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Hold the Line

The electoral college reconsidered and the fading myth of an all-liberal California

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EARTHQUAKE COUNTRY  California has long been considered a Democratic party bulwark, but with Trump’s rise all bets are off as white nationalism surges.
  • EARTHQUAKE COUNTRY California has long been considered a Democratic party bulwark, but with Trump’s rise all bets are off as white nationalism surges.

You know it's been an especially uncivil week for the United States of America when newly empowered white men arrive at the Petaluma Veterans Day parade and unfurl Confederate flags while their winning candidate declares that anyone burning an American flag to protest his ascension to the presidency is committing treason.

But that's just what happened on Friday when U.S. Congressman Jared Huffman was rolling through Petaluma during the parade and spotted the young men with their flags. Huffman took a photo of the flags and the men as one of them glared menacingly at the congressmen. The story and photo made it to the Washington Post and Huffman told the paper that the country will likely see a lot more of these kinds of public displays as the election result plays out.

That a leading national newspaper chose to highlight an incident in the North Bay to make the point about displays of white power served also as a warning call to California Democrats: Beware of a rising white-nationalist tide that lifts all GOP boats, even those currently docked along the blue-state Pacific coastline.

The arrival of open-carry Confederate flags in the North Bay was one of a few events in recent days that served to throw serious shade at the myth of an all-liberal California post-election, despite its self-congratulatory outburst of "Calexit" posturing after the results were in.

At press time, election officials were still counting votes to see whether Orange County Congressman Darrell Issa would return to D.C., despite multiple predictions that the hardline conservative would be swept out of office in the glorious Clintonian moment that did not materialize, either up-ticket or down.

And the same state that defiantly pledged to "Calexit" after election day (playing off the June "Brexit" vote in Great Britain) also stood with the forces of Trumpish law-and-order when it voted to maintain its capital punishment regime in voting down Proposition 62. The all-liberal California voter instead supported Proposition 66, which limits appeals for death row inmates in order to kickstart the state-sanctioned killing of bad citizens. And it lets jailers decide how to execute the condemned if the state can't figure it out. As Trump might say, I don't care how you do it, just get 'em out of here on a stretcher.

The "Calexit" moment was joined by a chorus of outrage over the electoral college, which is understandable given that twice in less than 20 years a Republican has won the presidency despite losing the popular vote to the Democrat. Clinton's held a roughly 1 million vote advantage in the popular tally as of press time. And yet the electoral college might come in very handy for Democrats one day soon.

Fast-forward to November 2020 and consider the following scenario: Despite the dire warnings, in some quarters voters have warmed to the white nationalist administration, especially in rural and suburban California, where the president didn't in the end deport half the state's workforce. Trump is now campaigning with a renewed push to make good on his 2016 pledge to flip a few big-blue states red, and he might just pull it off. The not-normal has been fully normalized with the help of an agog and intimidated mainstream media eager to weaponize the Trumpian celebrity quotient into ratings—and the California Republican Party is on the rebound, with 1994's disastrous anti-immigrant Proposition 187 a distant memory for voters. The state has a long-standing soft spot for the hypnotic appeal of Republican celebrity (see: Reagan, Schwarzeneggar), and those voters fuel a narrow popular-vote victory for the incumbent president in the national tally. But, despite Republican gains in California, the Democratic challenger takes California's 55 electoral votes and squeaks out a narrow electoral college victory.

Possible?

"You could easily redraw the map to show exactly that" in 2020, says Trent England, director of the pro-electoral college organization Save Our States, as he highlights how the Trump movement coaxed previously nonvoting constituencies into the voting booth. "Which is the lesson of Trump," he says.

And he recalls that it wasn't long ago that the pollsters said Clinton might prevail in the electoral vote tally while Trump would take the popular vote. In that scenario, Trump would have no doubt made good on his rigged-election promise to not accept the outcome, but it's also true that Sen. Barbara Boxer wouldn't be calling for the end of the electoral college if it had delivered a better result for Clinton.

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