Usually, it’s the left that stereotypes conservatives as frightened reactionaries just out for power. So I was surprised when Scott Morefield, writing at Townhall.com, used the same smear to argue that conservatives are foolish to support the Electoral College.
In Morefield’s mind, most conservatives support the Founders’ election system out of fear. We think the Electoral College is “holding back the hordes of Democratic voters just frothing at the mouth to take away our liberties and turn us into a socialist, commie-lite one-party police state.”
Morefield mentions principled arguments—federalism, checks and balances, protecting minority rights—but dismisses them all for a purely political one: Republicans might have a better chance winning elections if we reject the constitutional system.
Set aside how preposterous that is (we’ll come back to it). It’s also insulting … and revealing.
Morefield implies that conservatives should defend the Constitution only if it helps the Republican Party. In other words, he engages in exactly the kind of behavior he starts out belittling. And for the record, conservatives I know support the Electoral College—and the rest of the Constitution—because we think it’s the right thing to do. It’s better for our nation to use a two-step democratic process to choose the president because it limits the power of the biggest states or population centers, it contains election disputes, and it keeps states in charge of elections.
I’ve actually heard Morefield’s argument over and over from paid lobbyists and spokesmen for the National Popular Vote campaign, a leftwing effort to use state legislation to nullify the Electoral College. I suspect Morefield heard it from them as well, probably on an all-expenses-paid trip. (NPV and its affiliates take pundits and legislators on swanky junkets, but I do not at this time have proof of Morefield’s participation.) Here are the two claims: 1) Texas might turn blue and then Republicans could never win, and 2) there are millions of Republicans in big blue states that don’t vote but would in a direct popular election.
The Texas argument comes from the political left. It’s basically an updated version of the old “blue wall” claim (debunked by Nate Silver and then, of course, by Donald Trump) plus the racialist suggestion that skin color determines voting behavior. One might think the 2020 election results would have ended such disturbing claims. Or that the experience of Florida, another state Democrats claimed was trending their way, would give pundits pause.
What about the idea that millions more Republicans than Democrats are sitting out presidential elections? As far as I can tell, nobody other than NPV lobbyists and a handful of pundits who repeat their talking points believes any of this. Republican voters are generally more reliable than Democrat voters, as shown by Republican victories in midterm and down-ticket elections. If voters are staying home because they happen to live in a state dominated by the opposite party, they are more likely Democrats rather than Republicans. On the other hand, a one-sided election does not only depress turnout on the losing side—voters on the winning side have little reason to participate as well. (I’ve written more on NPV’s claims about turnout here.)
It is profoundly foolish for any partisan to try rewriting the rules for short-term benefits, especially by looking in the rear-view mirror. Change the rules and the incentives change, the coalitions change, the parties change. There are always unintended consequences. The test of the rules—of whether to keep or change a part of the Constitution—is not speculation as to whether it will help you win the next election or two.