What National Election? Electoral College Is the Only Tally That Counts

This is a static snapshot of today - the version in the side column will be updated dynamically.

It’s time once again to launch Electoral-Vote.com’s tracking widget — almost exactly four years to the day after it made its first appearance on my humble blog.

For better or worse, we don’t have national elections in America. We have 51 state elections.  Occasionally this matters a lot — just ask President Gore about his half-million-vote “national victory” in 2000.

It takes 270 electoral votes to win, so if the election were held today, polls indicate Obama would win with 284 electoral votes (plus or minus 13, depending on Virginia, which currently is deadlocked). Looks like the Senate would be deadlocked at 49-49, with two seats too close to call.

But the races can be volatile.  Four years ago this week, the same widget predicted 275 EV for Obama, 250 for McCain.  On Election Day, Obama actually won 365 electoral votes, more than twice McCain’s total of 173.

This year on Nov. 6, the Web Goddess and I will cast presidential votes that are utterly meaningless — not just because we’ll cancel each other out, but also because there is zero chance that Romney will carry New Jersey. The states that matter most this year are Colorado, Florida, Iowa, Missouri, North Carolina, Ohio, Virginia and Wisconsin.

As near as I can tell, every poll ever taken on the subject shows that an overwhelming majority of Americans think the Electoral College should be eliminated in favor of direct national elections.  But don’t look for a Constitutional amendment any time soon — the amendment process is even more strongly skewed in favor of smaller states than the Electoral College itself.

A non-profit called National Popular Vote Inc. has been pushing a proposal that would technically retain the Electoral College, even while rendering it irrelevant.  From their homepage:

The National Popular Vote bill would guarantee the Presidency to the candidate who receives the most popular votes in the entire United States. The bill preserves the Electoral College, while ensuring that every vote in every state will matter in every presidential election. The National Popular Vote law has been enacted by states possessing 132 electoral votes — 49% of the 270 electoral votes needed to activate it.

Interestingly, the big state vs. small state struggle doesn’t seem to come into play.  Jurisdictions that have passed the NPV bill range from the smallest of the small — Vermont and District of Columbia, with three electoral votes each — to California, the biggest jackpot, with 55 electoral votes.

No, the divide that matters is on red-blue lines.  The other states that have enacted the bill include New Jersey (which managed to enact it in 2008 without me noticing), Hawaii, Illinois, Maryland, Massachusetts and Washington.  Every single one of these states has gone to the Democratic candidate in each of the past five presidential elections, going back to 1992.

Maybe the red-blue split has something to do with the fact that the only election in living memory that would have gone the other way in the absence of the Electoral College is Bush vs. Gore in 2000.  The last time before that was Harrison vs. Cleveland in 1888.

“Strategy Change” Is the Silliest Liberal Meme About Paul Ryan’s VP Candidacy

Liberals are proclaiming that by choosing Paul Ryan as his running mate, Mitt Romney has changed the strategy of his campaign — when in fact, he’s doubled-down on it.

In a Slate post headlined “Romney/Ryan 2012 Means We’ll Ignore the Biggest Issue of Our Time,” Matthew Yglesias writes:

But attention is to an extent a zero-sum game. And focusing attention on the big-picture disagreement between Democrats and Republicans about long-term fiscal policy means we won’t be focusing attention on what ought to be the most pressing economic policy issue of our time—mass unemployment and the tragic waste of human and economic potential it represents

Talk about wishful thinking!  I think it’s safe to assume that unemployment will continue to be a major focus of the campaign.  Policy wonks and partisans may consider deficit reduction and unemployment as separate issues, but for swing voters I think it all conflates into responsible stewardship of the economy.

Here’s Ruth Marcus in the Washington Post:

… the choice of Ryan pushes against what has been the central theory of Romney’s campaign: make it less of a choice between himself and Obama and more of a referendum on the incumbent president and the languishing economy.

Actually, no matter who is on the ticket, a presidential re-election campaign will always be both a choice between two candidates and a referendum on the incumbent.  This time, Obama doesn’t have the luxury of running against the incumbent.

Ezra Klein, also in the Washington Post:

Romney’s original intention was to make the 2012 election a referendum on President Obama’s management of the economy. Ryan makes it a choice between two competing plans for deficit reduction. This election increasingly resembles the Obama campaign’s strategy rather than the Romney campaign’s strategy.

More wishful thinking.  Although Paul Ryan certainly is the primary focus of election coverage this weekend, that will soon fade.  Ultimately the election is a choice between Romney and Obama.

