In the wake of the repeal Obamacare fiasco, there is naturally much soul searching, finger pointing, and freely profferred advice. As is normal, the suggestions, coming from various parts of the political spectrum, contradict each other. Still, one piece of advice seems the most plausible: Dump the Freedom Caucus, which was formerly known as the Tea Party. When they stiffened the mainstream Republican resolve to prevent President Obama from getting anything done, their nihilism had the smell of roses for the GOP. But now that the same modus operandi is being applied to the host body, the stench of decay is unavoidable.
The traditional conservatives, no less than President Trump, may be reluctant to turn upon a group with whose philosophy, if not strategy, they agree on most issues. But there is a solid politico/philosophical basis for such a pivot: the election returns. While it is true that during the Obama years the Democrats lost nearly a thousand elective offices, including of governors and legislators, it is equally true that in six of the last seven presidential elections, they won the popular vote. The conclusion is that the nation currently has a split personality, and the division is manifest in the difference between presidential year voting and all other years.
If we set aside the delusional Trumpian rhetoric that he won dramatically, we see that the nearly 3 million votes cast more for Hillary than for Trump is a record for losing despite winning. The truth is that the Electoral College is a Rube Goldberg contraption that was meant by the Founding Fathers to exclude demagogues. Instead the device got enmeshed in precisely what the Founders tried to avoid. So as long as we abide by the Constitution and play by its rules--as we indeed should-- we have no choice but to accept Trump as our president. But the popular vote has its voice at the table as well.
Amusingly, Republicans contort themselves in trying to talk their way out of that fact. One is to dwell on the large number of counties that went red. Well, yes, but a lot of those are relatively uninhabited, and where in the Constitution exists the principle of one acre equals one vote, rather than the current interpretation--as settled law--of one person, one vote? Or Republicans talk about how nice things would be if you just take California and New York, among the largest and bluest states, out of the calculation. But it just so happens that a lot of fellow Americans live in those two states, with California having a population and an economy larger than many countries.
So enough with the sophistry, and let us turn to the meaning of the unavoidable election returns. During the primary season many a politician behind in the polls said that the only poll that counts is on election day. And that unique poll last year indeed showed that the country is evenly divided, with the slightest tilt to the left. In a parliamentary system, the prime minister would have to rule from the middle, with a cabinet split among the two major parties. In the American system, however, with winner take all, the president can with impunity ignore the divided vote and rule hard left or right. That is what Bush II did in 2001 and what Trump started out doing.
In this regard, one might conclude that American exceptionalism does not extend its blessings to the matter of heeding the voice of the voters. Suppose, however, a Republican president tried that approach for a change. Were Trump to swing to the left now by negotiating with the Democrats, the hard right would howl, but he would be behaving in a venerable parliamentary manner. He could point to the popular vote mandate. With neither side prevailing, that mandate is for the middle of the road. That is how the numbers add up, that is how water finds its level, that is how common sense holds sway.
The result would be negotiations and compromises which would leave both sides dissatisfied but neither side outraged. Except of course for the thirty or so members of the Freedom Caucus. But they have to learn that for them to have their way, they must work hard to accumulate a majority of the votes in future elections. Until then, they cannot be allowed to exercise a veto and paralyze the political process. If Trump wants to be a winner, that may be the only political strategy available to him--one that is based on the hard facts of that public opinion poll of November 8, 2016, the only one, we are often told, that counts. So let it count.