Donald Trump got fewer votes for president than Hillary Clinton, which means that he’s our president-elect purely because of the Electoral College.
And in an interview with 60 Minutes that aired Sunday, even he couldn’t really defend that. Trump said that he would “rather see” the presidential race’s outcome determined by a simple popular vote. “You know, you get 100 million votes and somebody else gets 90 million votes and you win.”
Only on Tuesday morning did Trump seem to have second thoughts and realize that he should defend his win more aggressively, sending the following tweets:
If the election were based on total popular vote I would have campaigned in N.Y. Florida and California and won even bigger and more easily— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) November 15, 2016
The Electoral College is actually genius in that it brings all states, including the smaller ones, into play. Campaigning is much different!— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) November 15, 2016
For background, on election night 2012 — when Mitt Romney had lost in electoral votes but still briefly led Obama in the popular vote total because California hadn’t come in yet — Trump sent a furious series of (later deleted) tweets denouncing the Electoral College and calling for a “revolution.”
Naturally, CBS’s Lesley Stahl asked the president-elect about this during an interview that aired Sunday, now that he’s the beneficiary of our country’s anachronistic system. “You tweeted once that the Electoral College is a disaster for democracy,” she said. “Do you still think it’s rigged?”
Trump dodged at first, saying, “Look, I won with the Electoral College,” and adding that “some of the system” is rigged. But when pressed, he later offered this:
I’m not going to change my mind just because I won. But I would rather see it where you went with simple votes. You know, you get 100 million votes and somebody else gets 90 million votes and you win.
There’s a reason for doing this because it brings all the states into play. Electoral College, and there’s something very good about that. But this is a different system. But I respect it. I do respect the system.
Trump’s statement that the Electoral College “brings all the states into play” seems to ring a bit hollow, since in practice the winner is determined by a few swing states that happen to be divided politically. However, the system does ensure that states have electoral votes to cast in the first place, rather than being irrelevant in favor of actual people whose votes are treated equally.
In any case, if our president-elect truly does want to reform the system, he could prove it by throwing his support behind the National Popular Vote Interstate Compact.
This is a proposal in which states agree that they’ll pledge all their electors not to its state winner but to the victor in the national popular vote — but only if states controlling 270 or more electoral votes have agreed to do the same. If they do, and everything works as planned, then whoever wins the popular vote will necessarily win the electoral vote too.
Ten states (including massive California and New York) and the District of Columbia, which together control 165 electoral votes, have already enacted the compact into law. But there’s one big obstacle: All of the states that have adopted it are solidly Democratic, with zero being Republican or swing states.
Perhaps once he’s sworn in, President Trump can make the case to swing states and Republican-dominated rural states that they should sign on to the compact, so that all Americans’ votes for president are truly treated equally under an effective national popular vote system.
Yeah ... I’m not holding my breath.