No matter how much Obama partisans want to wedge Paul Ryan into a Sarah Palin narrative, that won’t work.  Watch Ryan’s famous three-minute “Path to Prosperity” video above and you’ll see an articulate spokesman for fiscal responsibility. What you won’t see is a target-rich environment for Tina Fey.

Veepstakes: What a Difference Four Years Makes!

In 2008, I hadn’t paid much attention to the speculation about whom the candidates would name as their running mates.  Obama picked Joe Biden, and I was like, yeah, OK.

Then McCain swung for the fences with Sarah Palin, leading to a post that has lived ever since in my “Favorites” column: “Five Stages of Adjusting to Palin.”  The stages: “Confusion; Rationalization; Annoyance; Gloom; Reconsidering My Vote.”  An excerpt from Stage Two:

OK, so it’s not a great pick, but maybe it will help McCain get elected by shoring up his relationship with social conservatives, and attracting disaffected Hillary voters who already are considering McCain.

This stage lasted the rest of the day Friday, while I hunted for reasons to reassure myself that she’s not a terrible choice.

That was then.  This morning, up early with a touch of insomnia, I flipped on the little TV in the kitchen while the coffee brewed and listened to one of CNN’s talking heads say something along the lines of: “We have breaking news — Mitt Romney will announce his vice presidential running mate later today.”

OMG… I quite literally held my breath.  “Sources say he will name House Budget Chairman Paul Ryan…”

Fist pump. YES!

Ryan first landed on my blogging radar screen in early 2010 as a forceful and articulate fiscal conservative, when he pushed back hard against what was not yet known as Obamacare. In 2011, I praised his “Path to Prosperity” budget proposal, in which he bluntly declared, “both parties have squandered the public’s trust.”  At 42, Ryan is two years younger than Sarah Palin was in 2008, but he has a gravitas that she will never attain.

I continue to believe we have a ridiculous system for choosing a vice president.  I’m just happy that this time, my favored candidate made a good choice.

Romney Should Use Tax Return Release to Make the Moral Case for Capitalism

Much as it pains me to link to the outfit that threw the odious Keith Olbermann a lifeline when even MSNBC could no longer stomach him, Current.com has a useful roundup entitled “List of Republicans calling on Mitt to release returns keeps growing and growing.”

Author Jonathan Kuperberg starts with a lead nearly as snarky as mine on this post, then plays it straight while quoting Rick Perry, Bill Kristol, Haley Barbour, Bret Hume, Richard Lugar, Michael Steele and a dozen more conservatives (or Republicans) calling on Romney to release more tax returns.  George Will describes the perception Romney is creating:

“The cost of not releasing the returns are clear,” Will said. “Therefore, he must have calculated that there are higher costs in releasing them.”

I suspect that when he inevitably releases them, the returns will establish that Romney is really, really, really rich.  Master of the Universe rich.  Maybe “Forbes 400” rich, although Forbes doesn’t currently think so.  In an op-ed titled “Why Capitalism Has an Image Problem,” Charles Murray of the American Enterprise Institute describes why Romney should not run from the fact of his wealth:

Mitt Romney’s résumé at Bain should be a slam dunk. He has been a successful capitalist, and capitalism is the best thing that has ever happened to the material condition of the human race. From the dawn of history until the 18th century, every society in the world was impoverished, with only the thinnest film of wealth on top. Then came capitalism and the Industrial Revolution. Everywhere that capitalism subsequently took hold, national wealth began to increase and poverty began to fall. Everywhere that capitalism didn’t take hold, people remained impoverished. Everywhere that capitalism has been rejected since then, poverty has increased.

Capitalism has lifted the world out of poverty because it gives people a chance to get rich by creating value and reaping the rewards. Who better to be president of the greatest of all capitalist nations than a man who got rich by being a brilliant capitalist?

I suspect it also will turn out that Romney has aggressively made use of tax-minimization strategies that are not practical for people of lesser means.  Assuming everything he did was legal, I say good for him.  If Obama supporters want to claim that it is somehow immoral to take advantage of loopholes in the law for financial benefit, they should take a one-question quiz: Who is the first major presidential candidate ever to opt out of the system of public funding of campaigns, even while supporting that system on “principle”? Hint: he’s running again this year, and his name is not Romney.

Granted, any rich man traipsing through a defense of capitalism will encounter pitfalls, and Romney no doubt would blunder into some of them.  But this election is shaping up as the clearest choice in memory between the champions of free enterprise and the champions of bigger government, and Romney should make no apology for playing hard for the team to which he belongs.


“Governor Awesome” Is Unsuitable for Higher Office

With the important exception of same-sex marriage, I’ve been a big fan of New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie.  Here’s me about a year and a half ago:

I love watching clips of Christie speaking to voters like adults.  Whether he’s describing his own state as a “failed experiment” or jousting with his favorite piñata, the teacher’s union, it’s refreshing to watch him.

