George W. Bush
Credit: The U.S. Army/Flickr

I’m going to crib off of Steve M. of No More Mister Nice Blog a little bit in this post, but first I am going to quote him.

In 2000, if Gore had won the Electoral College while losing the popular vote, and if the GOP perceived that Democrats had a structural advantage that made a similar outcome likely in future presidential cycles, not only would Republicans have been agitating to get rid of the Electoral College, they would have browbeaten Democrats and the mainstream media into supporting the move. They’ve always been good at that, while Democrats and the media have always been fearful of being attacked by the GOP. If they were unable to prevent the electors from choosing Gore, they might have refused to certify the results of the electoral vote. Even if they didn’t go that far, they would have made abolishing the Electoral College the #1 topic of conversation in D.C. throughout the transition and the first few months of the Gore presidency, painting opponents of change as haters of democracy. They also would have treated Gore as an illegitimate president, hamstringing him from Day One, using the circumstances of his victory as an excuse. It wouldn’t be long before angry consumers of conservative media were bombarding Democrats in Congress with furious messages demanding the end of the Electoral College. Support for the status quo would be portrayed as left-wing extremism. The Electoral College would have been gone or neutralized by ’04.

As Steve demonstrates, this is no idle speculation on his part. To prove his point, he dug up an old article from the New York Daily News that covered the Bush team’s threats to cause mayhem if he won the popular vote but lost the Electoral College:

“The one thing we don’t do is roll over,” says a Bush aide. “We fight.”

How? The core of the emerging Bush strategy assumes a popular uprising, stoked by the Bushies themselves, of course. In league with the campaign – which is preparing talking points about the Electoral College’s essential unfairness – a massive talk-radio operation would be encouraged. “We’d have ads, too,” says a Bush aide, “and I think you can count on the media to fuel the thing big-time. Even papers that supported Gore might turn against him because the will of the people will have been thwarted.

“Local business leaders will be urged to lobby their customers, the clergy will be asked to speak up for the popular will and Team Bush will enlist as many Democrats as possible to scream as loud as they can. “You think ‘Democrats for Democracy’ would be a catchy term for them?” asks a Bush adviser.

Things turned out differently. Gore won the popular vote and he should have won the Electoral College, too. But the Bushies kept their promise not to roll over and they fought live trapped badgers until their man was in the Oval Office.

This is all relevant today because the Democrats are getting tired of winning the popular vote and not the presidency. It happened again in 2016. Someone recently pointed out that the Republicans have only won the presidential popular vote once since Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez was born in 1989, but they still won three out of the seven contests held during her lifetime. Yet, as Elizabeth Warren and other Democrats push to abolish the Electoral College and some states move to award their Electoral College votes to the winner of the national popular vote, the Republicans are acting like this amounts to treason.

If it’s treason, they were ready to commit treason nineteen years ago if they thought it would benefit them.

Martin Longman

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