Nothing exemplifies pure politics better than debates over the Electoral College. We all knew the deal going in, so the winner of that contraption is rightly the president of the United States.
But spare me the invocations of fairness and the founding fathers, because we’ve junked what they wanted.
Donald Trump, as we’ve been told over and over, won because elites overlooked “ordinary Americans.” But the founders also overlooked them in devising the Electoral College. They didn’t trust regular folks with a popular election.
In 2012, Trump called the Electoral College “phony,” when, for whatever reason, he thought Mitt Romney was going to win the popular vote. “The loser wins,” he tweeted. “Revolution!” Now that’s he’s the “loser,” there’s no need for pitchforks and torches. In fact, he’s called his victory a “landslide.”
Let’s be honest: If the situation were reversed, Team Clinton would drop its arguments, and Team Trump would pick them up.
As for the founding fathers, the Electoral College no longer resembles what they had in mind, because the two-party system arose afterward and pushed states into passing laws that pin down electors. The founders wanted these elite citizens to make up their own minds.
We could move to a popular vote, or we could keep the Electoral College that exists today – the one that essentially turns electors into rubber stamps. Where you stand is probably tied to the particular outcome you’d like to see.
Republican? Then defend the added weight the system provides for rural areas, which has resulted in two victories since 2000 despite losing the popular vote. Democrat? Switch to a popular vote, which would put voters in highly populated areas on equal footing.
Let elite electors make up their own minds? Supporters of this are dead; yet their “genius” is invoked incessantly.
Clearly, the founders had some concern about population centers swamping the desires of folks in the hinterlands, which is why Wyoming, population about 600,000, has the same number of senators as California, about 39 million. But even then, they wanted elites (state legislators) to choose those senators. And for the first 125 years, that’s how it was done.
If we wanted to forever honor the founders, we wouldn’t have adopted the 17th Amendment, which called for the direct election of senators. Note that these candidates spend most of their time in urban areas, because that’s where the most votes are. Why no electoral college for them? Why isn’t there one for governors? If we we want to add weight to rural votes, shouldn’t we devise some way too boost the Ferry County electorate? How about the Spokane County Commission? Currently, voters in Spokane overwhelm those in Spangle. And guess where the candidates spend most of their time?
But no change is afoot in Washington, because the Democrats usually get the governors they want, and Republicans do just fine in countywide races. Neither party would allow the other to change this.
So the notion of a work-around to mitigate potential popular vote “damage” is confined to the presidential contest. Hence, the peculiar defenses that arise only in that race.
“With a popular vote, candidates will only visit heavily populated areas!”
Currently, they concentrate on a handful of swing states, with Florida, Ohio and Pennsylvania getting the most attention because they’re heavily populated. The rest of the country is flown over.
I don’t have the answer, but I also know that the current system didn’t come packaged with purity in mind. It’s politics, and perhaps that’s the way it should be. After all, it is a political system.
It’s OK to admit it.
Opinion Editor Gary Crooks can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (509) 459-5026. Follow him on Twitter @GaryCrooks.