We are now 10 days out from the election, and with ballots still being counted in states like Michigan, Washington, and mighty California, Hillary Clinton’s popular vote lead continues to grow. As of Friday, her popular vote total has edged over 63 million, to Trump’s 61.6 million, giving Clinton more votes than any white male presidential candidate in history, second only to Barack Obama.
Obama grossed the two largest popular vote totals of any presidential candidate during his two races for the White House, earning 69.5 million votes in 2008 and 65.9 million votes in 2012. Before this year, the next highest recipient of presidential votes was George W. Bush, who received 62 million votes in 2004. Again, not to overstate it, but this means on the list of the three highest presidential vote recipients is our first black candidate for president and our first woman candidate for president, and no white dudes. Now, granted total voter turnout has also generally increased in the past 50 or so years, so you would expect more recent presidential candidates to win more total votes.
Still, seeing Clinton's popular vote is nice, even if it carries no legal heft.
I’ll be the first to admit that this reality doesn’t do much to change the reality of the outcome of the election. The Electoral College may be dated and anti-democratic to me, but it’s still the law of the land (though definitely, definitely needs to be changed, from my perspective).
But Clinton's popular vote victory shouldn’t be so readily dismissed, especially as some on the right have. In a column in the National Review, Varad Mehta argued that since elections are run under the rules of the Electoral College, the popular vote shouldn’t matter. “Candidates compete to win electoral votes; the popular vote is a by-product of that. To put it in terms of video games, the popular vote is a side quest.” To refine his metaphor: Most people don’t really care how many points they get in Super Mario, they just want to defeat Bowser.
However, Mehta avoids wrestling with the implications of a supposedly democratic system that subverts the will of greatest number of people:
Do we want a president who wins by running up the score in one or two states, or do we want a president who wins by garnering narrower victories in a wide array of states? Clinton won New York and California. Trump won Texas. And Florida. And North Carolina, Ohio, Michigan, Wisconsin, Pennsylvania, and even one electoral vote in Maine.
Mehta asks his question rhetorically, but if you look closely, he seems to be advocating for essentially disenfranchising New York and California, since they are big and clearly in the tank for Democrats. The answer to his question should be, “Neither: We want a president who wins by motivating the most citizens to vote for her.”
If nothing else, the new reality of the popular vote should lead — and possibly has already led — to us moving away from describing Clinton as a loser. She may not be our president-elect, but she will go down in the history books ahead of all the white men candidates who came before her, at least in the popular vote.