It's the Democrats, Stupid
The Democratic primary contest for president reminds me of "Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Blackbird" by Wallace Stevens, one of my favorite poems. Almost all the candidates, like a Greek chorus, complain about the undemocratic nature of the electoral college and blame it for the two recent elections where the Democratic candidate received the most votes, but the Republican candidate won the White House.
Politicians are good at blaming others for their defects; Trump and Clinton are equal in that respect. My understanding of the electoral college leads me to believe that it is the behavior of the Democrats and not the operation of the electoral college that has cost them the two recent losses where they received more votes.
Waiting Until All the Votes are Counted
It is a good idea to wait until all the votes in an election are counted before deciding who won. Pressures of polling and news cycles have relegated that idea to the dustbin of quaint ideas. Jimmy Carter changed the standard when he conceded defeat to Ronald Reagan on election night in 1980 before the polls had even closed on the west coast and in Hawaii.
Everyone in politics knows it takes days, weeks, and even months for all the votes in an election to be accurately counted. So, what exactly prompted Al Gore to jump into his limousine at 2 a.m. on election night, allegedly without checking with his numbers person, Michael Whouley, when the polls in the west had been closed for only three hours and the polls in Florida's panhandle for only six? That stupid move cost him the election.
Gore won the 2000 election and even carried Florida. The poorly designed butterfly ballot in Palm Beach, which put thousands of Gore votes in Buchanan's column, might have been more closely examined had Gore not already conceded and then retracted his concession.
But even without the butterfly ballot, there are other proofs of Gore's victory. Florida voted on paper ballots that were then scanned. The vote of a person who votes twice in the same race is discarded. However, in Florida law, as in many other states, it is the intent of the voter that counts.
There were 120,000 overvotes in the Florida presidential race, meaning people voted twice for president. (Please note, overvoting is impossible on machines.) Of these 120,000 overvotes, 100,000 were cast by people who voted for a candidate for president, and then wrote-in that same candidate's name. People voted for Gore, and then wrote-in Gore's name; or voted for Bush and then wrote-in Bush's name.
Technically, these people voted twice, so the machine count discarded their votes. But had the ballots been brought before a judge, the clear intent of the voter would have been discerned and the ballot counted. Of the 100,000 overvotes for the same candidate, 60,000 were for Gore and 40,000 were for Bush, which makes sense because Gore's supporters were more likely to be less educated or first-time voters, making them more prone to mistakes. So, Gore clearly carried Florida. This was shown by the election night exit polls that prompted the news networks to call Florida for Gore early. But as the election results started being counted, given the butterfly ballot in Palm Beach County and the overvotes all over the state, the actual result of the election did not reflect the result the voters intended.
Now, there was only one official who could have asked for a complete recount of all the votes in Florida, the Governor, Jeb Bush, the brother of George W. Bush, the losing Republican candidate. The Governor refused to exercise his constitutional duty to produce an accurate and fair count of the election. This is the reason Gore asked for a recount in only four counties. As a challenger to the election results, he was required to ask for a recount in each of Florida's 67 counties individually. As mentioned above, only the Governor could request a full recount. Even Gore's campaign did not have the resources to ask for 67 individual recounts.
Of course, it was Bush's decision to ask the Supreme Court to stop the vote count (a novel way of deciding an election) which implied his decision to try to win regardless of what the electorate decided. Gore compounded the problem by picking David Boies, a lawyer with no election experience, to defend his case before the United States Supreme Court. Gore's legal team asked to examine the ballots where no vote for president was recorded, not the ballots where more than one vote was recorded.
Still, Gore did not have to abide by the Supreme Court Decision. He could and should have taken his case to the public and tried to persuade a few electors to change their votes. Disqualification of fraudulently chosen electors is what happened in the Hayes-Tilden contest in 1876. Republicans alleged that black voters had been prevented from casting ballots in the south so two sets of electors' ballots were sent to Washington. The House of Representatives formed a committee to decide the question and awarded all 20 of the contested electors to Rutherford B. Hayes, the Republican. The price Hayes paid was to abandon reconstruction in the south, but that was a political price. As far as the claim that the vote loser won the 1876 presidential race, the fact is that the House decided that Hayes might have been the popular vote winner if all the people in the south had been permitted to cast ballots.