Since then I’ve shrugged off a few times when I’ve thought his candor has lapsed into bullying.  But the ugly confrontation on Saturday is simply appalling.

At an impromptu news conference about a major water-treatment emergency in Monmouth County, Christie had specified that he would take questions only about the current topic.  When a reporter dared to ask an innocuous question on a different subject, Christie snarled, “”Did I say on topic?! Are you stupid?! On topic! On topic. Next question.” He doubled-down seconds later, ending the session with “Thank you all very much — and I’m sorry for that idiot over there.”

“Governor Awesome” (an unregistered trademark of Tigerhawk) has been talked about as a potential running mate for Mitt Romney.  I’ve been hoping Romney will look elsewhere so that Christie can continue his efforts to put the state on a more solid financial footing.  But now I’m also very leery of putting a man with appalling judgment and serious anger-management issues a heartbeat away from the nuclear codes.

Who Wins? Q&A on the Obamacare Ruling

Which presidential candidate gets an electoral boost from the Supreme Court’s Obamacare decision?

On balance, I think Obama gains a slight advantage — or at least, I think it would have been worse for him if his signature achievement had been overturned as unconstitutional.  The potential downside for Obama is that voting him out of office now becomes the only way to have any hope of overturning the legislation.  But how potent a factor will opposition to Obamacare really be?  It was pretty potent in the 2010 midterm elections, in the immediate wake of the outrageous shenanigans (remember “deem-and-pass” and the “Cornhusker Kickback“?) employed to pass a bill opposed by a majority of Americans without a single Republican vote in Congress.  Now, however, Obamacare has momentum on its side — hey, it’s constitutional!

What does the decision mean for the credibility and reputation of the Supreme Court?

It’s probably a net positive, at least in the long run.  Most people (including me) expected yet another 5-4 decision along ideological lines.  (The mother of all 5-4 decisions, of course, was Bush v. Gore, where many felt the split was nakedly political.)  Instead, the GOP-appointed Chief Justice joined the four liberal justices in upholding Obamacare.  I wish the decision had gone the other way, but conservatives can take some solace in the fact that Roberts’ ruling limits the expansion of the Commerce Clause.

Did Chief Justice Roberts make a political or an apolitical decision?

Depends on whom you ask, of course.  The Chief Justice’s ruling cited precedent requiring that “every reasonable construction must be resorted to, in order to save a statute from unconstitutionality.”  So one can argue that the ruling is the opposite of judicial activism, paying deference to the legislative and executive branches.  On the other hand, “Mr Roberts rather straightforwardly legislated from the bench by offering and affirming a construction of Obamacare which the administration itself rejected.”

Will Obamacare be reversed if the GOP wins big in November?

Yes.  It’s mathematically possible, but highly unlikely, that the Republicans will end up with a filibuster-proof 60-vote majority.  But a simple majority may be enough, because under the Senate’s arcane “reconciliation” process, votes on tax matters require only 51 votes to pass.

And Obamacare, of course, is a tax.  The Chief Justice of the Supreme Court made it official.

Spiking the Football: Obama Tarnishes a Genuine Triumph Through Tone-Deaf Politicizing

President Obama seems to be on the verge of turning the only positive accomplishment of his presidency into a campaign liability.

Veterans for a Strong America logoI don’t know what he and his campaign staff were thinking when they started saying and implying that Romney might not have given the go-ahead for the take-down of Osama bin Laden.   Do they really think Obama or any Democrat is going to win votes by claiming to be more hawkish than a Republican opponent?

The Veterans for a Strong America ad embedded above is just devastating.  The parallels with the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth in 2004 are obvious — but James Taranto makes an important distinction (second item):

It sounds a bit like the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth, who helped sink John Kerry. We’re not the first to make that connection. On Wednesday Bloomberg’s Margaret Carlson wrote a defensive piece titled “Why Obama Can’t Be Swift-Boated”:

Kerry may have been Swift-Boated, but Obama is not going to be SEALed. Republicans are used to calling Democrats cowards and worse. Not this time. Republicans have the squishy, soft, cosseted, consensus-building candidate, while Democrats have the fighter. Finally.

Liberal pundits always make us laugh when they cheer on Democratic macho posturing like this. That said, it seems to us Carlson is probably right to think the SEALs won’t be able to hurt Obama nearly as much as the Swift Boat veterans hurt Kerry. After all, Kerry wasn’t really a war hero, whereas killing bin Laden is a real accomplishment for Obama, one that even his braggadocio cannot completely erase.

