With the US still struggling to come to terms with the phenomenon of President Trump one particular claim is starting to gain traction with Donald Trump’s opponents, which is that he is not somehow the US’s legitimate President because he came second to Hillary Clinton in the popular vote.
The fact Hillary Clinton won more votes than Donald Trump has no bearing on Trump’s legitimacy. The US does not elect presidents by popular vote. It elects Presidents through an Electoral College created by the Constitution of the United States whose Article II Section 1 Clause 2 reads as follows
Each State shall appoint, in such Manner as the Legislature thereof may direct, a Number of Electors, equal to the whole Number of Senators and Representatives to which the State may be entitled in the Congress: but no Senator or Representative, or Person holding an Office of Trust or Profit under the United States, shall be appointed an Elector.
There have been various proposals at various times to do away with this system but they have never gained support and it is the system that all the candidates accepted when they chose to take part in the latest election.
Donald Trump may have come second to Hillary Clinton in the popular vote but he won a clear majority in the Electoral College and that means he is the constitutionally and therefore legitimately elected President of the United States.
Besides the fact Hillary Clinton won more votes in the election than Donald Trump may not have quite the significance Trump’s opponents say it does.
Donald Trump won 47.30% of the votes against Hillary Clinton’s 47.75%. However the candidate who came third was the Libertarian Party’s Gary Johnson who won 3.26% of the votes, which is more than the votes won by all the other independent candidates put together (the Green party’s Jill Stein won 0.98% of the votes).
Gary Johnson is a former Republican Governor of New Mexico. He has also in the past sought the Republican nomination for the Presidency. As a Libertarian his policy positions could be described as a more ideologically coherent version of those of Donald Trump.
As might be expected Johnson is a fiscal conservative, an opponent of monetary loosening, wants to cut spending on the military, is skeptical of NATO, opposed the wars in Iraq and Libya, wants to withdraw US troops from Afghanistan, and is opposed to US meddling in Ukraine and to US support for the Kiev regime.
Like Donald Trump he generally favours a rapprochement with Russia.
Johnson’s major policy differences with Trump in the election were on social issues, about which Trump has however in the past been inconsistent and which during the election (unlike some other Republican candidates) he barely emphasised.
Since Johnson’s policy positions are anathema to the neoliberal consensus, during the election he came in for a fair amount of ridicule. His relatively strong showing as an independent candidate in a tight race however shows that his views carry a significant amount of traction with the American people.
It would be wrong to say that if Johnson had not stood all his supporters would have voted for Trump. However the significant overlap between their policy positions suggests that the great majority of them probably would have. In that case it is overwhelmingly likely that Trump would have beaten Hillary Clinton in the popular vote, and it is just possible that he might even have won more than 50% of the vote.
Indeed at 50.56% of the vote, Trump’s and Johnson’s combined total is only just short of the 50.70% of the vote won in 1980 by Ronald Reagan.
Many Democrats and American liberals complained bitterly at the time of the disputed election of 2000 about the supposed role of the leftist independent candidate Ralph Nader in losing Al Gore the election. Amazingly some of them have been doing it again, this time blaming Jill Stein.
In reality, if anyone is entitled to say this time that he lost votes to independents, it is not Hillary Clinton but Donald Trump. The reason Trump is not saying it is because he won.
The fact that Hillary Clinton won more votes than Donald Trump is important but not because it means that Trump’s victory is not legitimate. Nor does it mean that candidates with liberal, or more properly neoliberal views won a majority of the votes in this election. On the contrary, the actual results show the opposite.
What the fact that Hillary Clinton won more votes than Donald Trump shows is that there are many Americans who still have doubts about Donald Trump’s personality even though they were more likely to agree with him on policy issues than they were with Hillary Clinton. It will be Donald Trump’s first task as President to assuage those doubts.