With midterms less than two weeks away, the specters of 2000 and 2016 have returned again for many on the Left. They have renewed their calls to abolish the Electoral College system which resulted in the election of Republicans George W. Bush and Donald Trump, respectively — men which, they say, should never have won. But what is at the root of such disdain? And why is the Electoral College so important?
Interestingly, as Alexander Hamilton wrote in Federalist No. 68, the method of presidential selection was one of the few parts of the American system which, at the time, “escaped without severe censure” because the “election of the president is pretty well guarded.”
The entire American system of government was painstakingly constructed to avoid, among other things, that concentration of authority. Men like Rome’s Cincinnatus (and later, our own George Washington), who with a majority of the people behind them still turn down sheer power, are uncommon — and the Founding Fathers knew this.
That the Left opposes the Electoral College is strange because so many liberals are decrying a perceived imbalance of federal power given their fear of President Trump; and yet, we know from history that direct democracy, not the electoral college, tends toward tyranny.
As envisioned, a president should not owe his or her election to any one person, group, city, state or region, and so must work effectively for coalition throughout the country, seeking broad support at multiple levels. Direct democracy, the Founders understood, will lead to tyrants, dictators and emperors. Better that power is divided, as well as the method for assigning that power by way of elections. Conservatives recognize this.
But so many on the Left nevertheless see the electoral college as an obstacle to pure democracy, which itself they see as a vehicle for fluid and fundamental transformation of America to their perspectives (as well as what has blocked agents of such change, namely Al Gore and Hillary Clinton).
Conservatives, who support the Electoral College system which prevents unbridled democracy and considered change, are written off as “reactionary.” But in reality, conservatism is something quite different.
Conservatism, philosopher Roger Scruton has noted, comes from love of what we have; and conservatism is, in part, an accumulation of answers to crucial questions of life. These answers are grounded in personal and practical experiences gained over time. (This is why a sound understanding of history is crucial.)
Conservatives are not opposed to change. They merely want to know that such change is practical, genuine, reforming and preserves, rather than destroys, what is loved.
And what certain liberals are speaking about doing away with is something that is loved because it has proved practical in keeping elective and governmental power balanced.
Without the Electoral College, power would be concentrated among wherever the most voters live — and the campaign trail would inevitably be shorter.
The Electoral College is, likewise, not only about elections. It is part of a greater process which aims to ensure that regional concerns and experiences receive national attention. The dismissed woman and the forgotten man have a way to vocally remind political leaders that they still matter no matter where they live or how few they may be — and their majority vote in a state becomes a force in the Electoral College.
Consider the 2016 case of Wisconsin. Because that rural, rustbelt state has so often gone for the Democrats; because the Democrats claim to be the party that champions the common man; and because Hillary Clinton was assured of Wisconsin’s continued allegiance, she chose not to visit the state. So the state went for Donald Trump.
If Electoral College opponents (and the Clinton campaign) had their way, Wisconsinites — and their concerns — would still be irrelevant. Without the Electoral College, what does the population of a rural town matter measured against Los Angeles or New York?
But to Trump, they mattered — and Wisconsin responded accordingly.
Obviously, an absentee candidate alone was not enough to sway Wisconsin’s choice. Policies and platforms also resoundingly contributed to the decision that was made. But absent the electoral college, those policies and platforms would not have been consequential to Wisconsin voters, because the voters themselves would not have been.
Our Electoral College ensures people everywhere matter — as well as their concerns and those things which they love as well. This helps protect against unconsidered, impractical changes and fundamental transformations.
But rather than finding ways to remind these dismissed and forgotten Americans that they still mean something, or that their concerns have merit and have finally been heard, the Democratic Party has moved further to the Left with some again seeking to destroy the very Electoral College that ensures those dismissed and forgotten Americans still count.
So it is not, so many liberals believe, that the Democrats need to reexamine themselves or their policies or their neglect of the common man, but it is the process by which political power is gained that needs to be changed.
That is the very sort of person the Electoral College (and the U.S. Constitution) exist to safeguard against — and why conservatives love it. Pure democracies do not ensure George Washingtons. One can only wonder, after all, if those liberals would oppose a pure democracy that elected a President Trump.
The irony for the Left is that democracy without an Electoral College might work for them with an homogeneous population, but the United States is diverse and dynamic in beautiful and extraordinary ways. Yet, it is the conservative-supported electoral college that reflects and honors such diversity, while underscoring the importance of common American threads of unity. It reminds Americans, no matter who they are and where they live, that they matter, and that they are loved.