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Opinion

Opinion: No Obama love for electoral college rebels

Barack Obama

President Obama answered questions Friday at the White House.

(Mark Wilson / Getty Images)

President Obama handed out a few lumps of coal at his pre-Christmas press conference.

Rep. Keith Ellison (D-Minn.) found himself relegated by Obama to the ranks of “other” aspirants for the Democratic Party national chairmanship while the president sang the praises of outgoing Secretary of Labor Tom Perez.

Critics of the president’s Syria policy who had hoped Obama would express a smidgen of regret for the humanitarian catastrophe in Aleppo were also disappointed. His story is that he had no good options in Syria short of a large-scale military intervention that could have become a quagmire. And he’s sticking to it.

The Hillary Clinton campaign was subjected to a nostalgia trip in which Obama recalled how profitably he campaigned for the U.S. Senate with downstate Illinois voters “going to fish fries and sitting in VFW halls and talking to farmers.”  He was invoking the demographic with which Clinton is widely thought to have under-performed. (“I never would have called them ‘deplorables,’ you could hear Obama thinking.)

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Then there were the Democrats who were hoping the president would endorse the notion that Russian hacking of Democratic email accounts — which he all but blamed on Vladimir Putin —  prevented a free and fair election. He stopped short of blessing that fairly radical idea, and defined a rigged election in narrow terms of tampering with voting machines.

But perhaps the most disappointed viewers of the press conference were bitter-end opponents of Trump who have been campaigning for the electoral college to go rogue and  deny Trump the presidency, a campaign in which former critics of the college now venerate that institution’s Hamiltonian, elitist origins.

Obama declined to tell the electors what to do when they vote Monday, saying: “I’m not going to wade into that issue.” He wouldn’t even give opponents of the electoral college a consolation prize by denouncing the system that will put Trump in the White House despite his having lost the popular vote.

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Playing professor, Obama noted that the college is a  vestige of an earlier period in American history when the authority of the states loomed larger in the U.S. constitutional system than it does now. He also noted that the U.S. Senate, in which every state had equal representation regardless of population, is predicated on the same political theory.

 If anything, Obama seemed to imply that if Clinton had gotten her act together, no one would be talking about the electoral college.

“There are some structures in our political system as envisioned by the founders that sometimes are going to disadvantage Democrats,” he said. “But the truth of the matter is is that if we have a strong message, if we’re speaking to what the American people care about, typically, the popular vote and the electoral college vote will align.”

Don’t amend the Constitution, Obama seemed to be saying, just run good campaigns, the way I did. Oh, and Merry Christmas.

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