The Old [Electoral] College Try
The howls were heard from coast to coast in 2000. Let's junk the Electoral College, liberals cried. It's outmoded. It's outrageous. Why? Because in the first election of the New Millennium, the Electoral College had produced one of its very rare instances where the winner of the popular vote, Vice President Al Gore, had lost the critical vote of the Electoral College.
The popular vote that tumultuous year went narrowly for Gore. He won 50,999,897 votes (48.9%) to Texas Gov. George W. Bush's 50,456,002 (47.9%). The Electoral College tally, however, gave Bush the narrowest of victory margins-271 to 266 for Gore. And under our Constitution, it is the Electoral College and not the popular vote that determines the legitimate winner of the Presidency.
Hillary Clinton, then a newly-elected U.S. Senator from New York, loudly demanded an overhaul of the Electoral College. Soon, Barack Obama, a state senator in Illinois, would join her call for abolishing the venerable institution. The Electoral College seemed to be the only college where these liberal icons did not want to hold an election rally, or shower with more federal funds. Former Vice President Al Gore, twelve years later, has come on board for abolition of the Electoral College. Perhaps he felt he would seem a sore loser had he urged boarding up this dear old Federal U. earlier.
Now in 2012, the liberal dovecote has gone strangely silent. No more cooing about the injustices and undemocratic nature of the Electoral College. Wonder why? Perhaps it's because this year some pundits are seeing President Obama's re-election hopes hinge on a narrow victory in the Electoral College even if he loses the popular vote.
Well, I'm a Grover Cleveland fan. My favorite Big Man in the White House ran three times for president. He won outright in 1884. Then, in 1888, was defeated for re-election. President Cleveland won the popular vote narrowly over Republican Benjamin Harrison, (48.6% to 47.8%) but suffered a big defeat in the Electoral College (168 to 233).
Democrat Cleveland was a serious constitutionalist, so he obediently left the White House. His lovely young wife, Frances Folsom Cleveland, winked as she told the White House usher to keep everything in proper order as they would be returning in exactly four years. True to the First Lady's word, the Clevelands moved back into the Executive Mansion on March 4, 1893.
Once again the Electoral College worked its wonders. It converted Grover Cleveland's narrow popular-vote victory over the incumbent President Harrison (46.1% to 43.0%) to a comfortable Electoral Vote margin of 277-145.
This was and is the way the Electoral College is supposed to work. During the two Reagan campaigns of 1980 and 1984, we never tried to divide the country into red states and blue states, but viewed the country as red-white-and-blue states -- and tried to win them all. He very nearly did, capturing forty-four states in his first bid and forty-nine in his re-election drive. Reagan pounded Jimmy Carter 489-49 in `80 and Carter's vice president, the luckless Fritz Mondale, 525-13 just four years later.
Candidate Barack Obama also showed how the Electoral College is supposed to function in 2008. He created a national wave, riding that support into a comfortable 53% popular vote majority. His Electoral Vote haul was expanded to 365-173 for the hapless John McCain.
Few candidates since Reagan enjoyed such a sweeping mandate. The debate today is about what President Obama did with his mandate. Should the American people stay with him in his desire to "finish what we started together"? Or should they go with his challenger, who maintains "we cannot afford four more years of this"?
Whatever the voters decide on November 6th, I hope we will hear an end to carping about the Electoral College. If Gov. Romney's lead in the Gallup Poll is accurate and it holds up, he should enjoy a substantial victory in the popular vote. That probably will translate into a healthy Electoral College win.
But if not, if the president is re-elected by virtue of a majority in the Electoral College even while losing the popular vote, I pledge no whining. This is the system our Founders bequeathed us. It is better than any proposed changes. It has served us well over 224 years since the first election in 1788. The alternative is hanging chads and pregnant chads in every precinct. Talk about a recipe for disaster!