Donald Trump insists he would have campaigned differently if Electoral College didn't exist – and still won

Impossible to know who would have won if both had campaigned to win popular vote

David Usborne
New York
Tuesday 15 November 2016 15:30 GMT
The President-elect called the Electoral College system ‘genius’ in a tweet
The President-elect called the Electoral College system ‘genius’ in a tweet (Getty)

Donald Trump has pushed back against a surge of liberal anger that he won the presidency last week despite losing the popular vote to Hillary Clinton, defending the Electoral College system and adding that if it didn’t exist he would have conducted his campaign differently.

The message, contained in two Twitter messages posted in quick succession on Tuesday morning, suggests that the President-elect is feeling sensitive about the chorus of claims from many Clinton supporters that his loss of the popular vote somehow delegitimises his victory. He boldly asserted that without the Electoral College he would have beaten Ms Clinton even more decisively.

The fury over what some see as the trick played on voters by the Electoral College system, being voiced especially by anti-Trump protestors taking to the streets of many large cities nightly, comes as Ms Clinton expands her lead in the popular vote as more ballots are counted, notably in California.

When all counting is done, it is likely that Ms Clinton will have bagged as many as 2 million more votes than Mr Trump nationwide. That would be a gap of about 1.5 per cent. She is on course to record a bigger margin of victory in the popular vote than Al Gore did in 2000 when he ultimately lost the presidency to former President George W Bush.

At the weekend, Mr Trump surprised some of his own followers by suggesting that he shared some of the concerns about Electoral College system which has the effect of confining candidates in a presidential race to campaigning in a few select swing states that promise to make the critical difference between attaining the simple majority of 270 College votes or falling short.

Critics argue that the system, set down in Article 2 of the United States Constitution, means that most states never see the presidential candidates in the course of a campaign, or see much political advertising or engage in any public debate about who should win the White House.

“I’m not going to change my mind just because I won. But I would rather see it where you went with simple votes,” Mr Trump told CBS News on Sunday night.

It was perhaps a concern that with that comment he had helped embolden those questioning his mandate as President-elect that he felt compelled to clarify on Tuesday.

“If the election were based on total popular vote I would have campaigned in NY, Florida and California and won even bigger and more easily,” Mr Trump said in the first of two Twitter messages. In the second, he went on: “The Electoral College is actually genius in that it brings all states, including the smaller ones, into play. Campaigning is much different!”

That he has switched to defending the Electoral College seemed to suggest he had had difficulty making up his own mind about which system would be fairer. But his point that were American presidents chosen by popular vote his campaign strategy would have been different is a valid one. That goes, in fact, for both candidates.

It is impossible to know whether Mr Trump would still have prevailed in those circumstances, however. For sure, he would have spent less time campaigning in those smaller states that promised to change the mathematics of reaching the 270-vote mark in the Electoral College, like Iowa, New Hampshire and Maine, and spent more time in states with greater populations.

So too, however, would have Ms Clinton. Indeed, a presidential race decided that way would probably mean candidates devoting almost all their energies to Texas, New York, California and Florida (the Sunshine State gets plenty of attention which ever system you apply) and those states with smaller populations would indeed by largely ignored. Ms Clinton didn’t visit Texas once after her nomination even though there were signs of her closing in on Mr Trump there. For his part, Mr Trump didn’t visit or advertise in Massachusetts, California or Washington State.

The Trump campaign’s California communications director, Jon Cordova, was asked this week if Ms Clinton would have beaten his candidate if it was the popular vote that mattered: “No, absolutely not,” he responded. “It would've just changed the election strategy.”

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