Could Hillary Clinton be the new Abraham Lincoln?
No, I don’t mean to imply any ethical or intellectual comparison between the two. The possible similarity lies in their respective paths to the presidency.
Lincoln was elected with 40 percent of the popular vote, yet still won a majority in the electoral college. He defeated three other candidates: Northern Democrat Stephen Douglas, Southern Democrat and then-Vice President John Breckenridge, and desperation Constitutional Union candidate John Bell.
There seems to be a reasonable chance that Hillary will go Abe one better and defeat four other candidates. Civil war appears to be a slightly less likely outcome.
First, of course, there is The Donald. He will receive a lot of votes, but it’s hard to predict how many, with his current downward spiral. Then there is Libertarian Gary Johnson, whose polling has been going up at about the same rate Trump’s has been declining. He is presently at about 12 percent. Don’t forget Green Party candidate Jill Stein, running about 6 percent.
And now comes Evan McMullin, last-ditch Republican-independent claimant to the rationality ticket. Mr. McMullin faces lots of late-ballot entry issues. But his aim, if he has one, is evidently to suck up Trump votes, as well as those disaffected Republicans planning to vote for Hillary. Rumors are that his running mate will be someone called Sancho Panza, with an eye to the Hispanic vote.
Humor (or what passes for it) aside, this bizarre conglomeration of candidates could well result in the most minority (least majority?) president since Lincoln, the current record holder.
There have been fringe party candidates before, of course. They have always lost. Teddy Roosevelt and the Bull Moose Party in 1912 comes to mind, then there were Ross Perot and the Crazy Texas Party in 1992, and Ralph Nader and the Anti-Pinto Party in 2000.
But what they did accomplish was to swing elections to the party they would have opposed if they had not run — Wilson in 1912, Clinton (Bill) in 1992 and Bush (G.W.) in 2000. In that way, they campaigned against what were mostly their own interests, apart from their egos.
Another similarity between Honest Abe (note the nickname) and Hillary is that they share dismal popularity ratings, or would if there had been such a thing in 1860. Abe’s unpopularity grew from his opposition to slavery; he was so reviled by Democrats (note the role reversal) and conservative Republicans that the Civil War erupted weeks after he took office
We have had several minority presidents before. G.W. Bush was the most recent (see: chad, hanging). This is the result of our unique Electoral College system, which the losing party always seems to want to change after an election.
Only Nebraska and Maine allocate electoral votes proportionately. The other states cast all their votes for the winner of a plurality of the popular vote in their state. That is why Lincoln was able to win with 40 percent of the vote, and why Hillary can do the same thing.
Many people want to change our election process by eliminating the Electoral College and counting only the popular vote.
Although unintended, the Electoral College is the foundation of a two-party system, because it effectively eliminates any chance for a third-party candidate to win. Without it, we would see many more splinter parties and endless runoff elections. I have always thought that would be a bad thing, but at this point I’m not so sure. Parliamentary government would be the next logical step.
With two awful candidates and three unelectable ones, this election seems preordained to leave millions of unhappy citizens, however it turns out. Compound this very real dissatisfaction with the likelihood of a minority president, possibly by a record minority, and the next few years may well be more divisive than the last few.
Longtime columnist Fred Wolferman recently moved from Southern Pines back to his native Kansas City. Contact him by email at fwolferman@ gmail.com.