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