If only you couldn’t vote

A favorite meme in Trump World argues that if it weren’t for California, Hillary Clinton would have lost the national popular vote for president, which she won by almost 3 million ballots.

Last month, after Democrats won the statewide vote for U.S. Senate, governor, Congress and State Assembly in his state, Wisconsin’s leading enemy of democracy, Assembly Speaker Robin Vos, adapted this preposterous line, telling the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, “If you took Madison and Milwaukee out of the state election formula, we would have a clear majority — we would have all five constitutional officers, and we would probably have many more seats in the Legislature.”

Of course, it’s also true that without Waukesha, Washington and Ozaukee counties, Scott Walker would not have been elected governor in the first place.  Without Texas and Alaska, Trump would have lost the Electoral College along with the popular vote.

Pitting urban against rural, Texas against California, rips the “United” out of the United States. 

Underlying these barbs is an analytic point, however — Democrats do better in cities and college towns, Republicans in small towns and rural areas. 

Here’s another one: If white evangelical Christians were not permitted to vote (and they absolutely should enjoy every right I do), neither Donald Trump nor George W. Bush would have been elected president. 

Absent the votes of white evangelical Christians, Democrats would have prevailed in this year’s Senate races by substantial margins. According to CNN’s exit polls, the Democrat in Missouri would have won 64 percent to 34 percent; in Indiana, 59 percent to 38 percent; and  in North Dakota, 58 percent to 42 percent.

Moreover, Phil Bredesen would have won Tennessee, Beto O’Rourke would have carried Texas and Bill Nelson would have won Florida. 

We don’t have all the data required to be definitive, but it’s entirely possible that if we took white evangelical Christians out of the national election formula, there could be as few as 18 Republicans sitting in the U.S. Senate (out of 100), and two-thirds of the House could be Democrats.

Trying to score rhetorical points by excluding groups from the electorate is a dangerous game. It also suggests just how important this segment is to the GOP. 

More than 35 percent of GOP voters are white evangelical Christians. African-Americans and Hispanics combined make up a lesser share of Democratic identifiers. 

That’s particularly striking because, even in fairly recent times, these voters were not part of the Republican coalition. 

William Jennings Bryan, an economic progressive and social conservative, famous for leading the attack against teaching evolution at the Scopes trial, was the Democratic nominee for president three times. 

Another Democrat, Jimmy Carter, was only the second self-proclaimed evangelical Christian to run for president. Bryan was first.  

When Carter first ran, in 1976, he split the white evangelical vote evenly with Gerald Ford. 

That same year, polls showed Republicans were more pro-choice than Democrats, the chair of the RNC was an outspoken choice advocate, as was first lady Betty Ford who labeled Roe v. Wade, “a great, great decision.” 

Most delegates to the Republican National Convention were not pro-life. That included then-Vice President Nelson Rockefeller who led the fight to liberalize abortion laws as New York’s governor. 

Nonetheless, that year, Republicans saw a chance to split northern Catholics from the Democratic base, using abortion as a wedge issue. So, in what they regarded as a temporary political expedient, the GOP adopted a strong pro-life platform for the first time.

It wasn’t quite enough to overcome Watergate and Ford’s pardon of Nixon, but it opened the doors of the GOP to white evangelicals. 

By 1980, Ronald Reagan, who had signed the most liberal abortion law in the country as governor of California, had become pro-life and picked up more than 60 percent of the white evangelical vote. 

From then on, the GOP increasingly became the party of white evangelicals. Despite his earlier pro-choice stand, marital infidelities and disgusting behavior, President Trump captured more than 80 percent of the white evangelical vote. 

Even musing about disenfranchising a group of citizens is dangerous. But the underlying data can reveal dramatic changes in party coalitions.

Mellman is president of The Mellman Group and has helped elect 30 U.S. senators, 12 Governors and dozens of House members. Mellman served as pollster to Senate Democratic leaders for more than 20 years and as president of the American Association of Political Consultants.

Whether winning for you means getting more votes than your opponent, selling more product, changing public policy, raising more money or generating more activism, The Mellman Group transforms data into winning strategies.