Credit: Justin Hoch-Wikimedia Commons

Last night, Bill O’Reilly gave a little speech on his Fox News program The O’Reilly Factor in which he explained his theory of why people on the left want to do away with the Electoral College. Since it hits on several themes I’ve been focusing on, I am going to quote his remarks in full.

BILL O’REILLY: Abolishing the Electoral College, that is the subject of tonight’s Talking Points Memo. After Hillary Clinton won the popular vote, the left in America is demanding that the Electoral College system put into place in 1787 be scrapped. But there’s a hidden reason for this.

As we reported, even though Secretary Clinton won the popular vote by 2.8 million, the progressive state of California provided all of that margin. Clinton defeating Trump there by about 4.3 million votes. So if the Electoral College were abolished, presidential candidates could simply campaign in the nation’s largest states and cities,New York, L.A., Chicago, Houston, and rack up enough votes to pretty much win any election. That’s what the left wants. That’s what they want. Because in the large urban areas and blue states like New York and California, minorities are substantial. Look at the landscape. Philadelphia, Dallas-Fort Worth, Miami. In all of these places the minority vote usually goes heavily to the Democrats. And to that New York City, L.A., Chicago, San Francisco, don’t really have a national election anymore, do you? You have targeted populations. Newspapers like the New York Times and the L.A. Times have editorialized to get rid of the Electoral Cllege. They well know that neutralizing the largely white rural areas in the Midwest and South will assure liberal politicians get power and keep it.

Talking Points believes this is all about race. The left sees white privilege in America as an oppressive force that must be done away with. Therefore white working class voters must be marginalized and what better way to do that than center the voting power in the cities. Very few commentators will tell you that the heart of liberalism in America today is based on race. It permeates almost every issue. That white men have set up a system of oppression. That system must be destroyed. Bernie Sanders pedaled that to some extent Hillary Clinton did. And the liberal media tries to sell that all day long. So-called white privilege bad. Diversity good.

If you look at the voting patterns, it’s clear that the Democrats are heavily reliant on the minority vote. Also on the woman vote. White men have largely abandoned the Democrats and the left believes it’s because of racism that they want to punish minorities, keep them down. So that’s what’s really going on when you hear about the Electoral College and how unfair it allegedly is. Summing up, the left wants power taken away from the white establishment. They want a profound change in the way America is run. Taking voting power away from the white precincts is the quickest way to do that.

I’ll begin my response where O’Reilly began. It’s true that California provided the entirety of Hillary Clinton’s margin of popular vote victory (and then some), and it’s true that one positive feature of the Electoral College system is that it forces the candidates to campaign in battleground states where they have an opportunity to see a variety of microcultures and discrete political concerns. Something would be lost if we had one nationwide popular vote, and it would put more emphasis on campaigning in the biggest population centers. On the other hand, the majority of our states get very little attention in our current system because it’s a foregone conclusion how they will vote. A Republican isn’t going to spend much time campaigning around Boston and a Democrat will probably ignore New Orleans.

Another advantage to the Electoral College (and, I think, its best feature) was identified by George Will in his column last week:

Those who demand direct popular election of the president should be advised that this is what we have — in 51 jurisdictions (the states and the District). And the electoral vote system quarantines electoral disputes. Imagine the 1960 election under direct popular election: John F. Kennedy’s popular vote margin over Richard M. Nixon was just 118,574. If all 68,838,219 popular votes had been poured into a single national bucket, there would have been powerful incentives to challenge the results in many of the nation’s 170,000 precincts.

Honestly, though, the left isn’t objecting to the Electoral College because they’re opposed to retail politics or indifferent to the advantages of quarantining vote-counting disputes. They’re upset because the system disadvantages them.

So, the real debate should be over whether there are reasons why the left should have to compete with fifty pound weights strapped to their legs.

O’Reilly says that the left’s belief is that by “neutralizing the largely white rural areas in the Midwest and South” they can get power. I guess that’s true in a certain sense, but the word “neutralizing” is instructive in this case. If by neutral, we mean that white rural votes should have the same weight as all other votes, then all we’re doing is evening the playing field. Of course, “neutralizing” can also mean to “kill” or just to remove a threat. O’Reilly uses racially charged incendiary language on purpose, but the only thing the left wants to kill is the unfair advantage that makes the opinion of a white rancher in Wyoming several times more influential than the opinion of a Latino city worker in Los Angeles:

Although Wyoming had a population in the last census of only 563,767, it gets 3 votes in the Electoral College based on its two Senators and one Congressman. California has 55 electoral votes. That sounds like a lot more, but it isn’t when you consider the size of the state. The population of California in the last census was 37,254,503, and that means that the electoral votes per capita in California are a lot less. To put it another way, the three electors in Wyoming represent an average of 187,923 residents each. The 55 electors in California represent an average of 677,355 each, and that’s a disparity of 3.6 to 1.

Now, when O’Reilly says that the left believes “that white men have set up a system of oppression” and that “that system must be destroyed,” he’s tribalizing the debate over the merits of the Electoral College and telling his white audience that racial minorities in the cities want to annihilate them in retaliation for their oppression. On the one hand, we do have a legacy of slavery and Jim Crow, and our legal system still demonstrates vast disparities in treatment and outcomes based on race. But the only oppression we need to concern ourselves with here is the oppression that comes with fighting to win election where your opponent can win even when they get nearly three million fewer votes. The left would simply like to win elections in which they get the most votes. It’s not any more complicated than that. 

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O’Reilly sneers when he says “So-called white privilege bad; diversity good,” but the only privilege that’s directly relevant to the Electoral College is the privilege of having your vote count for more than the votes of your opponents.

I want to look at O’Reilly’s conclusion one more time before I conclude.

White men have largely abandoned the Democrats and the left believes it’s because of racism that they want to punish minorities, keep them down. So that’s what’s really going on when you hear about the Electoral College and how unfair it allegedly is. Summing up, the left wants power taken away from the white establishment. They want a profound change in the way America is run. Taking voting power away from the white precincts is the quickest way to do that.

O’Reilly starts by strongly suggesting that the left (in his view, synonymous with minorities) is wrong to believe that the system is designed by the white establishment to keep them down, but then immediately complains that the left wants to take an unfair advantage away from white precincts.

I know you are not surprised that Bill O’Reilly and Fox News are using their airwaves to tell white people that darkies are coming to get them and change how things are run and take away their privileges and exact revenge on them for the sins of oppression.

I know you are not surprised that, even as they do this, they accuse the left of being the ones who make “everything about race.”

What’s clear from O’Reilly’s rant, however, is that he sees the Electoral College as a bulwark of white privilege and justifiable oppression. And that’s precisely why he likes it and wants to protect it.

Over here on the left, though, there’s an actual debate about the pros and cons of the Electoral College, and it’s not all about race. It’s about whether or not we should elect our president the same way we elect our governors and senators and congresspeople and the leaders of our unincorporated hamlets.

I’d like to have that debate, but whether you’re a liberal or a conservative, if you’re a thinking person you know that any system that comes up with Donald Trump as the answer is suffering from fatal flaws in its code.

Martin Longman

Martin Longman is the web editor for the Washington Monthly. See all his writing at