For the Electoral College

Time and again a close election leads to hand-wringing about the need for Electoral College reform; time and again, politicians and parties respond to the college’s incentives, and more capacious and unifying majorities are born.

Does this theory fit our current situation? In a sense, yes. Donald Trump could win the presidency without a popular-vote majority only because both parties have been locked into base-turnout strategies that are partially responsible for our government’s ineffectiveness and gridlock. And to the extent that Hillary Clinton’s campaign leaned into this polarization (writing off many constituencies that her husband competed for), she deserved her electoral-college loss.

Trump could also only win the presidency without a popular-vote majority because a large region of the country, the greater Rust Belt and Appalachia, had been neglected by both parties’ policies over the preceding decades, leading to a slow-building social crisis that the national press only really noticed because of Trump’s political success. In this sense, Clinton’s weird post-election boast that her half of the country was way more economically dynamic indicated the advantages of a system where a declining region can punch above its popular-vote weight — because it makes it harder for a party associated with economic winners to simply write the losers off.

Ross Douthat

March 25, 2019

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