Around the time of Barack Obama’s re-election campaign in 2012, which the incumbent president won with relative ease, one of his high-profile hecklers denounced the system that helped keep the Democrat in office. “The electoral college is a disaster for a democracy,” Donald Trump declared on Nov. 6, 2012.
At the time, Trump thought that Obama had won a second term based on electoral votes, but would end up losing the popular vote. (Obama actually topped 51% of the popular vote, though that wasn’t clear in the immediate aftermath of the election.) It was against this backdrop that Trump published a series of tweets about the need for a “revolution” to prevent the “disgusting injustice” of having an American president who only won thanks to the electoral college.
Trump added at the time that the electoral college is “phoney.” (I assume he meant “phony,” and was not trying to describing something related to phones.)
Oddly enough, the Republican continued to criticize the electoral college, even after he lost the popular vote in 2016. “I’m not going to change my mind [about the electoral college] just because I won,” Trump said the week after his election.
As recently as last spring, he remained consistent on the issue, telling Fox News in April 2018 that he’d prefer a popular-vote system.
But as his own re-election campaign nears, and a variety of Democratic presidential candidates express their opposition to the electoral college – Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), for example, endorsed its demise this week – Trump has apparently abandoned everything he’s ever said on the subject. The president argued via Twitter:
“Campaigning for the Popular Vote is much easier & different than campaigning for the Electoral College. It’s like training for the 100 yard dash vs. a marathon. The brilliance of the Electoral College is that you must go to many States to win.
“With the Popular Vote, you go to just the large States - the Cities would end up running the Country. Smaller States & the entire Midwest would end up losing all power - & we can’t let that happen. I used to like the idea of the Popular Vote, but now realize the Electoral College is far better for the U.S.A.”
So much for his “disaster for a democracy” assertion.
To the extent that reality matters, Trump’s argument is badly flawed. For example, the electoral college doesn’t require candidates to visit “many” states; it requires candidates to visit competitive states. Millions of Americans don’t live in battleground states, and as a result, they’re largely ignored by national campaigns.
This affects residents with massive populations (California, New York), small populations (Vermont, Wyoming) and plenty of states in between (Alabama, Louisiana, Kentucky). After the primaries, major-party nominees tend not to step foot in most states.
What’s more, Trump’s concern about cities “running the country” is a curious one, which I’d love to hear him explore in more detail. Does the president believe urban areas – which tend to have more diverse populations – should necessarily have less political influence?
Postscript: Overnight, the Republican also tweeted that he considers it “strange” that Democrats want to abolish the electoral college. “Actually,” Trump added, “you’ve got to win it at the Ballot Box!”
The first point contradicts the second. Indeed, that’s the whole point of the debate: the candidate who wins “at the ballot box,” as Hillary Clinton and Al Gore did, sometimes loses, despite winning more votes.