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Lewyn Addresses America

A little politics, a little urbanism- I also blog 100 percent on urbanism at and

This year, several of President Trump’s appointees have been approved on party-line votes.  In particular, there was a significant mass mobilization of Democrats against the Sessions and DeVos nominations, if my Facebook news feed is any guide.

Why do Democrats bother?  They weren’t going to get enough Republican votes to defeat the nominations, and even if they had defeated the nominations, there is no reason to believe that President Trump’s next choice would be more ideologically congenial.  I’m not sure that (from a liberal perspective) Sessions is any worse than whoever a President Cruz would have appointed.*  And since DeVos endorsed Jeb Bush, I think she’s probably more moderate than whoever President Cruz would have appointed.  So if the goal of this mobilization was to move justice or education policy to the Left, the effort spent on these nominations was a complete waste of time, and would probably have been a waste of time even if these nominations had been defeated.

So here’s an alternative explanation: the goal of political parties isn’t to be ideologically coherent, but to win elections.  How do you win elections?  Not just by persuading centrists, but also by motivating your base to organize, give money, vote etc.  And what does that?  A good fight with the other side, whether a winning fight or a losing one.  So Democrats were spoiling for a fight with Trump- if it hadn’t been Sessions and DeVos, it would have been something else.

To draw an analogy: the Obama stimulus plan probably wasn’t that different from what President McCain would have proposed.  But Republicans successfully mobilized their base to fight it.  Why?  Because Republicans needed a fight.



*Though from a libertarian perspective he is much more problematic.

I know its a little early, but I feel inspired.

For the Democrats’ leading Wall-Street basher (to the tune of the Underdog theme)

When bankers in Wall Street appear

and break the laws that they should fear

And steal from all both far and near

The cry goes out from East to West for

Elizabeth Warren (Chorus: Senator Warren)

Elizabeth Warren (Chorus: Senator Warren)

Voice of lightning

Roar of thunder

Fighting all who rob or plunder

Elizabeth Warren (Chorus: Senator Warren)

Elizabeth Warren (Chorus: Senator Warren)

For a Republican Senator who seems to have lost his voice in recent months

Wake up, Little Marco, wake up!

Wake up, Little Marco, wake up!

Conservatives lulled asleep, wake up little Marco and weep,

Trump’s wiping out NATO and we’re in trouble deep,

Wake up, Little Marco..

Well, what can we do for Poland,

What can we do for the Czechs?

Are we going to protect them from Trump’s friend Putin

or just throw them under the bus?

Wake up, Little Marco, wake up!

President Trump hasn’t been so hot

Sucked in by the Kremlin’s plots

America’s not leading the free world

our reputation is shot

Go to Iowa, Little Marco

Go to New Hampshire and run again

Wake up, Little Marco! Wake up!




After the election, my Democratic friends suggested that the Electoral College should have exercised its independent judgment to protect the nation from President Trump, while Republicans argued that the Electoral College was meant to protect us from domination by California (which, because they voted heavily for Hillary Clinton, is now apparently not part of the USA).

It seems to me that my Democratic friends are right in suggesting that the Electoral College was originally designed to exercise independent judgment.  (Hamilton said so in Federalist 68). I thought to myself: who would such an Electoral College have picked in recent elections?

Answer: Nobody who actually got elected.  Hamilton wrote that under the Constitution, “there will be a constant probability of seeing the station [of the Presidency] filled by characters pre-eminent for ability and virtue.”  Presumably he meant people who were experienced (“pre-eminent”) and scandal-free.  Trump doesn’t pass this test (inexperienced, not very virtuous), nor do Obama and Bush (OK on the virtue front, but probably a bit less eminent and experienced than Hamilton envisoned), and Clinton (a bit weak on the whole virtue thing).  So who would a less populist Electoral College have picked?

To narrow down the field, I am going to assume that my imaginary Electoral College was limited to  people who actually ran for President in a given year (so no Paul Ryan or Elizabeth Warren).  And I’ll avoid having to make stark ideological choices by limiting this thought experiment to candidates in the winning party (which also eliminates 1996, 2004 and 2012 from my sample, since incumbent Presidents were unopposed within their party in these years).

2016- Lots of Republicans to choose from – even if I limit myself to people whose campaigns lasted to the NH primary, we have Bush, Trump of course, Cruz, Rubio, Jindal, Christie, Huckabee, Santorum,  Kasich, Carson, Fiorina, and Paul.  I can’t imagine my hypothetical assembly favoring people with as little experience as Carson or Fiorina.  Paul, Rubio and Cruz had only been in the Senate for a single term, so I think their relative lack of experience would weaken them (unless of course you assume that our Electoral College had a distinctive affinity for the distinctive views of any of these gentlemen).  Jindal is pretty unpopular in Louisiana so I think he wouldn’t make the cut, and Kasich’s infamous temper might have been a problem.  Bridgegate would sink Christie. Huckabee and Santorum are scandal-free and have enough experience to be plausible choices- but I think an assembly of the Great and the Good would prefer someone who served as the governor of one of our largest, most diverse states (Florida) and was, I think, reasonably virtuous.  I refer, of course, to John Ellis Bush.

