I … did not see this one coming.

Senator Fred Thompson was named national co-champion of the non-partisan National Popular Vote campaign Thursday, saying the nation cannot “run the risk of having a president who is handicapped by not having won the most popular votes.”

“We live in a time when the American people are increasingly cynical about their government’s ability to deal with our most pressing problems,” said Thompson. “This means that there is a need for bold, effective presidential leadership as never before.

“Therefore, we simply can no longer afford to run the risk of having a president who is handicapped by not having won the most popular votes. The National Popular Vote approach offers the states a way to deal with this issue in a way that is totally consistent with our constitutional principles.

“This is an idea whose time has come.”

If you missed Laura Brod’s conservative case for a NPV — and Ed Morrissey’s response — published right here at HA last August, read it now, especially the rebuttal to the claim that small conservative states will be effectively disenfranchised if this passes. Grassroots conservatives (like grassroots liberals) forever insist that most of the country agrees with them ideologically. If that’s the case, then there’s little to fear from an NPV. The NPV probably wouldn’t be unconstitutional either: Peruse Article II of the Constitution and you’ll find nothing that explicitly says the will of the majority of a state’s voters should guide that state’s electors when voting for president. Arguably, of course, it’s implied in the organization of the electoral college: If the Founders thought a national popular vote was copacetic for choosing the president, then presumably they’d never have provided for state electors. Should the NPV ever pass enough states to decide an election, that’s one of the grounds it’ll be challenged on in court. The other is probably the Guarantee Clause in Article IV, which says the feds will guarantee a republican form of government in every state. If Texas votes Republican and America votes Democrat and Texas’s electors follow the latter rather than the former, then arguably you’ve tripped over that clause. I doubt that objection would win in court since Texas would only be bound by the NPV if its state legislature chose to ratify it, but if you’re looking for lines of attack, there you go.

And yet, arguments aside, it feels surpassingly strange that Fred Thompson is out in front on this, doesn’t it? He’s the avatar of no-nonsense conservatism, the guy you expect to hold the line whenever something of dubious constitutionality is tried. Instead, he’s helping to lead the end-around of the electoral college. Very odd. And while I understand his worries about perceptions of presidential legitimacy if, a la 2000, the electoral college winner has fewer popular votes than the loser, the NPV simply sets him up for the opposite problem. If we enact the NPV and a Republican who otherwise would have won a majority of electoral votes is denied the presidency because his Democratic opponent won the popular vote (or vice versa), the new president will be handicapped by the fact that he/she would have lost under America’s traditional system (the one used to conduct presidential elections in the times of the Founders, no less). You run into the same legitimacy problem, just on the other end. I don’t get it.