I prefer the GOP, but if each popular vote were a dollar of income earned and accumulated over twenty-eight years, then the DNC would be much richer than the RNC by $21,468,701.
Federalism. Great. Sign me up. State by state the Grand Old Party is healthy, but it is difficult to transfer, say, Utah’s policies to California.
The president, however, can influence all of the states with his signature on bills that push policies like high federal corporate taxes or by appointing liberal federal judges, as Obama did, just to cite those two examples.
On the presidential level, the GOP is unhealthy. In addition to constitutionalism, it is little wonder why conservatives (rightly) protect the Electoral College, which has twice saved the GOP when it lost the popular vote.
This post provides a table of the presidential popular vote matchups from 1988 to 2016, using the Federal Election Commission certified election results, except for 2016, which have not yet been certified, so we rely on CNN’s results (subject to adjustments)
Starting point: Since Reagan was such a pivotal figure in American politics after FDR, no one has yet been able to match his charisma and preternatural optimism and experience as a two-term governor of the most populous state and one of the most prosperous ones in the union (in his time) before he decided to run for president. Before him, from JFK to Carter there were a string of Democrats or liberal Republicans. Ike decided to run as a Republican, though the Democrat party was a genuine option for him. Before him—FDR and Truman. Admittedly JFK was conservat-ish, but in 1964 true-blue conservative Goldwater got crushed.
For all we know, a hundred years from now historians will look back on our time and perhaps conclude that conservative Reagan was a one-off immortal. Thus it is better to gauge where the American public is in terms of liberal and conservative politics after him.
This post asks—how does America, taken as a whole, feel about mortal politicians and their two main parties and policies?
In the table below the non-Democrat and non-Republican candidates are not counted, since it is tricky to figure out which way the voters would have turned if the other parties had not run. The best example is Ross Perot in 1992. The interpretation of the data is mixed. If Perot had withdrawn, it’s not clear how many of his voters would have gone for Bush Sr. or Clinton or someone else or stayed home. So let’s streamline the analysis by looking at the two major parties only.
The bold font indicates the winner of the popular vote.
|1988 Bush / Dukakis||48,886,097 (53.37%)||41,809,074 (45.65%)|
|1992 Bush / Clinton||39,104,545 (37.45%)||44,909,889 (43.01%)|
|1996 Clinton / Dole||39,198,755 (40.71%)||47,402,357 (49.24%)|
|2000 Bush / Gore||50,456,002 (47.87%)||50,999,897 (48.38%)|
|2004 Bush / Kerry||62,040,610 (50.73%)||59,028,444 (48.27%)|
|2008 McCain / Obama||59,948,323 (45.65%)||69,498,516 (52.93%)|
|2012 Romney / Obama||60,933,504 (47.20%)||65,915,795 (51.06%)|
|2016 Trump / Clinton||62,652,263 (46.3%)||65,124,828 (48.3%)|
|Popular Vote Difference||+21,468,701|
|Average votes per cycle||52,902,513 (46.16%)||55,586,100 (48.35%)|
|Average difference||+2,683,587 (+2.19%)|
If each popular vote were a dollar of income earned and accumulated over twenty-eight years, then the DNC would be much richer than the RNC by $21,468,701. Clearly the voters like “doing business” with Democrats more than with Republicans.
It’s reasonable to say that the totals and averages could have been bigger for the Democrats if Bush Sr. weren’t hanging on to Reagan’s coattails and Dukakis weren’t so weak—just over 7 million votes (53.37/ 45.65). It’s been downhill ever since then.
Republican presidential nominees have won the popular vote only twice: 1988 and 2004. The GOP has twice lost the popular vote but still won the presidency in 2000 and recently in 2016, thanks to the Electoral College.
The Bushes, two moderates on domestic and economic issues, are the only ones who have broken through fifty percent twice, while leftist Obama did it twice by himself.
Those startling results should temper the enthusiasm of conservatives.
So what are some solutions?
Of course some of the extra-strong conservatives will say that the GOP should have fielded conservatives like Reagan. But it’s time to stop yearning for his second coming. As noted, he was a man of his generation, maybe a one-off, and he was a reasonable and balanced politician who was willing to compromise if he could win seventy-five to eighty percent of the time. Are these extra-strong conservatives willing to compromise even one percent of the time?
Does it ever occur to this brand of conservatives that maybe the Democrat voters in the Rust Belt voted for Trump because, among many reasons, he is no hard-core conservative ideologue (e.g. his FDR-like public works job program)? It looks as if he might compromise with Democrats even more, as recent news and appointments indicate. But let’s hope he doesn’t cave in to them.
Perhaps prophetically, Trump won by the narrowest of margins in some states of the Rust Belt, such that these voters could go back to blue in a nanosecond in 2020 or 2024. And they might, once it becomes clear that Trump really can’t stop the jobs going out-of-country without his starting a wide-ranging tariff war that hikes up prices and slows the economy. I sincerely wish him well for the good of the country, but it looks as if he’s entering an ad hoc economic swamp, not draining one.
Can anyone among the GOP Washington ‘Insiders’ or the ‘Establishment,’ former and current, like Priebus, Pence, Newt, or Ryan, talk him back from wading in? His recent interview with Matt Lauer on the Today show, after he won Person of the Year, indicates Trump is so far not teachable on this issue.
Some conservatives blame California for Trump’s popular vote loss (campaign manager Kelleyanne Conway said this on Meet the Press). However, Democrats could blame Texas for their not crushing conservatives even more, over eight election cycles. Since Texas has 27 million people, and California 39 million, maybe we should add some dark red southern states. But all these states are part of America.
Two elusive solutions are to reduce fraud and illegal immigrant voting. By all means try, but Obama trounced McCain by over 9 million votes and Romney by a little under 5 million. It’s tough to prove that fraud and illegals were decisive. A much better solution is to win by such wide margins that all illegality becomes marginalized. Bush Jr. earned 40-45% of the Hispanic vote. Pursuing virtue is easier and better than stamping out vice.
Another solution is for the GOP to look long-range for better presidential candidates (no, don’t drag out the Reagan android, which I’m pretty sure people can spot). Fortunately, the party has a deep bench, while the DNC falls short, though a lot could change for them in four, eight, or twelve years. For example, the Hispanic mayor of Los Angeles, Antonio Villaraigosa, announced he will run for governor. If he wins, he probably won’t sell nationally (no charisma), but he does illustrate that a similar surge of many new Democrats could enter the presidential race in the near future.
Bottom line: Nationally, people prefer what the Democrats are selling after Reagan (and largely before him). All conservatives need to figure out why, so they can reverse the losing trend.