Allahpundit thinks the “spiking the football” dustup could actually end up helping Obama (hat tip: Contentions):

He’d much rather have an argument with conservatives over the OBL raid than the economy since every minute spent talking about Bin Laden is (a) a reminder that O did in fact give the order to liquidate the bastard, however shoddy his behavior might have been afterward, and (b) a minute not spent talking about the thoroughgoing crappiness of, oh, pretty much every other part of his record.

It’s not just conservatives going after Obama for celebrating in the end zone.  In the video, Arianna Huffington called the President’s politicizing of the matter “despicable.”  I actually think that overstates it — I just think it’s stupid and counter-productive. But I’m delighted by Huffington’s reaction — it provides a lot of protective cover for conservative criticism on the topic.


Our Ridiculous System for Picking a Vice President

VP-Maker Myers

With the Republican nomination apparently sewn up, Mitt Romney now turns his attention to the most dangerous and dysfunctional ritual in all of American politics:  The choice of a running mate.  Today Romney named Beth Myers, a long-time senior advisor, to head his vice presidential search committee.

Romney will be the nominee because he is the last candidate standing after a grueling multi-year marathon of fundraising, organization-building and campaigning, leading up to a labyrinth of primaries and caucuses in which his qualifications were scrutinized in detail and weighed against those of other contenders.  He was essentially the runner-up for the nomination in 2008, which means he’s been running for president for more than half a decade.  If he wins, he may or may not become a good president, but at least he will have been thoroughly examined.

So how will the Republican VP nominee be selected?  Sometime in the next four months, Romney will make that decision unilaterally, after a secrecy-shrouded process of his own choosing.  Nobody else gets a vote.

Oh, the Republican Convention in late August could theoretically decline to nominate Romney’s pick, but that’s not going to happen.  Conventions are designed to be coronations, and if there’s no contest for the top of the ticket, there’ll be no contest for the bottom.

Forty-seven men have served as vice president of the United States, and 14 of them have gone on to become president — just under 30%. Disregard the five VPs who were elected in their own right, and you’ve got nine VPs who ascended because of the death or resignation of the president — about 19% of the total.

The primary duty of a vice president is to be ready — and qualified — to assume the presidency on a moment’s notice. Here are some of the people the two major parties have nominated, during my lifetime, for this somber and auspicious role:  Spiro Agnew, Sargeant Shriver, Geraldine Ferraro, Dan Quayle, John Edwards.  Four years ago, of course, John McCain tried to hit a five-run homer by choosing Sarah Palin, and succeeded only in creating a target-rich environment for Tina Fey.

I don’t have any bright ideas for a better system — I just know this one makes no sense.  And I hope I won’t end up reprising my 2008 election eve post: “Vote for McCain… and pray for his continued good health.”

When the Supreme Court Strikes Down Obamacare, Will it Help Obama or Romney?

(Second in a series of posts interpreting momentous issues through the prism of the presidential election.)

Anthony Kennedy

The only vote that matters

At first glance, the answer seems obvious.  If the Supreme Court overturns Obama’s signature legislative “achievement,” surely that hurts Obama and helps his opponent.

But what about the fact that most Americans — 56% to 39% in a recent pollwant the legislation to go away?

James Carville today bravely argued that an overturn “will be the best thing that ever happen to the Democratic party because health care costs are gonna escalate unbelievably… and then the Republican Party will own the health care system for the foreseeable future.”  He also said, twice, “I honestly believe this, this is not spin,” leading Alana Goodman to headline her Commentary blog post, “Dems Spinning Possible Health Care Loss.” Ross Douthat has a rather unlikely theory about how an overturn could help Obama: “setting a clear limit on liberalism’s ability to micromanage Americans’ private decisions might make voters feel more comfortable voting to re-elect their micromanager-in-chief.”  Not Douthat’s best effort.

Goodman also points to a potential silver lining for Republicans the verdict goes the other way:  “if ObamaCare is upheld, the only way for Americans to get rid of the unpopular law may be to vote Republican – but it’s a stretch to say that would be the best possible scenario for the GOP.”

We’ll never know, because it seems clear that the law will be overturned.  The only vote that has ever been in doubt is that of Justice Anthony Kennedy, and I think we can discern his opinion from his remarks from the bench: “But the reason, the reason this is concerning, is because it requires the individual to do an affirmative act… and that is different from what we have in previous cases and that changes the relationship of the Federal Government to the individual in the very fundamental way.”  Why yes… yes it does!