Remedying election fraud and stolen ballots is impossible in a straight number crunching system. The electoral college constitutes a check on local election cheating.
So, far from the electoral college having been the problem in 1876, it was the solution, and might have been the solution in 2000 had Gore not been such a gutless wonder. Gore's mantra during his acceptance speech at the Democratic convention was: "I will fight for you." That turned out to be the biggest lie of the campaign. He wouldn't even fight for his victory all the way through the electoral college.
Another proof that Gore won the election is that the selection of Bush made no governmental sense. Polls showed the country closely divided between the Republicans and Democrats. Republicans controlled Congress. Do you think a divided country would intentionally elect the first all-Republican administration in 48 years by putting a Republican with fewer votes than the Democrat in the White House?
In 2000, the economy was booming. The country had its first budget surplus in decades. But George H. W. Bush, the father of the losing George W. Bush, had been Director of the Central Intelligence Agency which is devoted to and adept at overthrowing governments. The Bush clan devoted those skills to overthrowing their own government.
Scott McClellan, who was Bush's press spokesman in Texas and the White House, wrote in What Happened, that Bush never even claimed to have won the 2000 election, the phrase used within the campaign during the contest was to "bring it in for a landing." Bush was so angered by McClellan's perceived treachery that he never mentioned McClellan's name in his own memoir although McClellan had been Bush's spokesman both when he was Governor in Texas and president.
And if the Republicans had won the election they never would have had to bring congressional staffers down from Washington to riot outside Boards of Election to stop the count, and they never would have asked the Supreme Court to stop the count. A legitimate victor would want to ensure every vote was counted so their mandate would not be tarnished; that is if they cared about the country more than themselves, which is true of neither party.
In truth, Bush stole the election, but Gore let him steal it. Like the collusion between the two parties that prevent independent candidates from appearing in the staged "debates," the Republicans and Democrats both decided to change the constitution without the advice and consent of either the congress or the electorate by relegating the electoral college to the trash heap and substituting the partisan supreme court instead.
The electoral college is the guarantee of equality between the branches and non-partisanship in our system of government. Donald Trump, who has been running for president his whole life, who wrote to George H.W. Bush in 1988 suggesting that he be the Vice-Presidential nominee, who sought the Reform Party nomination for president briefly in 2000, is really an independent candidate. He ran an insurgent grassroots campaign, which is why he is president.
There was another reason the Democrats lost the 2000 election that they won with the voters ‒ Dynastic Dreams.
President George H. W. Bush's father was Connecticut US Senator Prescott Bush. H.W.'s son Jeb was Governor of Florida and the other son, George W. was the Governor of Texas before being elected president. The Bush family was a veritable dynasty.
When Bill Clinton defeated H.W. in 1992 to become president, he also had dynastic dreams. He said, "Hillary would make a great president."
So, during the 2000 race, while Hillary was running for Senate in New York State, President Clinton not only might have been distracted by his wife's race, but it wouldn't have taken a genius to posit that if Gore won and was re-elected in 2004, Hillary's chances of becoming president would be nil.
And Bill Clinton might also have been less than hot for Gore after he picked as Vice-Presidential candidate Senator Joe Lieberman, the first Democratic senator to publicly criticize him for the Monica Lewinsky affair. That hostility would have been validated during the contest over the election when Lieberman supported the Republican position that late absentee military ballots should be counted, but not civilian ones.
There had been a Bush or a Clinton on every national ticket for the 24 years from 1980 to 2004. So, in 2016, when it looked like the nation might again face another Bush-Clinton contest, the voters freaked out.
Both Bush and Clinton, in pursuit of their dynasties, had prevented the emergence of any alternative power centers in their respective parties. Rather than promote new talent, they quashed the careers of anyone who might offer an alternative to their power.
