“My goal is to get elected and then abolish the unfair corrupt system that elected me,” says Stephen “redsteeze” Miller, paraphrasing her here.
My goal is to get elected—but I plan to be the last American president to be elected by the Electoral College. I want my second term to be elected by direct vote. pic.twitter.com/a2Lj2a9F0F
— Elizabeth Warren (@ewarren) December 2, 2019
Miller’s tweet is only a half-joke, as Democratic interest in getting rid of the electoral college will endure even if they win the White House next fall. They’ve lost the presidency twice in the past 20 years despite having won the popular vote, and while they seem confident that their national advantage will only continue to grow, they also know that it’s apt to be inefficiently distributed. California may be getting bluer by the millions each election but that doesn’t help in Wisconsin. If the Democratic nominee next year increases Hillary’s popular-vote margin over Trump but only squeaks through the electoral college, this will remain a subject of discussion
…a minor subject of discussion. Nothing would prove that the electoral college isn’t an insuperable obstacle to Democratic presidential hopes like, er, proving that it’s not an insuperable obstacle to Democratic presidential hopes. Some Dems seem to suspect that the party can’t win midwestern swing states anymore in an era when the GOP nominee has consolidated white working-class votes; either they get rid of the electoral college somehow or they’re locked out of presidential power for years to come unless and until unforeseen events, like a recession, intervene on their behalf. But of course that’s goofy. Even a candidate as charmless and as far removed from MAGA Nation’s core economic and cultural concerns as Hillary Clinton nearly won those Rust Belt states. Having the 2020 nominee win will restore some Democratic faith that 2016 was an anomaly, that the electoral college is *a* problem but not so much of one that good Democratic candidates can’t prevail there even against a righty populist practicing white identity politics.
So this subject will fade — a little. Dems will still understand keenly that switching to a national popular vote system would give them a stranglehold on the presidency in the near term as right-leaning white voters age out of the electorate and left-leaning nonwhite ones age in. As a matter of basic electoral self-interest, their interest in changing the system will abide right up to the moment that the national electorate’s baseline preference for Democrats is suddenly in doubt, and then suddenly they’ll see the virtues of the electoral college again.
Either way, needless to say, President Warren would have no power to make the sort of change she mentions here. The only way to get it done short of a constitutional amendment would be with the National Popular Vote compact, in which states with 270+ electoral votes collectively among them pledge to award their EVs to the winner of the national popular vote irrespective of how their individual state votes. They’ve already gotten 16 states with 196 EVs between them to ratify the deal; as you’d expect, all are solid blue apart from Colorado, which is trending towards being solid blue. Where do they get the last 74 votes from, though? No red state will consider an arrangement that would end up roadblocking the GOP from the presidency potentially for decades, and swing states won’t want to squander the special attention they get from national politicians every four years by adopting a system that would end their special-ness.
The only way you’d get national consensus on changing the electoral college is if the dynamics somehow changed and it’s Republicans who ended up winning the popular vote consistently while Democrats leveraged an EC advantage to claim the presidency. That’s hard to imagine given demographic change plus the fact that the GOP’s won the popular vote only once in the past 30 years, but if it happened then we’d suddenly have a race between red states to adopt the National Popular Vote compact before blue states that have already adopted it could repeal it.
Anyway. “Making absurd, completely unrealistic promises is rapidly becoming her specialty,” said David French of the clip above, mindful of Warren’s Medicare for All debacle. She’s not really making a promise, though. She knows that abolishing the electoral college is unimaginable in the near future, even if some of her lower-information supporters don’t. This is simply litmus-test stuff for her base, to let them know that she shares their concern about the GOP using “undemocratic” but perfectly constitutional means to win an office that’s supposed to be rightfully theirs.