Trump lost the popular vote by 2% but won the electoral college by over 14%. It’s not like the EC vote was off by a tiny bit. No, the gap was HUGE.
Politics has changed dramatically (and likely forever) with the Rise of Trump (ROT). To continue to play as if the rules are unchanged is a recipe for failure, even irrelevancy.
Dems — governance for the people
While no party is of course perfect, the Dems have been much more aligned with trying to actually represent their constituents. They’ve taken up issues that affect the lives of millions and using facts and data have tried to move the needle, make things better for a large swath of voters, aiming for fair and balanced, and moving things generally morally forward.
Michele Obama famously said, “When they go low, we go high.”
Michelle’s is a noble and good sentiment but noble sentiments don’t win wars and it’s time to accept the fact that we’re in a different kind of war.
GOP – win the war at all costs
Meanwhile the GOP is occupied with figuring out how to “game the system” to their advantage. There are a number of loopholes in the system they have put into play to assure themselves of a solid advantage. We’ll discuss them below.
Why are they doing this? Likely it just comes down to a love for money and power. P. J. O’Rourke, the famous (and probably only) conservative humorist used to argue in his best seller Parliament of Whores that there were mostly genuinely good-hearted conservatives in Washington and maybe this was true at the time of that book. His more recent book about the 2016 election How the Hell Did This Happen? has a different perspective on things.
The idea of the reasonable Arnold Vinick from West Wing was always a bit fancifully appealing, but now it’s just a distant faded memory.
The fierce headwind
So you can sit around naively thinking your vote will fix things next election but we need to open our eyes to the fairly complex set of obstacles which stand in our way.
Let’s take a look at some of the ways the GOP is assuring itself of an advantage moving forward.
One person, one vote
A key feature of the system they want to game is the Electoral College. Whereas we like to think that every person has one vote, and that every vote is equal, that is in fact far from true.
“The conception of political equality from the Declaration of Independence, to Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address, to the Fifteenth, Seventeenth, and Nineteenth amendments con mean only one thing — one person, one vote,” the Supreme Court rules almost a half a century ago. — How Much Is Your Vote Worth?
Due to the difference in allocation of electors, a vote is worth almost four times more in Wyoming than it is in Colorado. That’s a huge difference and a very attractive thing to exploit.
The existence of the Electoral College is basically a hack to allow low-population agricultural states to get some say in the money/resource flow. There are much better solutions available which serve the same purpose but don’t tarnish the presidential race.
There’s a further component of the EC that is an attractive target and that’s the winner-take-all which is basically just leveraging rounding errors, e.g. 0.51 rounds up to 1.0, effectively a 2x difference.
This is a truly bizarre component of modern vote-rigging that has been allowed to go on and has mysteriously passed court approvals. There are lots of good videos on YouTube that help you visualize how gerrymandering works to thwart the democratic will of the people. Here’s a good really short one. Both parties play this game but the GOP plays it more and much better, to the tune of about four to one.
Gerrymandering is a topic unto itself. Here’s some starter reading.
You only get 65% of your representative
Another apparently curious thing is that once you’ve elected a representative, they will only vote the will of their constituents about 65% of the time. Maybe this doesn’t sound bad but it’s hardly better than what you’d get with a 50% coin flip. Those issues which garner popular support from both sides? They typically live in that 35% gray zone that never gets called to a vote.
All these factors are interrelated but campaign finance issues are at the heart of how your representative gets into office and stays there. We allow powerful interests to donate money to representatives (also known less euphemistically as “bribing” them) and a big piece of that 35% above is them helping out their rich donors.
Almost immediately upon being elected your representative needs to turn their attention to raising more money for next election, distracting them and biasing them away from the concerns of their constituents.
Campaign finance reform gets high marks from both sides but will that ever get a vote? Not likely.
There are pros and cons to term limits but limiting a representative to something akin to the presidential limit would mostly break the non-representative cycle: spending a significant portion of time fundraising for the next election. It would also make it less attractive for large interests to “buy” a politician who had a guaranteed shorter term.
Another way of affecting the outcome of the vote is getting picky about who can vote. This is typically done in rather indirect ways so it can’t be said that it’s targeting a specific group or party, but yeah, let’s be frank, it’s targeting specific groups. It’s not some altruistic thing to form a better democracy.
Side note: some countries make voting mandatory, some make it easy. We could have a national holiday so folks could get off work to vote. Typically the folks who have the easiest time voting are the ones who can take discretionary time off and those are typically the salaried voters nearer the top of the income scale. Blue collar folks can’t just tell their boss they’re going to step out to vote. Maybe make it easier instead of harder for everyone to participate?
Stacking the courts
Selecting non-elected officials who line up with GOP partisan ideas guarantees a slant in the other areas of government. Voters don’t choose these people, they typically serve for life, and are therefore a great investment and a strong temptation for gaming the system.
A justice retired under Obama, the GOP stalled appointing a new justice until they could grab the presidency, and now the stolen justice is ruling in favor of GOP-led travel bans. What a great way to help your policies for years and years ahead with none of that pesky voter supervision.
The courts are probably the most visible long term appointments but there are plenty of others.
What the Dems face
To pretend that this is not the current reality is to stick your head in the sand. Or harking back to an ancient business book Who Moved My Cheese, to continue to pretend the game is played by rules which no longer are followed by both parties.
I’m not advocating that the Dems need to become as unethical and hypocritical as the GOP, but they need to play the game by the current rules. Ditch the Pollyanna goodie-two-shoes bit. It’s no longer polo with a pleasant break for tea, it’s rugby out there.