Politics & Government

Trump lost the popular vote. Now, SC GOP will weigh defending Electoral College

The collective agenda of the S.C. Republican Party is up for debate Saturday, when the GOP’s most loyal members convene in Lexington for their annual convention.

Delegates will elect state party officers and adopt a platform of principles and goals at their meeting at River Bluff High School. Here are four issues S.C. GOP party members will vote on.

Protecting the Electoral College

In 2016, then-Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump won the Electoral College, which delivered him the White House. But that victory came despite his losing the popular vote to Democrat Hillary Clinton by a bigger margin than any other U.S. president — 2.8 million votes.

On Saturday, S.C. GOP members will urge state lawmakers to support protecting the system that ensured Trump’s win, asking them in a resolution “to preserve and defend the Electoral College” and oppose electing presidents by popular vote.

So far, 14 states and D.C. have signed an interstate agreement to award all their electoral votes to whichever presidential candidate wins the overall popular vote, according to National Popular Vote Inc. The S.C. GOP resolution comes in opposition to that effort.

A total of five presidents have won the Electoral College but lost the popular vote, according to the National Archives and Records Administration: John Quincy Adams in 1824; Rutherford B. Hayes in 1876; Benjamin Harrison in 1888; George W. Bush in 2000 and Trump in 2016.

Proponents of electing presidents by popular vote, including some 2020 candidates, argue abolishing the Electoral College would increase voter participation and enshrine the ideal of “one person, one vote.”

But opponents worry it would undermine the political influence of smaller states, like South Carolina, and “amplify the effects of voter fraud in very small geographic areas,” according to the proposed resolution.

“(T)he Electoral College has worked for over 200 years ensuring the efficient and peaceful transfer of power,” according to the resolution. “Whereas the Electoral College provides for a broad representation of the whole United States as a republic, not a direct democracy.”

Changing the Constitution

Delegates will be asked to support a resolution urging the S.C. General Assembly to join other conservative states in calling for a convention to amend the U.S. Constitution to impose fiscal restraints on the federal government; limit its power and jurisdiction; and enact term limits for members of Congress.

Currently, 28 states have passed measures calling for a new convention to propose a balanced budget amendment, according to the Balanced Budget Amendment Task Force. Support from 34 states is required to call a convention. Any amendment that passes will need to then be ratified by 38 states.

Only 15 states, however, have passed measures calling for a convention that would go further than mandating a balanced federal budget, said Chris Neely, state director for the Convention of States Project.

Supporters have called for the convention as a way to address congressional inaction in curtailing a growing U.S. national debt that hit a record $22 trillion.

The conservative S.C. Policy Council, however, has called the convention approach “misguided and risky,” saying an unbridled rewriting on the Constitution could lead to “fundamental rights” being struck.

Voter registration by party

South Carolina is one of more than a dozen states with “open” primaries, where any registered voter may cast a ballot in a party’s primary regardless of whether they’re registered with that political party.

Supporters of that system say it’s great because it allows more voters to participate in the political process in communities where sometimes candidates from only one party seek an office.

But advocates of closing primaries say partisan voter registration would help political parties connect with like-minded voters in the political process and tackle voter apathy.

Barring fusion candidates

Delegates also will vote on whether to oppose a state provision that allows candidates to run on a “fusion” ticket as the nominee of more than one political party.

Proponents of eliminating fusion candidacy say it would allow parties to refuse certification to candidates who have not established their bonafides as a representative of that respective party.

Forgo 2020 primary?

One item S.C. GOP delegates will not decide Saturday is whether to pass on holding the party’s 2020 primary election to help President Trump’s re-election bid.

A S.C. Republican Party spokesman said the decision will be made at the party’s executive committee meeting in the fall.

By state law, the party has to tell the S.C. Election Commission whether it will hold a primary at least 90 days before the election. The state’s GOP primary tentatively is set for Feb. 29, the second in the country and the South’s first.

S.C. GOP Chairman Drew McKissick in December questioned the need for a primary, citing Trump’s popularity in the Palmetto state and no organized primary opponent, feeling his nomination is a foregone conclusion.

Since then, former Massachusetts Gov. Bill Weld has become the first Republican to announce he will challenge Trump in the 2020 presidential race.

An Associated Press nationwide survey of the 2018 midterm electorate found 53 percent of voters in South Carolina approved of Trump. Among Republicans that support grew to 86 percent.

Forgoing the primary would not be the first for a S.C. party with an incumbent president, The State previously reported. A lack of opposition to then-President George W. Bush caused Republicans to call off their 2004 primary. Republicans did the same for Ronald Reagan in 1984, and Democrats did so in 1996 and 2012 for Bill Clinton and Barack Obama.

Both Clinton and Obama were unopposed for their party’s nomination, and Reagan faced only token opposition. However, S.C Republicans did hold a primary in 1992 when Pat Buchanan challenged President George H.W. Bush for the nomination.

Related stories from The State in Columbia SC

Tom Barton covers South Carolina politics for The State. He has spent more than a decade covering local governments and politicians in Iowa and South Carolina, and has won awards from the S.C. Press Association and Iowa Newspaper Association for public service and feature writing.