Conservatives ceding persuasion?
A recent column supporting the direct election of the president and abolishing the Electoral College attracted conservative trolls rather than my usual liberal ones. So, I was called an idiot rather than a racist. It was a refreshing change of pace.
There must be some precooked talking points circulating in conservative circles regarding abolishing the Electoral College. Virtually every critic, troll and thoughtful, made the same point: If the Electoral College were done in, the president would be chosen exclusively by the die-hard progressives in California and New York. No other state would matter.
There’s some dubious math underlying that contention.
In 2016, California and New York cast 16 percent of all the votes for president.
They did go overwhelmingly for Hillary Clinton, who carried the two states with nearly 6 million more votes than Donald Trump mustered. Nationwide, she received nearly 3 million more votes than Trump. So, her popular vote margin certainly received considerable fuel from these two states.
However, a Republican facing that kind of a deficit in those two states would only have to carry the rest of the country by 53 percent to 47 percent, among votes cast for the two main party candidates, to overcome it. That’s hardly an insurmountable obstacle.
Donald Trump was a weak Republican candidate. For example, he carried Arizona by only 91,000 votes. In 2012, Mitt Romney carried Arizona by 208,000 votes — against a much stronger opponent and with a smaller electorate.
Moreover, if the election were determined by popular vote, the Republican candidate would campaign in California and New York. Chances are that the Democratic advantage coming out of those two states would narrow.
With a popular vote, all votes matter and no part of the country would be overlooked or taken for granted, as occurs for most of the country under the Electoral College system. That includes the rural areas.
Again, Arizona provides an illustration. Arizona elects all its statewide officers by popular vote. The state is far more heavily urbanized than the country as a whole. Fully 76 percent of the electorate lives in Maricopa and Pima counties. Over 60 percent lives in just Maricopa County.
Yet, in elections, voters in the nonurban counties aren’t ignored. They are eagerly solicited. And they can make the difference.
In 2014, Diane Douglas lost both Maricopa and Pima counties. Yet she won the superintendent position by racking up larger than usual margins in the Republican rural areas.
Every election, Democrats invest heavily in trying to turn out the vote on the sparsely populated Navajo reservation.
Campaigns can walk and chew gum at the same time. If every vote counts the same, every vote is worth pursuing.
Now, I think that the discussion over the Electoral College is academic. The small states would have to voluntarily give up their disproportionate clout to move to directly electing a president.
And that’s not going to happen, at least any time soon.
Nevertheless, what I find most distressing about conservative opposition to the direct election of a president is the assumption that a conservative candidate couldn’t win in such a system. That political sentiment is set and unmovable. And that without the added weight of the Electoral College to the votes of conservative states, liberal candidates are sure winners.
How far the Republican Party has drifted from the sunny, evangelical conservatism of Ronald Reagan and Jack Kemp. They were always seeking converts, not just trying to rile up the choir.
In 2016, Trump essentially filled an Electoral College inside straight. That’s not a long-term winning strategy.
Electoral College or popular vote, conservatives need to convince more people that their policies are preferable. Including those who live in densely populated, urban areas.
Given that they are currently almost universally misgoverned by liberals, that shouldn’t be impossible.
Reach opinion columnist Robert Robb at email@example.com.
Columnist Arizona Republic USA TODAY NETWORK