On Monday, Sen. Elizabeth Warren reiterated her view that the Electoral College should be abolished and U.S. presidents should be elected by popular vote. “My goal is to get elected—but I plan to be the last American president to be elected by the Electoral College. I want my second term to be elected by direct vote,” she tweeted.
In the accompanying video clip, she said, “Call me old fashioned, but I think the person who gets the most votes should win.”
Warren has a curious idea of what counts as “old fashioned,” since her position on the Electoral College puts her at odds with the decidedly old fashioned Founding Fathers, who rightly worried about what James Madison called the “tyranny of the majority.”
Democrats are apparently unbothered by this possibility, not least because they believe they’ve secured a permanent majority and, if they could just seize power, they would govern as benign rulers. What’s standing in their way is nothing less than our constitutional system.
My goal is to get elected—but I plan to be the last American president to be elected by the Electoral College. I want my second term to be elected by direct vote. pic.twitter.com/a2Lj2a9F0F
— Elizabeth Warren (@ewarren) December 2, 2019
That’s why you see Democrats coming out against not just the Electoral College but also the Senate and the Supreme Court. Why should Wyoming or Iowa have two votes in the Senate, so the thinking goes, when so few people live there? Why should five Supreme Court justices decide contentious questions about, say, gun rights? (Expect to hear howls of protest from the left if the gun rights case the justices heard on Monday, New York State Rifle & Pistol Association v. City of New York, doesn’t go their way.)
It’s not just Warren. According to one poll earlier this year, 60 percent of Democratic voters support abolishing the Electoral College, and much of the mainstream media seems to agree. After the 2016 election, The New York Times attacked the Electoral College as an “antiquated mechanism,” Time magazine published an article arguing the Electoral College was designed to protect slavery, and E. J. Dionne Jr. of The Washington Post compared it to a game of chance in a casino.
Since the 2016 election, 15 states (all of them blue) have joined the National Popular Vote movement, an interstate compact that would, if enough states joined it, award all of a state’s electoral votes to whichever candidate wins the national popular vote, regardless of who the voters in that state actually voted for.
Although it’s mostly been Democrats inveighing against the Electoral College for the past two decades, Donald Trump came out against it after President Obama won reelection in 2012, calling it a “disaster” and arguing for its abolishment, but changed his mind after 2016, calling it “genius.”
Warren Really Wants a New American Regime
But Warren’s opposition to the Electoral College is more principled than Trump’s. Although couched in the facile rhetoric of “every vote counts,” she means just the opposite. Under a system of direct democracy, votes in places like Wyoming, Iowa, and every other small state wouldn’t really count at all. The country would effectively be ruled by New York and California—and indeed by the residents of the largest cities in those states.
That’s what Warren and the Democrats really want, they just can’t say it. They know that most large cities are blue and that the ongoing urbanization of America would give them a huge advantage if they were able to run their votes up in those districts and ignore the rest of the country.
It certainly would have been enough to put Hillary Clinton in the White House. In fact, the collapse of Democrats’ “blue wall” in 2016 is largely what’s behind the current assault on the Electoral College. Competing for the votes of working-class whites in Pennsylvania and Michigan doesn’t appeal to progressive 2020 candidates like Warren for the simple reason that she’s unlikely to win their votes, and she knows it.
The argument against the Electoral College is therefore really an argument against the role of the states in our constitutional system, and against the scheme of federalism in general. The irony is that federalism is the one thing that might assuage rising political tensions in America.
The people of Oklahoma are going to arrange their affairs differently than the people of Oregon, and will likely seek different things in a presidential candidate. A system that requires candidates to appeal to the widest swath of Americans is more likely to produce a truly national candidate than a system that favors large cities over the rest of the country.
The alternative, what Warren and the Democrats would like to see, is exactly what Madison said it was: a tyranny of the majority. In this case, it would be a tyranny whose enormous power was concentrated in Washington, D.C., to an even greater extent than it already is.
Under a system based on direct democracy, federalism would wither and die. As the historian Allen Guelzo noted last year in National Affairs, once we eliminate the Electoral College, “there would be no sense in having a Senate (which, after all, represents the interests of the states), and eventually, no sense in even having states, except as administrative departments of the central government.”
No wonder progressives like Warren want to do away with the Electoral College. It’s the first domino in a chain reaction that would lead to the overthrow of our constitutional system and the beginning of a new American regime—one that knows no constraints on its power and has no mechanisms for protecting the rights of the minority.
Call me old fashioned, but I’ll take federalism and the Founders’ constitutional system any day.