This weak bench became obvious when it came time for Hillary to choose a vice-presidential nominee; there was no one else in the entire Democratic party with presidential stature. The same problem faced the Republicans in 2016. Once Jeb Bush's lackluster campaign fizzled (after raising about $140 million), there was no Republican of national stature to stand in the way of Donald Trump.
The Bushs and Clintons turned their respective parties into private gangs which is another reason we have President Trump and a congress struggling to remain a co-equal branch with the chief executive.
The Popular Vote Winning Losers - A Family Affair
So, if the 1876 election was properly decided by putting the popular vote loser into the White House, what can be said about the other four elections with a popular vote-winning loser?
The elections of 1824, 1888, 2000 and 2016 all had candidates who were related to former presidents.
In 1824, John Qunicy Adams was the son of President John Adams. Andrew Jackson won that election with 41% of the vote in a four-way race but received only 99 of the 131 electoral votes needed for victory. With the electoral college unable to decide, the race became a contingent election where the House of Representatives, with each state having only one vote, decided the election in Adams' favor.
In 1888, Benjamin Harrison, the grandson of President William Henry Harrison, was elected president when New York, then the biggest state in the union with 36 (18%) of the 201 electoral votes needed to win the White House, deserted incumbent President and former Governor Grover Cleveland. Cleveland defeated Harrison in the popular vote by 94,530 (0.83%) but lost his home state of New York with its 36 electoral votes by 14,373 (1.09%).
Cleveland's support for lower tariffs and the opposition of the corrupt Tammany Machine in his party and state cost him the election. If Cleveland had carried New York, he would have won the election 204 - 197.
The 2000 election had George W. Bush, the son of President George H. W. Bush, win the election through the intervention of a corrupt Supreme Court.
The 2016 election, with candidate Hillary Clinton, the wife of former President Bill Clinton, rounds out the four minority elections, each having a relative of a former president as a candidate.
So, it is just as likely that the presence in the election of a relative of a former president as a candidate is as much responsible for the minority victors as the operation of the electoral college itself.
How Much Damage Has the Electoral College Done?
The damage done to the country by putting the popular vote loser in the White House was virtually nil until 2000. In 1828, Andrew Jackson, the popular vote winner four years earlier, came back to win in a landslide that stood for almost a century. He then served two terms.
And Grover Cleveland came back in 1892 to claim the second term that had been denied him in 1888. In 1892, Cleveland won with a solid 3% in the popular vote and almost 2 to 1 in electoral votes. He even carried New York by 45,518 (3.1%).
So, in the 19th century, the electoral college seemingly righted the wrong of preventing blacks from voting in 1876, and delayed Andrew Jackson's first term by four years and Grover Cleveland's second term by four years. Not a lot of damage.
In 2000, it was the unconstitutional interference of the federal Supreme Court preventing the State of Florida from determining its electors and bringing the controversy to the electoral college.
In 2016, Hillary lost because of Hillary, not because of the electoral college. I have explained How Hillary Lost http://www.leinsdorf.com/2016/How%20Hillary%20Lost.htm and Why Hillary Lost http://www.leinsdorf.com/2018/Why%20Hillary%20Lost.htm elsewhere.
It's the Democrats, Stupid
There is an old saying in politics that "you can't beat somebody with nobody." Trump is a reprehensible person and a dangerous president. All the Democrats endlessly waste their breath and listeners' time telling the voters how bad President Trump is. Negativity is good for depressing the vote for the opposition and keeping independent voters home, but in the end, voters have to vote for someone and something. No matter how bad Trump is, his opponent could be worse.
Voting is an affirmative act, pushing a button, filling in an oval, or pulling a lever. Candidates need to give people a reason to vote for them. In the 2000 New York Senate race, Rick Lazio ran on an almost exclusively Stop Hillary strategy and lost. Yet, Hillary and the Democrats ran an almost exclusively negative Stop Donald strategy in 2016.
How stupid can you get?