The Slatest

Republicans Should Own the Libs by Abolishing the Electoral College

A small group of people hold Trump, U.S., and thin blue line flags.
Supporters of President Donald Trump hold a rally in Los Angeles on Wednesday. Frederic J. Brown/Getty Images

Republicans have won the popular vote in only one election in the 21st century. Yet they’ve managed to hold the White House for 12 of the past 20 years. So, it’s not surprising that views on ending the Electoral College in favor of the national popular vote break down along partisan lines. The GOP’s inability to command a nationwide majority has also led some senior Republicans to assert some fairly nutty ideas about democracy.

On one level, the 2020 election was more of the same. There was almost no doubt before Nov. 3 that Joe Biden would carry the popular vote, and indeed he looks set to win it by more than 5 million votes—a record. But this election also scrambled some long-prevailing narratives about the country’s political demography. In short, Republicans may now have a once-in-a-generation chance to bet on themselves by supporting the abolition of the Electoral College–and make Democrats look really stupid in the process.

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The conventional wisdom has long held that high-turnout elections favor Democrats. There’s a reason for the GOP’s hostility to universal mail-in ballots, early voting, and other measures to make voting easier. But in the highest turnout election, percentage-wise, since 1900, Trump expanded his electorate, earning more votes than any other presidential candidate in history—except for Biden.

Some of that expansion came in deep-blue states. Analyst Dave Wasserman notes that Hawaii appears to have had the largest vote increase between 2016 and 2020 (33.8 percent) as well as the biggest pro-Trump swing (-32.2 points to -29.5 points.) “If anything, the move to universal mail ballots might have helped Trump by drawing out relatively disengaged voters,” he wrote. Hawaii is not going to go Republican any time soon, but it’s not crazy to think the margins could continue to shift.

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Trump has claimed in the past that he could have beaten Hillary Clinton in the popular vote if he had campaigned in blue states like New York and California. Whether or not that’s true, the notion itself is not absurd. Trump earned 5.4 million votes in California in 2020—more than the entire population of most of the states he won—despite the fact that those 5.4 million Californians were entirely irrelevant in this election and there was little effort put into the state. Imagine how many of them there might be if the party were trying to win there.

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A big part of the reason for the GOP’s current Electoral College advantage is that the party dominates in rural areas, which are overrepresented, while Democrats tend to cluster in cities. But that narrative is looking a little more questionable as well. Much of the Republican suspicion around Pennsylvania’s vote has focused—in depressingly predictable fashion—on Philadelphia, but Trump actually improved his performance in the city; it was in the surrounding suburbs where he lost ground. Trump gained votes in New York City this year as well, with his largest gains coming from the South Bronx.

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Liberals have long believed that the country’s demographic future would assure their dominance, as the country became gradually less white. That storyline is looking a little shakier after Trump grew his share of the Asian, Black, and Latino vote this year.

Again—it’s unlikely Republicans will win the majority of these groups any time soon, but it’s not outlandish to think they could improve their margins to the point that they wouldn’t be dependent on the artificially inflated votes of predominantly white, rural areas forever.

On the other side, this election could also be taken as a warning that the GOP’s hammerlock on the Electoral College advantage won’t last forever. It looks almost certain now that Biden narrowly won Georgia (which hasn’t voted for a Democrat since 1992) and Arizona (1996). The real tipping point in this conversation will be Texas, which hasn’t gone blue since 1976 but has been getting tighter in the past three elections. Trump won it 52.2–46.4 percent this time. If Texas and its 38 electoral votes become genuinely winnable, Democrats may suddenly go quiet on abolishing the Electoral College, and Republicans will have missed a chance to get on the right side of this issue.

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Just picture it: It’s 2028, and Sen. Fill-in-the-Blank has just defeated Kamala Harris in the first presidential election decided by national popular vote. A frazzled Steve Kornacki notices that Harris won more votes in Texas, but these were offset by Republican gains across the Upper Midwest and Northeast. With no calculator handy, Kornacki does some quick math in his head and realizes that Harris would have won the Electoral College if the two parties hadn’t come together to abolish an antiquated and undemocratic system.

Republicans, imagine how good that would feel! Don’t let it slip away.

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