1. Apologists. Several times this week, I listened to the chattering classes on television solemnly opine that “America is no longer seen as a shining city.’” They’ve been trying to sell that story for so long now that I think they’re starting to believe their own hype. While it’s true that the United States isn’t the Guevaraist paradise they’d seem to like, there are still gobs of people knocking down the door to get here, so they can get the fuck out of here with that fuckery.
2. The popular vote. The national popular vote means exactly nothing when it comes to electing a President of the United States. The “abolish the Electoral College” crowd – including many so-called intellectuals who are certainly smart enough to understand the founder’s logic in removing the election of the nation’s chief magistrate from the hands of a simple majority – is out in force on Twitter this week. They’re joined, increasingly, by a sub-group who want to abolish the concept of having two senators for each state in favor of (if I understand their generally disjointed argument) allocating senators by population in the same way seats in the House of Representatives is allocated. Personally, I like the notion that the power of “the people’s representatives” in the House is checked by the interests of the states in the Senate, that together as a Congress, they check the power of the Executive Branch and the Courts, and that the Court checks the powers of the other two branches. That the machinery of government is complex is a feature, not a flaw. I have far more faith in the operational framework built during the Constitutional Convention than I do in whatever goofy “improvements” the collective brilliance a bunch Twitterers manage to come up with.
3. Pollsters. If we’re going to continue to report pre-election polling, we’re going to have to come up with a way to make the tale they’re telling more than a wild ass guess about what might happen. For months, the favored narrative was of a “blue wave” that would give Joe Biden a legendary victory and carry huge numbers of new Democrats into Congress. As I write this, it’s entirely possible that the former vice president may get his shot at the big chair, but his election doesn’t appear to come with coattails. His party is on track to lose seats in the House and while the Senate remains a toss-up. It’s entirely possible that Democrats will seize all the levers of power, but let’s not pretend it shows some kind of grand national realignment. If it happens, it’s more a blue dribble than a blue wave.
I don’t get too wrapped up in it, but I do keep a partial ear towards the ongoing coverage of this year’s election. I feel like I’m going to repeatedly deliver a reminder to everyone that despite what they may think they learned in their freshman civics class, we don’t have a national election for president in this country.
We have fifty state elections for president – or more technically we have 50 state elections to select the electors who will, in turn, vote for president.
This is why I grit my teeth every time I see some news prognosticator talking about who’s up or down in national polls. How a candidate is playing across the vast sweep of the American continent is interesting to know, but mostly irrelevant to telling us who’s most likely to win election as president.
The fact that election to the highest office in the land currently requires winning the majority of electors and not the majority of votes on election day is the crux of the argument for those who want to abolish the Electoral College in favor of a direct national vote for president. Those have been the “rules of the game” the dawn of the republic. While the average citizen may not be clear on that point, no one who seriously follows politics has any confusion about how the system works.
The Democratic Party managed to dominate elections through large swaths of the 20th century – while playing by those long-established rules of the game. In the 21st century their party platform has been structured in such a way as to consolidate strong support in costal and urban areas – while largely doing nothing to speak to their historic rural and rust belt bases of support. That runs the total number of votes up in these stronghold areas without broadening the base of support in any meaningful way. The Republican machine, not being operated by political idiots, crafted their message to pick up as many of those formerly Democratically leaning voters as possible. Republicans have had a decade or more of running the table in areas that would have been a no contest win for the average Democratic candidate of yore.
So, here’s the thing. Instead of pitching a hissy fit that the same rules everyone has played under for more than 200 years are suddenly no longer fair, maybe take a look at the party platform and figure out why you’re mostly attracting voters along the coasts and in the big cities while finding little support in the other parts of the country. The problem isn’t the rules – it’s a failure to connect with voters “out there” in flyover country and to gather up some of the electors that go with them.
If the goal isn’t to win elections by appealing to a broad subset of voters then the crusade to abolish the Electoral College is far more about gaining power than it is about the sanctity of the electoral process. At least have the stones to admit it.