Conservatives have long understood that America is a center-right nation. In election after election, our values win the day. When liberals do win office, they do so by nuancing their own positions and pandering to specific sections of the electorate. But when elections are about ideas, our ideas win.
Unfortunately, our winner-take-all system of awarding electoral votes stifles the free exchange of ideas. Candidates tailor their positions to win certain states, not to garner the support of voters in all 50 states. Our campaigns for the presidency hinge on electoral politics, not ideas.
Under the present system, candidates have no incentive to campaign in states where they are comfortably ahead or hopelessly behind. As a result, presidential campaigns devoted 98 percent of their campaign dollars and visits to just 15 states during the 2008 election.
That means the reddest states in the Midwest and mountain regions were completely ignored. Since red states deliver larger margins for Republican candidates than blue states do for Democratic candidates, this puts us at an electoral disadvantage. More important, it means that common-sense conservatives have essentially no voice in the election of the leader of the free world.
The truth is, under the present system, the only voices that matter are those of battleground states. Once elected, presidents advocate policies that help them win votes in those states. Naturally, these campaign promises only serve to expand federal government. Would the prescription-drug benefit for Medicare have passed in 2003 if not for the vagaries of electoral politics?
And who can blame the campaigns for their myopia? In 2004, John F. Kerry was 60,000 votes in Ohio away from becoming president despite George W. Bush’s nationwide lead of more than 3,000,000 votes. These sorts of near-misses create a laserlike focus on battleground states that goes beyond all reason.
For these reasons, conservatives should support what’s called the National Popular Vote plan, which would award each state’s electoral votes to the winner of the overall popular vote in all 50 states. The plan will only go into effect once states representing the majority of the Electoral College (270 votes) join the compact.
The National Popular Vote plan follows in a long tradition of interstate compacts, and preserves the Electoral College. Our president would still be elected by the same party faithful who infallibly support a given party. The plan merely changes the way in which electoral votes are awarded, as states have the power to do under Article II, Section 1 of the Constitution.
As a result, presidential candidates will have to win the war of ideas in all 50 states, rather than a war over the parochial interests of a small number of them. Conservatives in the Mountain West, whose votes have been taken for granted, will see presidential visits after the primaries for the first time in decades as candidates. Republicans in blue states will have a reason to get out and vote.
The latter will help down-ticket candidates enormously. As chairman of the Michigan Republican Party in 2008, I witnessed firsthand the consequences when a presidential candidate decides to cut and run on a particular state. Republican voters won’t turn out for presidential elections when they feel as though their vote won’t matter, and that has a profound impact on results for other candidates on the ballot. We lost two congressional seats and at least six state House seats in 2008 because the John McCain campaign had determined they could not win Michigan’s Electoral College votes. Our votes no longer mattered.
When conservative votes don’t matter, conservatives don’t win. Under National Popular Vote, candidates would have to formulate a national message that can bring voters to the polls, rather than a regionally targeted campaign to pander to certain issues.
We live in the United States of America, not the Battleground States of America. The National Popular Vote is the best way to ensure that conservative voices are heard.
• Saul Anuzis is a Republican National Committee member and former Michigan Republican Party chairman.