Thursday, November 17, 2016

The Trump Mandate

Courtesy of

The results of the 2016 Presidential Election came as a surprise to many of us, Buzz and I included, but does President-Elect Donald Trump have a mandate.  We asked Buzz to run some numbers to start.

Presidents who lost the popular vote, but won the Presidency

John Quincy Adams -- 1824

There is no record of the popular vote prior to the election of 1824, but what a year to start counting.  In the election of 1824, there was only one major political party --- the Democratic-Republican Party.  The Federalist Party of George Washington was by now on the ash heap of history.

There were no primaries and no conventions, so four Democratic-Republican candidates appeared on the ballot.  Here are the results:

Andrew Jackson               99 EV        153,544 votes
John Quincy Adams         84 EV         108,740 votes
William H. Crawford         41 EV           40,856 votes
Henry Clay                       37 EV          47,531 votes

Since none of the candidates received a majority of the electoral votes, the election of the President was thrown into the House of Representatives, of which Henry Clay was the Speaker.  The Twelfth Amendment provides that the House of Representatives will select the President among the top three candidates in electoral votes.  Each state gets one vote.

When the election was held in the House, Adams won 13 states, Jackson won 7, and Crawford won 4, thus Adams was elected.  In what would become known as the "corrupt bargain," Clay threw his support behind Adams.  In return, Clay was appointed to the stepping stone office of Secretary of State by Adams.  (Adams, James Monroe, James Madison, and Thomas Jefferson all held the position prior to being elected President.)

Rutherford B. Hayes -- 1876

In an election that ended Reconstruction in the South, Samuel J. Tilden, the Governor of New York received 4,288,546 votes or 50.9 percent. Ohio Governor and former Union Civil War General Rutherford B. Hayes received 4,034,311 or 47.9 percent.  Tilden thus became the only person ever to receive a majority of the popular vote and lose the Presidency.

The electoral count stood at 165 votes for Hayes and 184 votes for Tilden, one shy of a majority.  20 electoral votes were contested from four states.  Congress created a fifteen member electoral commission, which ultimately voted 8 to 7 to award all twenty contested electoral votes to Hayes.  Hayes was elected the 19th President.

Benjamin Harrison -- 1888

Twelve years later, Benjamin Harrison defeated incumbent President Gover Cleveland, 233 EV to 168 EV, but Cleveland won 5,534,488 votes (48.6 percent) to Harrison's 5,433,892 votes (47.8 percent.)  Cleveland would avenge his loss four years later, and thus become the only person to serve two non-consecutive terms as President.

George W. Bush --  2000

The election of 2000 came down to, in the words of the late Tim Russert, "Florida, Florida, Florida."  The election of the "hanging chad" was eventually decided by 537 votes in Florida when the United States Supreme Court, in a five to four decision, with no precedential effect, stopped a Florida recount.  George W. Bush defeated Vice President Al Gore 271 to 266 EVs.  (One elector from Washington, D.C. abstained.)

Gore received 50,999,897 popular votes (48.4 percent) to Bush's 50,456.002 popular votes (47.9 percent.)  Bush went on to be re-elected by a majority popular and EV in 2004 over Senator John Kerry of Massachusetts in 2004.

Donald Trump -- 2016

Donald Trump will now be the fifth person elected President without winning the popular vote.  Currently, he is losing the popular vote somewhere in the neighborhood of 61.5 million (46.7 percent) to Hillary Clinton's 62.8 million (47.7 percent.)  He currently leads the EV count 290 to 232, with Michigan's 16 electoral votes probably going to Trump.  There are still a few million votes yet to be counted, primarily in California.

So when all is said and done, it looks as though Trump will end up with a little over 46 percent of the vote.

Mandate or no?

Bill Clinton

Former Senator Bob Dole (the Senate Republican leader at the time said ,  "(h)e didn't get a majority," Mr. Dole said in an interview shortly after the 1992 Presidential election. "The country obviously didn't want Bush, but they weren't ready for Perot and they had plenty of doubts about Clinton. They want change. Well, we want to be responsible and deliver change, whatever that means, but we're skeptical, so we'll wait and see."

