It’s entirely believable that he said this. He said the same thing to “60 Minutes” in November, after all. Like his preoccupation with the size of his inaugural crowd and his suspicions about millions of illegals voting, it’s partly a symptom of his insecurity over Democrats questioning the legitimacy of his victory. The left thinks his presidency comes with an asterisk because he lost the popular vote? Fine. Let’s move to a popular-vote system in 2020, he’s saying, and he’ll win then too. He’ll show them.
In fairness, though, he’s shown disdain for the electoral college before. On election night 2012, as the returns were coming in, he somehow convinced himself that Romney might win the popular vote despite losing the presidency. “The electoral college is a disaster for a democracy,” he tweeted. Even now, he retains some antipathy to it.
Two days later, the president had senior lawmakers over to the White House for an informal gathering. The group included the House and Senate leadership. During the gathering, the talk turned to campaigns, elections and voter fraud.
Mr. Trump then told the group that he was interested in getting rid of the Electoral College and replacing it with a national popular vote, say people who attended. Mr. Trump lost the popular vote to Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton, a fact that has irritated the president to the point that he has called for a national probe of alleged voter fraud.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, a Kentucky Republican, spoke up, pointing him to the 2000 recount in Florida that lasted more than a month until it was halted by the U.S. Supreme Court. Imagine what a nationwide recount would look like. Mr. Trump demurred, and said he was fine to leave the current system in place.
I like the idea of him giving a long shpiel about how the electoral college is outdated and undemocratic, McConnell coming back at him with a mundane point about recount logistics, and Trump instantly giving up. Give McConnell credit too for thinking fast and offering a nonpartisan reason for opposing a popular-vote system instead of the real reason, which of course is, er, that the GOP might never win another presidential election once it’s in place. We’re one for seven since 1992 and that’s not likely to improve as the country changes demographically absent some serious partisan realignment among minorities or higher turnout among working-class whites (which Republicans will be focused on in 2020 and beyond). Who knows, though? Trump might like the idea of being the last Republican president. Pelosi and Schumer should work on him.
He wouldn’t need a constitutional amendment to achieve this, remember. He’d need one to abolish the electoral college, but he can neutralize it and set up a de facto popular-vote system simply by leaning on a few red states.
We wrote about the National Popular Vote compact a few times in November and December. That compact takes advantage of the fact that state legislatures can award their presidential electoral votes however they choose. If they want to give them to whichever candidate wins the national popular vote instead of the one who wins their own state popular vote, that’s all good. All you’d need to make the national popular vote decisive, then, is to have enough states sign on to the compact to account for 270 electoral votes between them. Already 10 blue states plus D.C. have passed laws adopting the compact; together they account for 165 electoral votes. If Trump persuaded the legislatures of just four red states to follow suit — Texas, Florida, Pennsylvania, and Ohio — that’d be another 105 votes, amounting to exactly 270 total. Four states! That’s all he needs to set up a popular-vote death match in the political octagon with Elizabeth Warren or Cory Booker or whoever in 2020. And Republican politicians have been so servile towards him so far, I half-believe the legislatures in those states would go along with him if he asked. The GOP suicide-pact watch is on!