Electoral College safety net for Trump in 2020

Analysis and Opinion by Russ Stewart

Whichever party or whoever loses an election always has something to whine about. Whine, whine, and whine.

Donald Trump has been president for almost 100 days, the 2016 election has been over for more than five months, and Democrats are still whining about the FBI, Russia, and most especially the Electoral College. They fume that Hillary Clinton had more popular votes – 65,844,954-62,979,879 in the official count – and that Trump’s 306-232 electoral vote victory perpetrated some kind of fraud on the American people. The Electoral College is "outdated, undemocratic," said California’s Senator Barbara Boxer, a Democrat.

But the fact is this: The Electoral College system was created by the antecedents of the Democratic Party, it was perpetuated from the 1820s to the 1950s by the Democratic Party, particularly after the Civil War, and when the opportunity arose in the late 1960s and early 1970s to change the U.S. Constitution to require a popular-vote election for president, the abolition of the Electoral College was opposed and blocked by Democrats in Congress. In fact, the much-reviled Richard Nixon supported a 19th Amendment to do just that. Democrats have nobody to blame but themselves for Clinton’s 2016 defeat.

It was the Republicans who were the whiners from the New Deal up through the 1960s, as there was a definite disconnect between each party’s presidential popular vote and electoral vote. Republicans, from the 1940s on, ran competitive races in New York, California, Illinois, Michigan, Pennsylvania, Indiana, Massachusetts and Wisconsin, usually losing narrowly, but got annihilated in the South, where blacks could not vote.

The 1944 election is illustrative. Conducted during World War II, with Franklin Roosevelt still president, the incumbent got 25,602,505 popular votes, or 53.7 percent, while the lightly-regarded Republican, New York governor Tom Dewey, got 22,006,278, a difference of 3,596,227 votes; but in the electoral vote, Roosevelt won 432-99, or 81.3 percent. All of the segregationist South’s 154 electoral votes, comprising 6,759,165 popular votes, went to Roosevelt, the great liberal. By comparison, in the eight big states listed above, turnout was 24,717,947, Roosevelt beat Dewey 12,886,771-11,831,176, and got 170 electoral votes.

In 1952 and 1956, Republican Dwight Eisenhower won, respectively, by 33,936,252-27,314,982 and 35,585,316-26,031,322, with electoral wins of 442-89 and 457-73 over Adlai Stevenson. The conservative South was breaking Republican, and northern blacks were breaking Democratic. In the 1960 Kennedy-Nixon contest, the Democrat won 34,227,096-34,108,546, a difference of 118,550 votes, but Kennedy’s electoral win was 303-219. Whining Republicans got it in their head that as the northern cities became increasingly black and liberal, taking big states off the table and bulking-up the Democrats’ base electoral vote, only a popular vote election could get a Republican into the White House. Now it’s the reverse.

It should be noted that the 1776 Declaration of Independence was followed by 12 years of chaos, war and political bickering. The Founding Fathers, elitists all, at their ad hoc Constitutional Convention, decided not to make George Washington king, and, amid the horrors and carnage of then-raging French Revolution, also decided not to have a popular vote elect the president. By having an Electoral College, the "wise men" would pick the president, not the rabble.

The Founding Fathers were aristocrats who had time to waste on politics, and exploited others to provide their wealth. The southerners were affluent plantation agrarians, enmeshed in the culture of slavery, who harvested their tobacco, cotton and rice, which were shipped north for export to England and Europe. The northerners, centered in the Boston-New York-Philadelphia axis, were engaged in commerce, and some in farming. The key issue was whether slaves should be counted in the census, which determined the number of congressional seats awarded each state, and, with the two senators, their respective electoral vote. Thomas Jefferson, deemed the founder of the Democratic Party (initially called Democratic-Republicans) sagely inserted a "3/5ths Rule," in the Constitution, which meant that every slave was counted in the census as 3/5ths of a citizen. That, of course, ballooned the South’s congressional delegations, and, hence, its electoral vote. In states like Virginia, Tennessee and North Carolina, slaves outnumbered whites 4-1; in South Carolina, Georgia, Alabama, Mississippi and Louisiana, slaves outnumbers whites up to 10-1. Yet the Jeffersonians used slavery to bolster their national clout.

