To win an election campaign requires one to deal with reality as it is, and not as fantasizes it to be. Understanding reality does not guarantee victory, but obsessing with fantasy does guarantee defeat.
I’m still feeling gobsmacked from the pasting I got last week from critics of my 9/2/19 Flash column, wherein I wrote that while the Electoral College elects the president, the size of the popular vote helps determine how effectively he can govern. I still haven’t figured out exactly why so many were offended by what I thought was a perfectly rational and documented conclusion. But I think one reason my column provoked such anger is that I broke an important Republican taboo: I said that Donald Trump lost the popular vote to Hillary Clinton.
In some Republican circles it is argued and apparently believed, that Trump’s popular vote loss was due to widespread fraud perpetrated by illegal aliens who broke the law to vote and that if only American citizens had voted, Trump would have won the popular vote as well as the all-important electoral vote. Now, about 130 million cast their votes in 2016, and it would be ridiculous to think that not a single vote was illegally cast. But to date, no elected official, not even the most hardcore Republican state secretaries of state, has produced credible evidence that enough millions of illegals voted to throw the popular vote to Clinton. Assuming most (not necessarily all) votes were legally cast, then the popular vote outcome reflects a more serious problem for the GOP: Its limited and possibly diminishing appeal to the American electorate.
This problem is longstanding. In all but one of the last seven presidential elections, beginning with the election of 1992, the Democratic nominee has outpolled the Republican in the popular vote. Only in 2004 was President George W. Bush, with all the advantages of incumbency, able to eke out a small popular vote majority. Granted, the Republicans were still able to win a majority of the electoral vote—and hence the White House—in both 2000 and 2016, but those were fluke elections. Usually, the electoral vote follows the popular vote. The Republicans can’t expect to be able to win the electoral vote, no matter how the popular vote turns out, forever. Without losing their focus on the electoral vote, they somehow must begin winning the popular vote as well.
Of course, it makes perfect sense to insist that photo IDs and proof of citizenship be displayed by those going to the polls before they’re allowed to vote, but to focus only on the problem of potentially illegal voting is to ignore the need to broaden the party’s base and appeal, as well as the need to develop more effective ways to boost voter turnout. Effort spent obsessing over whether illegals are being allowed to vote is effort diverted from finding new voters and new ways to appeal to all voters, new and old alike. GOP must get their heads out of the sand of fantasy, and get to work confronting reality.
Fortunately for the GOP, the Democrats have their own fantasies and obsessions which may help the GOP win in 2020: They remain obsessed with Russia, no doubt believing Trump actually did collude with Putin, despite the Mueller Report’s findings to the contrary. And they’re too eager to blame Russian interference in the election, with or without collusion, on Clinton’s loss, despite the lack of evidence that Russian mischief actually shifted Clinton votes to Trump. They’re not yet ready to acknowledge that a major reason for Clinton’s loss was that she was a horrible candidate, produced by a rigged election process, and guided by strategists who focused far less on winning the electoral vote than Trump’s more able strategists did. And today’s Democratic presidential candidates are offering policy proposals—the Green New Deal, Medicare for All, student loan forgiveness, reparations for slavery, abortion up to the moment of birth—which Republicans can easily characterize as wildly impractical, impossibly expensive, and dangerously radical.
In short, the Democrats, no less than the Republicans, are too obsessed with fantasies to grapple with the reality that President Trump is a far more formidable candidate than they imagine, and that they’re not going to defeat him by proposing a radical policy agenda. General election voters typically reject those they perceive to be radicals, whether of the left or of the right. Just get Ouija board and contact Presidents Barry Goldwater and George McGovern for confirmation.
I’ve written elsewhere that President Trump’s advantages in 2020 will include a strong economy, a loyal party base, and an Electoral College wherein red states have more representation than blue states. Normally, the state of the economy is the determining factor. But in 2020 the victory may well go to the first party whose activists abandon their fantasies to deal with reality—in other words, the first party whose activists get their heads out of the sand.
Let the brickbats begin.
Malcolm L. Cross has lived in Stephenville and taught politics and government at Tarleton since 1987. His political and civic activities include service on the Stephenville City Council (2000-2014) and on the Erath County Republican Executive Committee (1990 to the present). He was Mayor Pro Tem of Stephenville from 2008 to 2014. He is a member of St. Luke’s Episcopal Church and the Stephenville Rotary Club, and does volunteer work for the Boy Scouts of America. Views expressed in this column are his and do not reflect those of The Flash as a whole.