Clinton did receive a majority of the EVs, 370 to 168, but only received a purality of the popular vote.  Clinton defeated incumbent George H. W. Bush 43 percent to 37 percent in a three way race.  Texas billionaire H. Ross Perot got 19 percent of the vote.  

Clinton came to office as a new centrist Democrat, and attempted some liberal policies (Hillarycare, among them,) but got quite a wake up call in 1994, when the GOP picked up 54 seats in the House and 8 seats in the Senate, to gain a 35 seat and a 4 seat majority in the House and Senate, respectively.  Clinton suffered through a GOP Congressional majority for the rest of his Presidency.

Clinton pivoted, and much to the dismay of many liberals, governed from a center left position.  He changed the welfare system as we knew it, signed the Defense of Marriage Act, and also signed the 1994 crime bill, among other not so liberal legislation.  Clinton realized that the "mandate" he received in 1992 wasn't that much of a mandate.

George W. Bush

George W. Bush began to reach across the aisle after being sworn in as the 43rd President in 2001, No Child Left Behind education reform among the bi-partisan measures he steered through Congress.  Much of that changed after 9/11, when the country forgot about the 2000 election and turned their eyes to national security.  

In 2005, after his defeat of Kerry, Bush was unable to use his "political capital" to radically reform Social Security.  So even when you win a majority of the popular vote, moving the Washington establishment is not an easy task.

Trump's mandate

So can Trump turn a 46 percent popular vote pluraity, albeit a clear electoral majority, into a mandate?  Considering, the election of 2016 is only nine days away, and he has not even named one cabinet member, it is too early to tell.

Republicans in Congress have waited eight long years to reverse the Obama revolution, and remember it is much easy to be the loyal opposition than it is to govern.  It is also important to remember that the GOP is not a singular force.  Where the GOP had a common enemy in the Democrats and Obama, they may not be all on the same page with Obama gone and the Democrats in the minority in both Houses of Congress.

We have already begun to see some cracks in the wall, no pun intended.  Republicans, Trump included, have been chanting "repeal and replace" the Affordable Care Act  (Obamacare) since its adoption in 2010, but the "replace" component is anybody's guess.  Trump said multiple times during the campaign that he would "repeal and replace (Obamacare) with something terrific."

Buzz and I are all for "terrific," but your opinion of "terrific" and our opinion of "terrific" may be quite different.  We think "terrific" should include free deep muscle massages from a talented masseuse with every colonoscopy, but including that in a replacement law might be problematic.

Obamacare has some very popular provisions.  People like that fact that insurance companies can't throw you into an expensive high-risk pool for having a pre-existing condition or deny coverage all together, and that children can remain on their parents' insurance policy until they're 26.  They are also very happy with the subsidies which make health insurance much more affordable.

Trump has never really specified what really "terrific" means, although he has said that he supports "single payer" in the past.  As far as the Republicans in Congress, they run the gamut from repealing and replacing it with nothing to some type of modifications that involve unspecified "free market" solutions.  When there's a pig in the parlor, burning down the house to rid yourself of the pig is rarely the best solution.

We also see problems pursuing policies that would include building a "wall" and making "Mexico pay for it," appointing a special prosecutor to "lock up" Hillary Clinton, banning all Muslims from entering the United States, and "bomb and take oil from ISIS."  They may just be campaign hyperbole, but this subtlety may be lost on a lot of people who voted for Trump.

A good portion of the American electorate has voted for change, but there are a million different definitions of what that change encompasses.  

One of the major dilemmas of running a campaign that is rich on platitudes and short on substance is that platitudes are hard to convert into actual policy and legislation.  Make America Great Again may be a great slogan to put on a hat, but it's difficult to translate that into legislation, especially when it means something different to almost everyone who hears it.

Buzz and I will wait and see.  We will withhold judgment for the moment, but we will also be waiting for our free massages.

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