By 1800, there was a clear ideological distinction: The Jeffersonian Democrats favored state’s rights, slavery, and limited government; the Hamiltonian Federalists favored a strong central government, internal improvements, tariffs for revenue and a navy. In 1800, the Jeffersonians won the electoral vote 73-65, entirely because the South’s inflated slave-based 53 electoral votes, plus 20 from New York and Pennsylvania, overcame New England’s Federalist vote. Electoral vote change was DOA, and Democrats kept the presidency for all but 8 years until 1860.

In post-Civil War Reconstruction, after Republicans passed the 13th Amendment to abolish slavery, a ripe opportunity presented itself to also abolish the Electoral College. But shortsighted radical Republicans ignored the omens of the 1864 presidential election. In that Lincoln-McClellan contest, in which 25 northern and western states voted, but none of the 11 Confederate states, Lincoln won 2,213,665-1,802,237, and 212-21 in the Electoral College. But Democrats got 45 percent of the popular vote, and every state was competitive. Republicans figured that the South, where freed blacks outnumbered whites by at least a million, would be bedrock Black Republican, keeping the Republicans in the presidency forever.

But southern white Democrats, through terror, intimidation and voter suppression, cleansed the voter pool of blacks, and, by 1880, every southern state delivered their electoral vote – with both the black and poor white electorate eviscerated by a poll tax, literacy test, and property requirements – to the Democrats nationally. That meant an automatic 128 electoral votes, over half of the 238 needed to win. National Democrats were not about to look a gift horse in the mouth, as the segregationist South guaranteed Democratic congressional majorities. Nevertheless, Republicans won 14 of 18 presidential elections from 1860 to 1928 – only because they carried the North and West narrowly, and won the electoral vote.

In the late 1960s, a group of liberal Democrats, led by Indiana Senator Birch Bayh, clearly discerned where the country was trending: The Democrats’ liberal/minority base was exploding in northern cities like Boston, New York, Philadelphia, Detroit, Cleveland and Chicago, but collapsing in the South. The Civil Rights Act and the Voting Rights Act was turning the South Republican, and the South’s 153 electoral votes (as of 1968) were almost 2/3rds of the 270 needed to win. But it takes a 2/3rds congressional majority to pass a constitutional amendment, and southern Democrats allied with small-state Republicans killed the deal.

In 2016, Clinton got 51.1 percent of the two-party popular vote, but only 43.1 percent of the electoral vote. That’s because of simple demographics. The bulk of her voters were packed into a limited number of states, mainly on the East and West coasts, and Illinois. She won California, New York, Massachusetts and Illinois by a combined 5,763,062 votes, and won nationwide by 2,863,075 votes.

Claiming that Clinton "won" the election is disingenuous. She won her base by more votes than Trump won his base. Of the two bases, the Clinton/Democratic base is the more solid, and the Trump/Republican base the more fluid. As the Trump presidency evolves, almost at the 100-day mark, it is clear that he is making no attempt to placate the Clinton base – just as Obama made no attempt to placate the Republicans, and George W. Bush made no attempt to placate the Democrats. In 2020, that means Trump needs to win every state he won in 2016.

In fact, the speculation in Washington is that Trump will not run for re-election in 2020. There are several premises to support that supposition. First, that Trump "feels like he is in prison." As a billionaire businessman, Trump did what he wanted, when he wanted, how he wanted, and where he wanted. Like on his TV show, he "fired" everybody who didn’t do what they were told, when they were told, how they were told. He didn’t expect to win the 2016 Republican nomination, or be elected; it was just a "challenge." At age 70, why not give it a shot?

Second, Trump pledged to "drain the swamp," to change the bureaucratic culture of Washington. He’s having minimal success, and the amorphous "Trump agenda" – which seems to change day-to-day – has energized the Democratic base. The result of the June congressional election in Georgia’s 6th District will be the Democrats’ template for 2018: No Trump, Stop Trump, anti-Trump will be the Democrats’ theme; no alternatives will be necessary.

Third, Trump is not used to being scrutinized 24/7, and dislikes being lampooned and ridiculed. He is a proud man with a huge ego. Historically, any president who does not win a second term is deemed a "failure." Therefore, Trump’s parachute is to announce he won’t run for re-election in 2020,and focus on his job. As such, he won’t lose in 2020, and be irrelevant in the 2018 elections. Democrats will then focus on succeeding Trump, not beating him. A Trump retirement would be a game-changer.

E-mail Russ@russstewart.com or visit his website at www.russstewart.com.

Share