Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton walks off the stage as Republican nominee Donald Trump remains at his podium after their third and final 2016 presidential campaign debate in Las Vegas, Nev., Oct. 19, 2016. 
Photo by Rick Wilking/Reuters

The ‘mandate’ debate looks past Clinton’s popular-vote victory

I can appreciate why many find the discussion about the popular vote irrelevant – and as a practical matter, it is. There’s a system in place; candidates were told in advance to play by the rules; and by constitutional mandate, the one who reached the 270 electoral-vote threshold wins the presidency.

But certain democratic principles shouldn’t be dismissed out of hand. To hear Donald Trump’s team tell it, Americans have not only endorsed his candidacy, they’ve also given him the authority to pursue his unpopular agenda.
Kellyanne Conway, a key adviser to Donald Trump’s transition team, says the general election “was not close” and the president-elect has a “mandate” to carry out the will of the people on issues ranging from Obamacare to national security.

“This election was not close. It was not a squeaker,” Mrs. Conway said on “Fox News Sunday.” “There is a mandate there.”
By one account, incoming White House Chief of Staff Reince Priebus told MSNBC this morning that Trump won a “landslide” victory.

And while there’s no denying the legitimacy of Trump’s victory, it’s this triumphant rhetoric that keeps bringing me back to that pesky popular vote. Americans were given a choice between two major-party candidates, and by all appearances, by the raw metric of simply counting votes, Trump came in second.

Indeed, to borrow Conway’s phrasing, it wasn’t exactly a “squeaker.” The West Coast votes are still being counted, but by some estimates, Clinton may very well end up with a popular-vote advantage of about 2 percentage points.

That’s a bigger advantage than JFK in 1960 and Richard Nixon in 1968 – and they won.

Again, Trump is the president-elect. Rules are rules. The process is flawed, but we can’t pretend it was illegitimate just because enough voters chose a ridiculous candidate. Let’s also not pretend, however, that Trump is riding a wave of popular support into the White House – because he isn’t.

The Democratic candidate received more votes than any candidate in American history who’s name isn’t Barack Obama. By some accounts, Democratic Senate candidates and Democratic House candidates also received more votes than their Republican counterparts in this year’s elections.

Republicans would have us believe this is trivia better left ignored, but here’s a hypothetical to consider: if Democrats were poised to take control of the White House, Senate, and House next year, despite receiving fewer aggregate votes, do you suppose we’d be hearing more about it? How about after Dems claimed a “mandate” as a result of the outcome?

After Preisdent Obama won twice with relative ease, Republicans refused to work with him on any issue. Now imagine their rhetoric if the GOP candidate actually earned more votes.

Finally, for those of us who aren’t sure if we still recognize the United States after last week’s presidential election, E.J. Dionne Jr., pointing to the popular vote, explained this morning, “Let’s be clear: The United States of America is not Donald Trump’s country.”

Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton

The 'mandate' debate looks past Clinton's popular-vote victory