In addition to all this, I think an overturn will help Romney by neutralizing his biggest handicap as the nominee:  the fact that he signed a healthcare bill in Massachusetts that also included an individual mandate.  If the Supreme Court lets the law stand, Romney is going to have to spend a lot of time making fairly subtle distinctions between Obamacare and Romneycare.  There’s the federalism argument: it’s one thing for a state to mandate something, quite another for the federal government to do so.  But anybody who cares about federalism is already a Republican anyway.

Romney’s stronger argument is the fact that Obamacare was foisted on an unwilling public without a single Republican vote, whereas Romneycare had bipartisan support.  This argument actually gets bolstered by an overturn.  “Remember how they passed this legislation? Votes in the middle of the night on a 2,700-page bill that wasn’t even fully collated yet? Remember deem-and-pass?  Americans knew that was wrong, and they promptly swept a lot of Democrats out of office.  Now the Supreme Court has thrown it out, and all that remains is to give a new president an opportunity to reach across the aisle and find healthcare solutions that Americans can support.”

Advantage: Romney.

When Israel Attacks Iran, Will It Help Obama or Romney?

One of Iran's nuclear facilities, near Qom

Three assumptions are implicit in the headline, and I feel pretty confident about all three.

Let’s start with the easy assumption: Romney will be the Republican nominee. I declared Romney the inevitable victor way back in January, and I see no reason to change my mind just because the underlying reality is having trouble keeping up with my insight.

Second assumption: Israel will attack Iran.  Here I’ve actually changed my mind since I wrote “Pace Bolton, I’m Betting Against an Israeli Air Strike on Iran’s Nuke Facilities” in July 2009.   Way back then, in the wake of Obama’s inexplicable tardiness in condemning the theocracy’s crackdown of what didn’t quite become the Second Iranian Revolution, America’s greatest former UN Ambassador said:

Iran’s nuclear threat was never in doubt during its presidential campaign, but the post-election resistance raised the possibility of some sort of regime change. That prospect seems lost for the near future or for at least as long as it will take Iran to finalize a deliverable nuclear weapons capability.

Accordingly, with no other timely option, the already compelling logic for an Israeli strike is nearly inexorable. Israel is undoubtedly ratcheting forward its decision-making process. President Obama is almost certainly not.

That inexorability, which I didn’t buy back then, has had nearly three years to continue inexorabilizing.  Back then, Obama’s emerging lack of support for the Jewish state seemed to me to be the main non-logistical barrier to an Israeli attack on Iran’s nuclear facilities.  Obama still is not the world’s biggest fan of Israel, but his attitude toward Iran certainly has hardened.  In a long and thoughtful overview this week of the recent rhetoric, one of Meryl Yourish’s co-bloggers wrote:

Obama stated quite forcefully that he is not going to abide a situation where US will have to deal with containment of nuclear Iran. On the face of it, this is as clear-cut declaration of intentions as anyone would hope to get from a leader of the superpower.

Obama may not want an Israeli attack, he may still be trying to dissuade the Israelis from attacking, but it would be hard for him to take any action against Israel if it attacks.  And if you have any doubt that Israel has the guts to attack eventually, I commend to you Jeffrey Goldberg’s column this week, “Israelis Grow Confident Strike on Iran’s Nukes Can Work.”

The third headline assumption is a bit more subtle.  I’m assuming not just that the attack will happen, but also that it will happen before November 2012.  Once upon a time I might have thought that Israel would delay until 2013 in the hope of acting under a more supportive U.S. administration.  But there’s obviously no guarantee of a Republican victory, and a re-elected Obama who never has to campaign again might become even less sympathetic to Israel.

So what’s the answer to the headline query — will an Israeli attack on Iran help Obama or Romney?  Hell, I don’t know.

Tempting though it is to end the post there, I may as well share the few ideas I have on the matter.  Obviously, who it helps will be affected by what happens after the Israelis attack.  Iran’s Supreme Theocrat Ayatollah Ali Khamenei said yesterday:

“We do not have atomic weapons and we will not build one. But against an attack by enemies — to defend ourselves either against the U.S. or Zionist regime — we will attack them on the same level that they attack us.”

In Iran-speak, Israel is the Little Satan and America is the Big Satan. It would be suicidal for the Iranians to overtly attack American forces while launching a retaliation against Israel — but that doesn’t mean it won’t happen.  Keep in mind that we’re dealing with a culture that glorifies martyrdom.

In wartime, Americans tend to rally around the president, at least initially.  More than two-thirds of Americans supported the beginning of George Bush’s war in Iraq. So unless Obama utterly abandons Israel in its time of greatest need, I tend to think an Israeli attack will favor Obama’s re-election.  Sure would take a lot of attention away from the economy and Obamacare.