2008- Clinton, Obama, Richardson, Kucinich, Biden, Dodd.  Someone as ideologically extreme and flaky as Kucinich seems like a hard sell to me, and Obama was too green.  Richardson was slightly tainted by the Wen Ho Lee affair, Dodd by the Countrywide scandal, and Biden by the plagiarism mini-scandal that ended his 1988 campaign.  Hillary Clinton’s major scandals were far in the future, so my guess is that (assuming an Electoral College that had evolved to accept women) an Electoral College would have preferred Sen. Clinton to the other Democrats.

2000- Six Republicans made it to New Hampshire: Bush, McCain, Forbes, Keyes, Bauer and Hatch. I can’t imagine an Electoral College selecting the three nonpoliticians (Forbes, Keyes, Bauer) and Bush was somewhat experienced but still not as grownup as the rest.  That leaves McCain and Hatch. I don’t think anyone can match Orrin Hatch for virtue, but on the other hand John McCain is one of the lions of the Senate as well, and his scandals (the collapse of his first marriage and the Keating Five affair) were very much in the past by them.  My verdict: either McCain or Hatch; if you assume a tie goes to someone actually capable of getting people to vote for him, I’ll go with McCain (who was essentially the second-place finisher within the Republican party, while Hatch’s campaign went nowhere).

1992- Clinton, Brown, Kerrey, Tsongas, Harkin.  Not Clinton (sex scandals), not Brown (general weirdness) or Harkin (too populist).   Kerrey had only been in the Senate for a few years.  Paul Tsongas was a relative moderate with an inspirational life story of retiring from the Senate due to cancer and then going into remission.  I think my hypothetical Electoral College would have been happy to elect Paul Tsongas.

So in Bizarro World, we have Presidents Tsongas, McCain, Clinton and Bush.  Would they have served more effectively than the  people who actually won?  I think Tsongas would have been pretty good but would have died of cancer at the end of his first term.  (He in fact died Jan. 18, 1997; if anything the pressures of office would have shortened his life). It is hard to imagine McCain pr Orrin Hatch being worse than Bush.  As far as Clinton and Bush, I think it is a bit too soon to tell.




Democrats have tried to delegitimize Trump’s election by pointing to his large popular vote loss.

Republicans have responded by pointing out that Clinton’s popular vote edge is from one state (California).  It is true that Clinton was more dependent on California votes than Trump was on any state’s votes.  Clinton got 13 percent of her votes from California.  Trump got about 7 percent of his votes from his strongest state.  However, once you go beyond California things even out a bit.

Clinton got over 3 million votes in each of his top five states (California, NY, Texas, Florida, Illinois).  She lost two of those states.   She got about 24.5 million  votes from those states (37 percent of her vote).

Trump got 2.8 million votes in each of his top five states (California, Texas, Florida, Pa, Ohio).  He got about 19.5 million from those states (31 percent of his total vote).

So Clinton got 37 percent of her votes from five states, and Trump got 31 percent from his top five.  Her vote was a little more concentrated than Trump’s, but not as much as one might expect from all the blather in the media (social and otherwise).

Today, the Electoral College votes- and it looks like there will be no (or almost no) defections by Trump electors?

Could things have turned out differently?  Maybe.  My sense is that the public face of the “Hamilton Elector” movement was primarily Democrats who wanted Republican electors to support the Democratic nominee.  Since electors are generally loyal Republicans chosen for their loyalty, this strategy was doomed to fail.

But what if this had been a Republican-led effort?  For it to work, it seems to me that (a) the public face of the movement would have to be Republicans (preferably people more ideologically pure than Trump), (b) the movement would have had to have some organization beyond media appeals to electors’ conscience, and perhaps (c) it would have to propose alternatives more conservative than Trump.

For example, it could have gone down this way… Pundit X, enraged over Trump’s possible presidency, talks to his good friends Big Donors  Y and Z (someone like the Koch Brothers, for example).  Y and Z discuss getting electors to coalesce around a conservative alternative to Trump- someone like Sen. Cruz or Rubio, who many electors may have preferred to Trump.  They talk to their conservative talk-radio friends, who create a grass-roots anti-Trump movement.  Y and Z also try an inside game, communicating with individual electors, and perhaps reminding them that their votes in this matter will be remembered should they choose to run for office.

If the coalition gets a critical mass of support, Republicans come to believe that real conservatives should support (for example) Sen. Rubio, and give the electors an earful.  If all of this happened, electors might start to defect to Rubio- perhaps enough to throw the election into the House.  And if the pro-Rubio movement is popular enough, Republicans in Congress might decide that their chances of being renominated would be helped, not hurt, by defecting to Rubio- and then its bye-bye Trump!

But Democrats might decide that someone conservative enough to get electors’ support is actually worse than Trump– in fact, they might defect to Trump on their own!  Trump could wind up being saved (either in the House or in the Electoral College) by Democrats.




Someone on Facebook suggested that Trump might ultimately come out ahead in the popular vote, because absentee votes lean Republican.

I tried to prove/disprove this thesis by going to the RCP (Real Clear Politics) webpage the Sunday after the 2012 election.  It seems to me that if Obama’s lead at that point was larger than his ultimate lead (that is, if Romney gained votes after that Sunday due to absentee ballots) the argument would be persuasive, if not not.

In fact, Obama only led by 2.7 points the Sunday after the election, but ultimately led by more than 4 pts.  So this statistic supports the idea that Clinton’s lead will grow- maybe D-leaning California just counts votes more slowly.  Not that it matters; the rules are what they are, and Trump is President under those rules.