Karen Tumulty has a piece in tonight’s Post on the non-trivial chances that we could have a split between the popular vote and the electoral college.I don’t want to make this about her because it’s a very timely question and clearly it’s already getting canvassed and frothed up by partisans. So let me direct the following not to her but to those laying out what are clearly a set of factoids designed to suggest that an Obama win in this way would be unique and untenable.
1. “What has never happened before is an incumbent president being returned to office after the majority of the electorate voted to throw him out.”
2. “Every modern president to be re-elected — Dwight D. Eisenhower, Richard M. Nixon, Ronald Reagan, Clinton, George W. Bush — has gotten a bigger share of the vote in their second bid for office than their first, and with it, a chance to claim a mandate.”
3. And finally … “A win in the electoral college that is not accompanied by one in the popular vote casts a shadow over the president and his ability to govern. If Obama is re-elected that way, “the Republican base will be screaming that Romney should be president, and Obama doesn’t represent the country,” McKinnon predicted. “It’s going to encourage more hyperpartisanship.”
Now, the possibility of election without a national majority exposes a genuine glitch in our system. No doubt. It is also true that these are the rules we play under and there is little reason to think that we’d have just the same result if both candidates were trying to maximize raw vote nationwide. Think how many more votes both candidates would mobilize in New York, California and Texas — not to mention among African-American voters in hopelessly red states in the South. But mainly to those making these arguments I would make the following points: Get over it and most of all STFU.
This happened no more than twelve years ago for the first time in a century. Democrats were crushed and outraged. And in response to various suggestions that newly-inaugurated President George W. Bush would need to govern in a form of national unity government Bush responded by pursuing one of the most maximalist and aggressive agendas in recent American history.
The difference between a non-incumbent and an incumbent winning this way is no more than some sort of pseudo-fact. It quite simply is what it is. And having been perfectly happy with it twelve years ago Republicans would have no grounds for complaining now.
Now, would they have grounds to be upset? Sure. Would this lead to “more hyperpartisanship”? Please. No greater ‘hyperpartisanship’ is possible than the scorched earth, 100% ‘No’ policy we’ve seen over the last four years, which frankly is little different from the scorched earth, 100% ‘No’ policy of 1993-2001. Remember, Bill Clinton was illegitimate because he was a plurality not a majority president.
Let’s hope the winner of the electoral vote also wins the popular vote. It’s best for everyone. But if it doesn’t happen, please, don’t make me laugh.