Delegitimization of Obama begins
The Republican drive to delegitimize President Barack Obama’s possible second term has started.
As recent polls have allowed for the possibility that Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney could win the popular vote while the president carries the Electoral College, the conservative blogosphere has lit up not only with long-overdue attacks on the Electoral College but also with the specious argument that a popular-vote loss for Obama will undermine his mandate and justify continued obstruction by Republican lawmakers.
Under the Constitution, the Electoral College winner becomes president. Candidates know that when they plan their campaigns, and wise candidates could care less about the popular vote when they plot strategy and deploy resources. The popular vote, therefore, is a misleading measure of a candidate’s success or the strength of a mandate.
Obama came into office in 2009 with a powerful mandate after an overwhelming victory in both the popular vote and the Electoral College. Yet the experience of his first term demonstrates all too painfully that Republicans feel no need for excuses to obstruct every initiative the president supports. Rather, it is enough for them – as Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) so boldly stated – to pursue the goal of defeating the president by denying him success.
Their strategy has been to refuse to compromise, or even support, measures they had previously promoted, so they can assert that the president failed to bring people together and could not forge legislative results. They have worked tirelessly to stymie him ‑ and then accused him of being stymied.
The list of thwarted initiatives is long. Republican efforts nearly defeated the president’s stimulus bill, which economists agree created millions of jobs. They fought to prevent passage of universal healthcare ‑ turning on the individual mandate, a Republican creation. They opposed or slowed his Cabinet and agency nominees, preventing him from getting key people in place to staff his administration. They also threatened routinely to filibuster judicial nominees ‑ even when they had no substantive objections.
In the most irresponsible action taken by any political party in memory, Republicans united to bring the country to the brink of fiscal default and refused any deficit-reduction package that contained a dollar of new revenue. The damage to the country was significant ‑ and unnecessary.
In 2000, of course, Al Gore won the popular vote by more than a half-million votes but never contested the notion that the winner of the Electoral College vote should become president. Democrats did not question George W. Bush’s mandate because he had lost the popular vote. Rather, many resented Bush because he had lost the popular vote and had persuaded five justices of the Supreme Court to intervene in the electoral process to award him an undeserved Electoral College victory.
Fortunately, repeating that scenario remains highly unlikely.
Polling shows that Obama leads the popular vote in every region except the South, where, according to Gallup, he trails by 22 percent. While Obama trails among white voters in other regions, nowhere is this discrepancy as great as in the states that fought to preserve slavery. No small part of Obama’s Southern deficit is due to the Republican Party’s embrace of voters fueled by racial resentment, which has brought the party consistent support across the former Confederacy. Since the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act the following year, the South has moved steadily into the GOP column. Beginning with Richard M. Nixon, the Republican Party pursued its “Southern strategy” to encourage white voter backlash against remedies for racial injustice. Without these voters, Romney would not be competitive in the popular vote.
By contrast, Obama enjoys enormous leads in major population centers, including New York, Los Angeles and Chicago, and in the states of New York, California and Illinois. He is certain to receive all their electoral votes without spending any real effort campaigning or running a TV ad in any of them.
If the goal were to accrue as many votes as possible nationwide, the Obama campaign could pump resources into getting out the vote in these states, as well as the rest of the Northeast ‑ where the only competitive presidential contest is in tiny New Hampshire. An Obama campaign to win the national popular vote would look far different from his campaign to win a majority in the Electoral College ‑ and would produce a far larger popular vote.
Sadly, the popular vote in this election is likely to be further skewed by Hurricane Sandy, which hit most devastatingly in the Obama strongholds of Maryland, Delaware, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, New York, Connecticut and Rhode Island. In many areas, the infrastructure needed to operate and get people to the polls will not be fully operational on Election Day. Perhaps more significant, people trying to recover from Sandy’s devastation are, quite understandably, less likely to focus on getting to the polls. As fundamental as the right to vote is, in the absence of power, fuel, food and transportation, it is likely to slip as a priority.
In the unlikely event that Obama should be reelected without carrying the popular vote, however, there will surely be members of the opposition irresponsibly hurling that fact around as reason to reject the president’s second-term agenda.
Anyone who believes them should be embarrassed. Rather, we should all turn our energy to rethinking the Electoral College ‑ which has long since become obsolete.
PHOTO: The Supreme Court in Washington. Molly Riley / REUTERS