We live in the era of the endless campaign for the presidency.
In 2012, Brendan J. Doherty, a political scientist at the United States Naval Academy, published The Rise of the President’s Permanent Campaign, the thesis of which is that, in the words of a summation of the book, the “distinction between campaigning and governing has become increasingly blurred in recent years.” Doherty notes not only the increase in fundraising but also “the targeting of key electoral states throughout a president’s term in office. . . . [R]ecent presidents have disproportionately visited those states that are important to their political prospects while largely ignoring those without electoral payoff.”
Donald Trump began spending on the 2020 race 16 days after the 2016 election. He officially filed with the Federal Election Commission for the 2020 election on January 20, 2017, the day of his inauguration for his first term.
We can confidently say that this is not what the founding fathers had in mind. George Washington did not begin campaigning for his second term in office shortly after he was elected to his first term. But this is the world we are living in now, and the situation has profound implications for the nation today and tomorrow.
The identity between campaigning and governing means that we must take a hard look at the nature of the campaign. The most salient fact is that the people do not elect the president. “Electors” in the various states do. This means that not only in campaigning but in governing, certain states – the swing states – are going to get attention while other states will be ignored.
Indeed, the situation is even more granular. Certain precincts within certain states will get a lot of attention and a disproportionate amount of federal funding. The size of the state does not matter. California and Wyoming will both be ignored. It is the swing states that will be lavished with attention.
The distortion in policy making is obvious, and it is the direct result of the Electoral College. If the president were elected by popular vote, every vote would count equally. There would be no such thing as a swing precinct in a swing state.
The election of the president by popular vote will lead to better government. Even Trump has stated that he prefers it.