Not since 1988, when the Republican ticket of George H.W. Bush and Dan Quayle won Maine’s popular vote along with its four electoral votes, have this state’s GOP voters made one iota of difference in determining who becomes president. Maine Republicans need to be politically relevant again in every presidential election.
That’s why Maine Republican legislators should follow President Donald Trump’s lead and get behind a national popular vote, where the winner of the most popular votes across all 50 states and the District of Columbia is guaranteed 270 electoral votes and the presidency.
Over the last seven presidential elections — 1992 to 2016 — 1,932,831 Mainers cast their popular votes for the Republican ticket. And in all that time, their efforts have produced one — exactly one — GOP electoral vote. That was the electoral vote Trump received from the 2nd Congressional District, where he scored a victory over Hillary Clinton.
(Maine is one of only two states that doesn’t use the winner-take-all system. The 2nd District is sometimes competitive, and has the power to deliver one electoral vote to the winner of the popular vote in that limited area.)
Other than that, Maine’s popular Republican vote for president hasn’t mattered for more than a quarter century, because the winner of 270 electoral votes — not necessarily the winner of the national popular vote — becomes president. And seven out of seven times, the Democrat ticket has won Maine’s popular vote and, with the single Trump exception, all of its electoral votes.
Given the mood of the country, it’s logical to assume that Trump would have won a national popular vote — had the race for president actually been run that way. After all, Trump won the popular vote in the 12 battleground states, where virtually all of the general election campaigning was concentrated, by almost two points — 50.9 percent versus 49.0 percent — a margin of 805,728 popular votes (21,863,910 for Trump versus 21,058,182 for Clinton).
During a freewheeling April 2018 interview on “Fox & Friends,” Trump endorsed the idea of a national popular vote.
“I would rather have a popular election, but it’s a totally different campaign,” Trump said. “It’s as though you’re running — if you’re a runner, you’re practicing for the 100-yard dash as opposed to the 1-mile. The Electoral College is different. I would rather have the popular vote because it’s, to me, it’s much easier to win the popular vote.”
The president has also correctly noted that while a national popular vote would be more fair, he also supports keeping the Electoral College, which guarantees elections will continue to be run by the states, and not nationalized as a constitutional amendment would require.
The fact is, given the winner take all rule, we elect the president of the Battleground States of America — not necessarily the president of the entire United States of America. Remember, four out of five Americans live in 38 widely ignored states like Maine that are decidedly Republican or decidedly Democrat.
Predictably, Trump and Clinton limited their campaigning to battleground states — playing by the rules each state legislatively determined. But playing by the rules, as we have seen for the second time in 16 years, can create a scenario wherein someone can be elected president while not winning the national popular vote.
We believe Maine legislators should consider following the president’s lead on this issue and seriously explore the National Popular Vote Compact, which both of us support.
Under the compact, the candidate who receives the most votes in all 50 states and the District of Columbia would win the presidency while preserving the Electoral College.
This is an idea whose time has come.
Michael Steele is a former chairman of the Republican National Committee. Saul Anuzis is a former chairman of the Michigan Republican Party.