- Oct 27, 2017
I fear this happening so much. We really fucked ourselves in 2016. We have to rally around whatever Democrat is going to oppose Trump. Everywhere.In this alternative timeline, which The New York Times foreshadowed on Monday in an ominous analysis of recent polling data, the 2020 election unfolds differently. Trump wins but without a mandate. On the contrary, he earns something like an anti-mandate. George W. Bush won the presidency in 2000 while losing the popular vote by 550,000. Trump himself won in 2016 while falling short in the popular vote by 2.9 million. In 2020, Trump could prevail again, only this time while losing by as many as five million votes.
How could it happen? Trump remains quite competitive in the states that put him over the top in the Electoral College last time — Pennsylvania, Michigan, and Wisconsin. Those are states he would likely carry, as he did last time, by a relatively narrow margin. Meanwhile, Trump's extreme and intense unpopularity among Democrats points to a 2020 vote in which the margin of his loss in "blue" states could be enormous. Instead of winning an anemic 31.6 percent of the vote in California, as he did in 2016, Trump might realistically pull in just 25 percent in 2020. If something similar happens in Oregon, Washington state, Illinois, New York, and throughout New England — in other words, if the country's bluest states become even bluer in 2020 than they were in 2016 — then the Democrat's popular vote win could climb quite a bit higher than it was then, with Trump still managing to win the presidency in the Electoral College.
That's when things could really go off the rails.
Democrats would be faced with a truly alarming situation. The president they loathe would be deeply unpopular on a national basis, as he has been for the entirety of his first term. They themselves would know they are favored by millions more voters than he is. And yet they would nonetheless be frozen out of the presidency. Again — for the third time in six presidential elections, and with the gap between the popular vote and Electoral College outcome growing each time.
And it's not just the presidency. Democrats face considerable obstacles to winning majority control of the Senate, too. Those who say they would have better luck with more centrist candidates have a point, but that wouldn't necessarily solve the party's problems. The Democratic Party is big and diverse along ideological and demographic dimensions, and its voters are very inefficiently distributed around the country. Add it all up and we're left with a party forced to do multiple contradictory things at once — win back centrist white voters who switched from Obama to Trump between 2012 and 2016, and excite minority voters who showed up in large numbers for Obama in 2008 and 2012 but stayed home in 2016, and keep the suburban Romney voters who flipped to the Democrats in the 2018 midterm elections.
That's a very tall, and maybe an impossible, order. But if it is, that means Democrats, despite their significantly greater popular support in the country at large, are likely to be denied control of the presidency as well as the Senate for some time to come. And because those branches of government play a decisive role in making lifetime appointments to the judiciary, Democrats could well end up thwarted across almost the entirety of the federal government (with only the lower house of Congress realistically winnable).
In that case, the will of the majority would not so much be checked, as the Constitution intends, as completely blocked on nearly all fronts — very much including those fronts that enable unpopular institutions (like the Electoral College) to be reformed. Democrats and Democratic-leaning independents would find themselves trapped in a system in which they possess almost no institutionally legitimate means to reach and exercise meaningful political power.