The GOP’s new scheme to win Pennsylvania

    They just can’t help themselves. After losing Pennsylvania yet again – for the sixth presidential race in a row – Republicans have apparently decided that they don’t need to change their losing policies. Nope, they’ll just try to change the rules of the game instead.

    Pennsylvania has always awarded all its Electoral College votes to the presidential candidate who wins the statewide popular vote; that’s how the game works everywhere, except in Maine and Nebraska. But since the Republicans keep laying goose eggs in Pennsylvania, they’re now insisting that the game is very unfair. In fact, state Senate Majority Leader Dominic Pileggi has come up with a scheme to ensure that even when the Republicans lose statewide, they’ll still win some electoral votes.

    It’s simple, really: Scrap the winner-take-all rule, and award the electoral votes in a way that mirrors each candidate’s share of the statewide popular vote (with two EVs being awarded to the statewide winner). This way, the losing side – presumably, the Republicans – would at least get on the College scoreboard. President Obama won all 20 of Pennsylvania’s electoral votes last month because he prevailed by five percentage points in the popular tally, but, if Pileggi’s plan had been state law, Obama’s electoral haul would have dropped from 20 to 12.

    What a great deal for the GOP! If the party can’t win fair and square under the existing rules, just change the rules. And in Pennsylvania, they have the power to do it. They hold the gubernatorial office and both state chambers, so what’s to stop them (aside from public scorn)?

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    And they’re not the only Republicans thinking this way. Their counterparts in other blue states – Michigan, Virginia, Wisconsin, Ohio – are also working on plans to scrap winner-take-all and give the losing Republicans a piece of the EV action. The most popular idea is to divvy up the EVs based on the winner of each congressional district. This is very clever, because, in most of the aforementioned states (including Pennsylvania), Republican lawmakers have drawn the congressional district borders in a way that maxmizes the Republican elecorate. In fact, Pileggi’s original idea, back in the autumn 2011, was to adopt the congressional district plan. That too would have peeled away many of Obama’s 20 EVs.

    Granted, a case can be made for the proportional allocation of electoral votes; one can argue, as Pileggi is currently trying to do, that voters for the vanquished candidate deserve at least some EV representation. If the losing side racks up 47 percent at the ballot box, what’s wrong with the losing side getting roughly 47 percent of the electoral votes?

    Nothing wrong with that, in theory. But the big problem – the deal-breaker, really – is the thigh-slapping hypocrisy.

    Pileggi insisted the other day, presumably with a straight face, that his proposal “is not party specific or partisan in any way.” Oh man. The more the Republicans lose, the more hilarious they become.

    Back when the Republicans were winning Pennsylvania almost as a matter of routine – in three straight presidential elections during the 1980s, for instance – I don’t seem to recall ever hearing them complain that the winner-take-all rules were unfair. They never got upset when Ronald Reagan and George H. W. Bush vacuumed every last Keystone electoral vote.

    Pileggi’s rap today goes like this: “How do you best reflect the wishes of the citizens of Pennsylvania? It’s not best done by the current winner-take-all system.” If a Democrat had tried to float that argument back in the ’80s, the Reagan-Bush GOP would have laughed it off as a terminal case of sore loser-itis. Which, of course, is precisely what it is today.

    If these various Republican proposals to abolish winner-take-all are really “not party specific or partisan in any way,” then how come they’re targeting only the aforementioned blue states? Why are we not hearing Republican complaints about winner-take-all in states like Texas and Oklahoma and Alabama?

    Here’s a wild suggestion. Rather than trying to rig the rules to their partisan advantage, in an effort to mitigate their blue-state losses, perhaps Republicans should ponder why they keep losing in the first place. Maybe the rules of the game aren’t the problem. Maybe Republicans themselves are the problem that they refuse to admit.

    Case in point: The Republican National Committee has announced the formation of a task force to perform an autopsy on the 2012 defeat. The official press release says that “the effort, known as the Growth and Opportunity Project, will be chaired by five GOP leaders and is charged…with initially reviewing past practices and also making critical recommendations for the future in these eight key areas: 1) campaign mechanics and ground game; 2) messaging; 3) fundraising; 4) demographic partners and allies; 5) third party groups; 6) campaign finance issues; 7) presidential primaries; and 8) lessons learned from Democratic campaign tactics.”

    They seem to have overlooked the possibility that the conservative agenda, and the dismissive GOP attitude toward large swaths of the American electorate, may have contributed to their defeat. Bottom line: If the party was more in sync with the national electorate in 21st century America, they wouldn’t need to rig the rules of the game.


    Follow me on Twitter, @dickpolman1


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