Trump: I would have won the election even in a popular-vote system

Don’t ask me why he’s tweeting about this when he has a transition to worry about. Maybe the grumbling about his win being illegitimate, dumb though it is, is getting to him.

It’s an interesting question, though. Is he right?

He hasn’t always felt that way about the electoral college, but never mind that. He’s got a point about his chances of winning an election that was decided by the popular vote. Assuming that Clinton would have won the popular vote in a system without an electoral college just because she won it in the system we have now is like assuming that the Cubs would have won the World Series if home runs were suddenly worth two runs instead of one. One simple rule change would have triggered a cascade of strategic shifts, large and small, that might have led to a completely different outcome. If Trump had skipped campaigning in New Hampshire in order to spend more time getting out the Republican vote in California and New York, his raw vote totals surely would have been greater than they were this year.

But what about Hillary’s vote totals? Nate Silver sees room for improvement there too:

A lot of Republicans in deep blue states like CA and NY didn’t bother to turn out because their votes didn’t matter — but plenty of Democrats did the same, and there may have been more of them than there were of GOPers given how heavily Democratic those states are. Only slightly more than half of California’s eligible voters ended up casting a ballot this year. Clinton campaigning there would have changed that. (The opposite is true in Texas, of course. Trump campaigning there aggressively might have turned out many more Republicans who didn’t bother to vote last week because they knew Trump would win the state easily.) Likewise, the sheer size of both states would have favored Clinton because she had more money to spend on advertising and GOTV operations. As Silver says, in smaller swing states like Iowa, you quickly run out of media markets to spend money in and doors to knock on. Not so in California, New York, and Illinois, where the markets are much bigger and the ad costs more exorbitant. Hillary could have managed that more easily than Trump could have. Meanwhile, with Trump spending more time in California and New York, what would have happened to his surprisingly strong support in the Rust Belt states? Those states have leaned Democratic over the last 30 years; Trump spent a lot of time there this fall to turn out voters and succeeded, but inevitably they would have been somewhat more neglected in a popular-vote election.

It makes me wonder what the secondary strategic effects would be in a popular-vote system, especially knowing how badly Clinton neglected the Rust Belt this time on the assumption that they would break Democratic with little effort on her part. This is a candidate, mind you, who spent more on advertising in the final weeks of the campaign in Nebraska’s Second District than she did in Michigan and Wisconsin combined. No joke. In a popular-vote system, would she spend 90 percent of her time in big blue and purple states like New York, California, and Florida, or would she again simply assume that Democrats would turn out en masse for her there like she assumed about MI and WI and focus her energy elsewhere? Maybe she’d campaign in Texas to try to draw out Latino voters there. And what about Trump? Would he barnstorm the deep south trying to turn out Republicans who typically don’t vote because their states are noncompetitive? Or, convinced of his crossover appeal, would he focus on the Rust Belt to try to drive up Republican turnout and flip Democratic votes there? I agree with Silver that Clinton would probably win since she had more resources and, after all, there are more registered Democrats nationwide than registered Republicans. But it’d be fun to see one of the data sites model that election.

Clinton’s lead in the popular vote now exceeds a million votes, by the way. Here’s Brianna Keilar politely humoring an elector who wants to block Trump in the electoral college. Semi-related exit question via James Antle: Could any other Republican have won this election? Trump fans will scream “no!” — and they’ve got a good case. Marco Rubio probably would have lost the Rust Belt but might have been able to flip Colorado, Virginia, and Nevada while holding Trump’s other states. If so, he would have won very narrowly. John Kasich would have had a shot too, as he’d have some native appeal in the Rust Belt. He wouldn’t have turned out the white working class the way Trump did but he might have turned out more college-educated whites and enough whites without a degree to beat an unpopular Democrat like Clinton. I think Trumpers are on firm ground, though, in thinking that no one else could have won this election this way, or by as much of a margin as Trump did.