Donald Trump's loss of the popular vote to Hillary Clinton by 2.8 million votes is being read wrongly by political savants, by partisan Democrats, and by Trump himself. Democrats say it means that they and not Trump have the national mandate; Trump is blaming it on voter fraud, which is entirely ludicrous; and some are saying the split presages an era of divided vote totals, in which the 2000 and 2016 elections repeat themselves endlessly, not sensing that each of these contests had had discrete and distinctive particular elements that are unlikely to surface again.
2000 was "The Perfect Tie," as James W. Ceaser and Andrew E. Busch say in their book about it, in which the entire country was split down the middle. Not only were the 537 votes by which George W. Bush won the endless number of Florida recounts and the 536,000 popular vote margin (out of 100 million votes cast) won by Al Gore inside any conceivable margin of error, but the levels of parity continued all the way down.
"The outcome for each contest could just as easily have gone to the other party," they tell us. "The presidency was decided by a chad, the Senate ended with a tie, and the House left the parties only a few seats apart." The state of New Mexico, which went to the Democrats by a very small margin, was called five days after the election was over. And even the unforeseen errors that hampered each party — bad ballot design in key Florida counties; wrong information about when the polls were closing in the heavily Republican panhandle in Florida; and the fact that the networks all but called the election for Gore after nine in the east, when the polls were still open for hours in most of the country — seemed likely to have balanced each other out.
The Supreme Court decision that supported Bush only cancelled decisions made in Gore's favor by the highly liberal Supreme Court of Florida. In a smaller electorate in 1960, John Kennedy had beaten Richard M. Nixon by just 100,000 votes, but he had a blowout in the electoral college, and Democrats had majorities in both houses of Congress. Trump, who lost the popular vote by much more than Gore won it, won over 300 electoral votes, and brought Congress with him. Legitimacy comes in many guises. Which brings us to California, and Trump.
Ah, California, the golden state that was golden for Hillary Clinton, but not good enough. Hillary got more than all of her edge over Trump in that state. She crushed him by an astonishing 4.3 million vote margin in a state in which two female Democrats had run for the Senate to replace Barbara Boxer, many Republicans didn't even run for state office, and in which the GOP is becoming a vestigial organ, or has in fact disappeared. Subtract California from the other forty-nine states in the union, and Trump wins the popular vote by 1.4 million votes; wins red states and blue states, big and small.
As the founders knew, it's not the votes in themselves but the places they're from that make you legitimate. Trump should forget about vote fraud, tell himself he's the popular vote president of the 49 other states and start acting like it. There's a country and a world to lead.
Noemie Emery, a Washington Examiner columnist, is a contributing editor to The Weekly Standard and author of "Great Expectations: The Troubled Lives of Political Families."