Presidential nominees Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton shake hands at the close of the second presidential debate at Washington University in St. Louis, Mo., Oct. 9, 2016.
Photo by Mark Peterson/Redux for MSNBC

The size of Donald Trump’s popular-vote loss keeps growing

Kellyanne Conway, Donald Trump’s campaign manager, was so impressed with her boss’ margin of victory, she recently declared, “This election was not close. It was not a squeaker.” A day later, RNC Chairman Reince Priebus, soon to be the White House chief of staff, declared Trump’s victory a “landslide.”

Last week, Corey Lewandowski, Trump’s former campaign manager and a key Trump insider, claimed with a straight face that the Republican president-elect “won the election campaign by the largest majority since Ronald Reagan in 1984” – which isn’t even close to being true.

Every time I’m inclined to stop mentioning the popular vote, Team Trump gives me a reason to circle back.

When it comes to the metric that decides the outcome, Trump won 306 electoral votes, which is roughly 57% of the total. That’s more than enough to win, but it’s not especially close to the electoral totals earned by Barack Obama (in 2008 and 2012), Bill Clinton (in 1992 and 1996), or George H. W. Bush (in 1988).

But then there’s that other metric.
Hillary Clinton’s popular vote lead surged above 1.72 million on Sunday night, with millions of votes still to count. At 1.3 percentage points, she has built a lead not seen in a losing campaign since Rutherford B. Hayes’s bitterly disputed election of 1876.

The 2016 results have no such disputes, however. Mrs. Clinton’s lead keeps rising on her strength in California, where her margin stands at 29 percentage points, up from President Obama’s 23 percentage points 2012.
As a matter of percentages, Clinton’s current popular-vote advantage is greater than that of seven candidates who won the presidency, including Kennedy and Nixon. Her popular-vote win is roughly in line with George W. Bush’s victory over John Kerry in 2004.

And votes are still being counted. By some measures, Clinton may end up with a popular-vote margin of roughly 2.5 million votes, pushing Trump well below the share of the popular vote than Mitt Romney received.

Remember, we’re not just talking about raw vote totals, which can be misleading: as the country grows, more people vote. The fact that Clinton received more votes than any American in history whose name isn’t Barack Obama is a nice piece of trivia, but little more.

The more salient point is that Clinton is the most successful popular-vote candidate in percentage terms of any candidate who didn’t win. With this in mind, Paul Waldman raised a good point yesterday:
Legally speaking, that fact is irrelevant. But the fact that a couple million more Americans chose Clinton to be their president is highly relevant to Trump’s legitimacy.

In normal circumstances, a minority president might take it as a strong suggestion to tread carefully – not just to “reach out” to the other party by appointing one or two of its members to his Cabinet or by inviting its congressional leadership over for dinner, but to govern with an awareness that most Americans still need to be convinced that his presidency will be something other than a disaster. That means moving carefully, making efforts to assure the people who voted against you that they won’t be victimized by your presidency, and not undertaking sweeping, disruptive changes that the public isn’t behind.
Trump and his team, of course, are doing the exact opposite, even pretending his victory was an impressive and historic triumph.

As we discussed last week, there’s no denying the fact that 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 not pretend, however, that Trump is riding a wave of popular support into the White House – because he isn’t. Let’s also not pretend that if Trump lost the election but won the popular vote by 2.5 million that the political world would spend little time discussing anything else during the transition process.

And finally, let’s not pretend that Democrats should head into 2017 with their heads down and their tail between their legs, reeling after a public rejection. They lost, but they also won more votes, and have every reason to act accordingly.



Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton

The size of Donald Trump's popular-vote loss keeps growing