Opinion: Trump right to support popular vote

Saul Anuzis and Michael Steele
Trump has voiced support for implementation of the national popular vote.

It didn’t make a lot of news when it happened, but President Donald Trump recently renewed his support for changing the way America elects the president.

At a rally in Texas he once again supported using the national popular vote. This stance isn’t new. It’s something that Trump has repeatedly iterated over the years, before and during his presidency.

To be clear, Trump didn’t propose abolishing the Electoral College and removing the important, constitutional role of states in the election of president. While others, particularly Democrats, float that idea, it isn’t practical. It’s also not something that Republicans could support.

Instead, the solution is the National Popular Vote Interstate Compact. This adopts a popular vote in a way that respects the Constitution by fully preserving the Electoral College. Instead, it changes the method states use to award their electors.

Currently, the electors of most states are chosen by what’s called the winner-take-all method — a method that wasn’t selected by the Founding Fathers and neither debated nor discussed at the constitutional convention. Awarding electors by the popular vote under the compact is fully consistent with the Constitution, which delegates the sole and exclusive authority for choosing the method of selecting a state’s electoral votes to state legislatures.

In his latest comments supporting the popular vote, Trump said it would only require him to campaign in four states. “I’d go to four states and relax,” he said at the rally.

If the president meant to say a presidential candidate could win the White House in a campaign fought under the popular vote by only campaigning in four states, then he is wrong for one simple reason: the math.

Of the 137 million votes in 2016 only 37 million came from California, Florida, New York and Texas — the four biggest states. That means 100 million voters live in either the 46 other states or the District of Columbia.

To put it another way, the current winner-take-all method of awarding electors makes most Americans irrelevant in presidential elections. Only the voters of the 12 or so hotly contested battleground states, where candidates spend most of their time and money, have a voice.

We happen to think what Trump meant was that a popular vote would allow him to campaign in California and New York. This is certainly consistent with what Trump has previously said.

This would be a game-changer since millions of Republican voters in both of those states have no reason to vote in presidential elections under the current method of awarding electors.

Trump’s appeal to working-class voters in Michigan, Ohio and Wisconsin would have resonated in upstate New York, but Trump never took his message there because the necessities of winner-take-all required him to campaign only in the battleground states.

Not competing in these states has major consequences down-ballot, not just for the GOP but also for conservatives more broadly. This explains why New York’s Conservative Party, a third party that contests state elections, pushed the National Popular Vote Interstate Compact through the state Senate over the opposition of Democrats.

Under the compact, every voter in every state becomes relevant. It means instead of electing a president of the Battleground States of America, we finally elect a president of the United States.

Saul Anuzis is a former chairman of the Michigan Republican Party. Michael Steele is a former chairman of the Republican National Committee.