Ripped Donald Trump signs lay on the floor at a rally in Radford, Va., Feb. 29, 2016.
Photo by Mark Peterson/Redux for MSNBC

White House inadvertently reminds us of Trump’s popular vote loss

Updated

During the fight over Brett Kavanaugh’s Supreme Court nomination, White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders complained that Democrats were “trying to undercut the voice of the American people” who elected Donald Trump.

There was, however, a problem: the American people not only opposed Kavanaugh’s nomination, they also didn’t elect Trump president. In the American system, for good or ill, the electoral college elevated Trump to the White House, despite the fact that more Americans voted for his opponent. In fact, it wasn’t especially close: Hillary Clinton ended up with nearly 3 million more votes than the candidate who took power.

Yesterday, Sanders returned to the subject while complaining bitterly about media coverage of the Trump administration.

“[T]he president is delivering on exactly what he said he was going to do if elected. And he got elected by an overwhelming majority of 63 million Americans who came out and supported him, and wanted to see his policies enacted.”

It’s true that Trump ended up with 63 million votes. It’s also true that Hillary Clinton ended up with nearly 66 million votes.

In other words, the Republican president wasn’t elected by “an overwhelming majority.” Or a regular ol’ majority. Or even a plurality. Americans were given a choice and the electorate didn’t choose Trump.

That’s not to say the popular vote alone delegitimizes his presidency. Our system allows for the candidate whom Americans didn’t choose to take office anyway – something that’s happened twice in the last five presidential elections.

But every time the White House pretends Trump rode to office with a popular mandate for his agenda, we’re reminded anew that this president came in second when Americans cast their ballots.

In fact, Trump won 46% of Americans, which not only falls short of an “overwhelming majority,” it also falls short of what plenty of losing presidential candidates managed to get, including Mitt Romney, who received 47% four years earlier. John Kerry topped 48% eight years before that. Neither, as you may have noticed, moved into the White House.

If Trump and his team want to make the case for their agenda, their ideas, and their nominees, they should certainly do so with vigor. If they’re convinced they have a stronger case to make in support of their vision than their rivals’, let’s hear it.

But to keep arguing that Americans necessarily endorsed this president’s wishes when they cast their ballots, and so everyone has a responsibility to get in line behind Donald Trump, is a mistake that defies recent history.

* Postscript: Trump has argued from time to time that he secretly won the popular vote, and it only looks like he lost it because of a nefarious conspiracy theory. If this is how Sarah Huckabee Sanders arrived at her “overwhelming majority” argument, she should say so explicitly.