The Electoral College Will Not Save the GOP | Opinion

Our civics lesson for today is the electoral college. Many Republicans cling to the hope that it will save them again. History, unfortunately, tells a different story.
The electoral college was wisely set up by the Founders to ensure that all states (13 at that time), large and small, had a voice in the selection of the new country's president. This was crucial because the states prior to the adoption of the Constitution were more akin to sovereign countries with their own trade policies and currencies. The electoral system as designed allowed each state to determine the method whereby its "electors" were chosen who then met to select the country's president.

The system has many advantages over a national popular vote. As noted, it gives sovereign representation in the electoral college to all states no matter its size. It ensures that we will never have a national vote recount, something that could have happened several times in our history, especially in 2000. At least until 2016, the Electoral College has magnified, not erased, national popular vote outcomes. Hence the winners of close elections in 1960, 1968, and 1976 saw their electoral college majorities exceed their popular vote and solidify the result that was broadly accepted.

But the system can also induce electoral denial and a false sense of security, something that affects Republicans today. For the fact is that since George H. W. Bush's overwhelming victory in 1988 Republicans have won exactly ONE popular vote majority in the last seven national elections. For those counting, that represents thirty two years, a period just a decade short of the length of Republican domination post-Civil War to Woodrow Wilson's election in 1912. The electoral college elected Bush 43 in 2000 and Donald Trump in 2016. However, it also gave strong majorities to Bill Clinton in 1992 and 1996, two elections where his popular pluralities were converted to strong wins in the Electoral College. So both parties have benefitted from the political stability induced by the electoral college.

The complacency this has instilled in today's Republicans should be concerning. Trump's win in 2016 represented the largest spread between popular and electoral college votes, a development that may measure the growing division in the country between so called blue and red states. It's much harder to develop and implement national programs and themes that appeal to all parts of America.

But it's hard to find many Republican partisans today who believe it is even possible for Trump to win a popular majority. This is concerning because political parties should be promoting a governing agenda that appeals to all parts of America. It's also concerning because if this year's turnout numbers are anywhere near what is being projected, the GOP will not be rescued by the electoral college.

Here are the popular vote totals for the Republican candidates (McCain 2008, Romney 2012 and Trump 2016) in the last three presidential elections: 59 million, 62 million and 63 million, a relatively flat turnout performance. But the Democratic totals (Obama 2008 and 2012 and Hillary Clinton 2016) are eye opening: 70 million, 65 million and 65 million. Trump survived in 2016 with a slightly higher turnout in critical Midwestern states plus Pennsylvania. He would not have won those states ( save Ohio) if Hillary Clinton had reached Barack Obama's 2012 totals and would not have won any of the states with Obama's 2008 turnout.

Observers have predicted this year's turnout might approach 150 million, a huge increase from the 2016 mark of 136 million and its 55.7 percent voter participation rate. Bill McInturff, Republican pollster and co-director of the highly respected NBC News–Wall Street Journal poll, says he has not seen voter interest measure higher at this point in an election cycle since he started asking the question in 1996. Many states have already seen record breaking early in person and mail in vote totals. This enhanced ability to vote prior to election day is another factor guaranteed to spike turnout. While Republicans are energized and will vote in large numbers, the growing parts of the population are Democratic oriented and include African Americans, Hispanics, and young people, basic components of the Obama coalition who for whatever reason did not vote in large numbers for Hillary Clinton.

Have Republicans grown content with turning out their base voters without offering fresh appeals to new groups that are now an important part of the electorate? The weakness in popular vote totals for the GOP should spur concern. Instead, through silence and inaction, Republicans are doubling down on a red fortress strategy that might become anachronistic as early as this November.

Frank Donatelli served as assistant for political affairs to President Ronald Reagan and as deputy chairman of the Republican National Committee during the 2008 presidential campaign of John McCain.

The views expressed in this article are the author's own.​​​​​