Political guru Stuart Rothenberg recently made an interesting point about 2016.
“Really, don’t start following the 2016 presidential race now,” he wrote. “Take a break. Nothing that is written about it now is important. Nothing.”
The punditocracy pushed back. We’re in the middle of the invisible primary, its members said. The consultants are picking sides! The pollsters are in the field! Chris Christie is yelling at someone.
But Rothenberg’s observation seems about right. We know that two dozen Republicans think they could be president, while the Democrats are waiting for Hillary Clinton. Beyond that, most of the current coverage is speculative blather — which, to be fair, is our specialty.
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There is a development we should keep an eye on in the next several weeks, though. Republicans and Democrats are squabbling again over the rules for the Electoral College, the nation’s arcane system for electing a president.
Last week, a legislative committee in Michigan discussed a plan to award its 16 presidential electors proportionally, a system similar to what Maine and Nebraska use now. Pennsylvania is said to be thinking along similar lines.
The changes are being pushed by Republicans fearful of the Democrats’ apparent Electoral College advantage. Solid Democratic states such as California and New York give the party an enormous head-start — an edge that would dwindle if states pick their electors in proportion to the popular vote.
Proportional distribution might make some sense if every state did it that way, or if congressional districts were drawn fairly.
That isn’t what reformers have in mind. We know this because there’s no talk of changes in Kansas or Missouri, red presidential states firmly controlled by the GOP.
There’s a better answer: End the distortions of the Electoral College by directly electing the president. Every argument in favor of the state-by-state electoral system is demonstrably false — it doesn’t protect smaller states, it doesn’t promote national campaigns, it doesn’t boost the two-party system, it doesn’t even protect states’ rights.
And it can lead to the fundamental absurdity of a candidate with fewer popular votes winning the White House.
Stories about the 2016 candidates may be unimportant, as Rothenberg suggests. An honest discussion of the shortcomings of the Electoral College, on the other hand, would be an argument worth having.