Trump will have to build man­date by get­ting things done

Cecil Whig - - & - Doyle McManus

— It’s been a lit­tle over three weeks since Don­ald Trump won the pres­i­den­tial elec­tion, but he can’t stop stew­ing over the nar­row re­sult.

“In ad­di­tion to win­ning the Elec­toral Col­lege in a land­slide, I won the pop­u­lar vote if you deduct the mil­lions of peo­ple who voted il­le­gally,” he tweeted Sun­day.

“Se­ri­ous voter fraud in Vir­ginia, New Hamp­shire and Cal­i­for­nia — so why isn’t the me­dia re­port­ing on this? Se­ri­ous bias — big prob­lem!” Both claims are false. No­body, in­clud­ing the Trump aides who were sup­posed to be watch­ing for fraud, has pro­duced any ev­i­dence of il­le­gal votes.

LOS AN­GE­LES

And Trump didn’t win the Elec­toral Col­lege in a land­slide — not even close. He won 57 per­cent of elec­toral votes, but that’s well be­low av­er­age for win­ning can­di­dates. His 306 elec­toral votes are com­pa­ra­ble to the 303 John F. Kennedy won in 1960. That kind of elec­tion is gen­er­ally called a squeaker, not a land­slide.

Why is Trump rag­ing about the numbers when he ought to be fo­cus­ing on the job he’s go­ing to have in about seven weeks? He’s wor­ried about two prob­lems: his le­git­i­macy and his man­date.

It’s un­der­stand­able that he’s an­noyed by the re­count drive launched by Green Party can­di­date Jill Stein. It’s not go­ing to change the out­come, as Clin­ton’s cam­paign has con­ceded. Rather, it’s a sadis­tic bit of po­lit­i­cal theater that takes one of Trump’s fa­vorite themes, rigged elec­tions, and turns it against him. And it hit a nerve.

As a young builder from Queens, Trump felt ex­cluded from Man­hat­tan. As a real es­tate mogul, he lashed out against any­one who doubted his claims of suc­cess. Now, as pres­i­den­t­elect, he can’t shake his anger that any­one is ques­tion­ing his vic­tory.

But this isn’t just about Trump’s ego. To govern the way he wants, a pres­i­dent needs a man­date. And it’s not clear that Trump has one.

The word “man­date” doesn’t ap­pear in the Con­sti­tu­tion, even though pres­i­dents have tossed it around for more than a cen­tury. So I’ll rely on the late Wil­liam Safire’s in­valu­able “Po­lit­i­cal Dic­tionary”:

“MAN­DATE, n: The au­thor­ity to carry out a pro­gram con­ferred on an elected of­fi­cial; es­pe­cially strong after a land­slide vic­tory.”

Leav­ing aside Trump’s hot air on the elec­toral vote, his claim to broad pop­u­lar sup­port is still weak.

He won about 46 per­cent of the pop­u­lar vote; Clin­ton won 48 per­cent. You want a man­date? In 1980, Ron­ald Rea­gan won 51 per­cent of the pop­u­lar vote in a three­way race. In 2008, Barack Obama won 53 per­cent. In 1932, Franklin D. Roo­sevelt won 57 per­cent.

Vot­ers rec­og­nize the difference.

A Wash­ing­ton Post poll last week found that only 29 per­cent of vot­ers think Trump has a man­date to carry out his pro­gram; most said they want him to seek com­pro­mises with Democrats in­stead.

By com­par­i­son, in 2008, 50 per­cent said Obama had a man­date. In 2000, 41 per­cent said Ge­orge W. Bush, who lost the pop­u­lar vote, had a man­date.

Trump’s “fa­vor­a­bil­ity” has inched up­ward since the elec­tion to 47 per­cent in the CNN Poll, but he’s still short of a ma­jor­ity. That’s never hap­pened to a pres­i­dent-elect in mod­ern polling be­fore.

As a prac­ti­cal mat­ter, Trump needs a man­date, how­ever de­fined, to per­suade Congress to fol­low his lead, con­firm his nom­i­na­tions and en­act his pro­grams — even when Congress is held by his own party.

Repub­li­cans hold only 52 seats in the Se­nate; if only three dis­sent, the new pres­i­dent will have a prob­lem. And GOP se­na­tors are a restive lot; 12 of the 52 did not en­dorse Trump on Elec­tion Day. On Tues­day, in an early show of au­ton­omy, Se­nate Repub­li­can Leader Mitch McCon­nell of Ken­tucky said he didn’t agree with Trump over his charges of voter fraud or his de­mand (in an­other tweet) to lock up any­one who burns the Amer­i­can flag.

Trump is im­mune to chas­tise­ment; if we learned any­thing from the cam­paign, it’s that. But he won’t get away with his bo­gus claims un­less other politi­cians and vot­ers ac­cede. So it’s not bad sports­man­ship for Democrats and others to point out what re­ally hap­pened on Nov. 8; it’s truthtelling, and it mat­ters.

If enough vot­ers re­mem­ber that Trump didn’t win in a land­slide, he’ll have to build a man­date the hard way: by get­ting things done. If his ad­min­is­tra­tion is bril­liantly man­aged and his pro­gram suc­ceeds, his per­cent­age of the pop­u­lar vote won’t mat­ter for long.

For now, he’s on shaky foot­ing — no mat­ter what he tweets.

Doyle McManus is a colum­nist for the Los An­ge­les Times. Read­ers may send him email at doyle.mcmanus@la­times.com

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