The Breakfast Table

War on the Electoral College

Your shameless plug worked: I read your column about interviewing voters in Waterford Township, Mich. It’s the kind of place that more and more Americans are living in, places that didn’t exist a few years ago. They’re springing up all over Texas, too. I’m not surprised that, as you wrote, “no one brought up prescription drug plans for the elderly, the excesses of HMOs, school vouchers, or the need for a tax cut.” The people in these places live their lives almost apart from politics. If they’re anything like their counterparts down here, they don’t want much from government except good schools for their kids. They’re not so much undecided as uninterested. No doubt that would change if someone tried to build a landfill nearby, or if the economy collapsed, but as long as times are good, politics is irrelevant to their lives. In the long run, these kinds of communities spell trouble for the Democrats, whose message boils down to, “We’re all in this together.” In places like Waterford Township, the response is, “Like hell we are.”

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This has been an amazing day. Austin is totally agog with anticipation of Tuesday night. I think Election Night is the biggest thing that has ever happened here, even bigger than UT football games back when Darrell Royal was winning national championships during the ‘60s. This is a Democratic town, very atypical of Texas, but the only parties that matter now are the ones that are being given all over town tomorrow night. Bush’s outdoor bash will take place in front of the capitol and will feature jumbotrons facing in all directions. The main street downtown, Congress Avenue (so named, if you’ll pardon a little Texas chauvinism, because Texas was a nation when Austin became the capital), has been blocked off for several days. The parking lots between the capitol and the governor’s mansion are jammed with trailers and satellite trucks from every network in the world. Wires dangle from trees and light poles; you can’t walk anywhere around the capitol in a straight line because of all the scaffolding for TV cameras. Everybody you see on the street has credentials dangling from the neck. All of this has brought home to me what a huge event the election of an American president is. This is the biggest story in the world, and it’s right here.

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One troubling note: I ran into a Republican state senator today and asked him what would happen if Bush won the popular vote but lost the Electoral College. For several days, a rumor has been flying around town, spread by the Gore folks, that the Bush forces had a plan to lobby electors to switch their votes to their man. I wasn’t taking notes since this was a casual conversation, so I can’t tell you exactly what the answer was, but I came away with the distinct impression that this was the plan. I suggested that such a course would amount to a coup d’état, an attempt to overturn the outcome of a constitutionally held election, and the senator’s response was, “A coup, yes, but not a coup d’état.” Then he started talking about Kennedy stealing the 1960 election in Illinois, as if that justified anything. Will the country stand for this? Will the media? I think that a challenge to the Electoral College is a lot more serious than a fling with Monica Lewinsky, but based upon my sample of one, margin for error plus or minus 50 percent, Republicans do not agree. Do you think we’re headed for trouble?

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