You may remember that last month, Donald Trump handed out printouts of an electoral map to three Reuters reporters during an interview in the Oval Office. The maps showed the popular vote results of the presidential election by county:
“Here, you can take that, that’s the final map of the numbers,” the Republican president said from his desk in the Oval Office, handing out maps of the United States with areas he won marked in red. “It’s pretty good, right? The red is obviously us.”
Apparently Trump is so proud of this specific map that he now wants it to be hung up in the West Wing, according to One America News Network White House correspondent Trey Yingst:
There’s just one problem with this map: It shows Trump losing the popular vote to Hillary Clinton, which he did, by 2,864,974 votes. A map showing Trump’s win would be a state-by-state map of Electoral College results. Trump is hanging, instead, a map of his own self-deception.
Trump is not the first Republican to find himself drawn to this map, or similar ones ones from prior national elections. Conservatives like them because they reinforce that comforting self-deception that most of the country is on their side—look at all that red! But as anyone who has managed to stay awake through one geography class should know, a county’s area tells us very little about its population density. Many, many more Americans live in most of those blue areas than in most of those red ones.
University of Michigan physics professor Mark Newman is among those who’ve created more accurate cartograms of the 2016 election results. Here, for example, is one showing these same county-by-county results, only with the counties drawn proportional to their populations, not their geographical sizes:
These maps are useful for grasping the actual extent of the political divide in this country. Trump’s map is useful mainly for convincing Donald Trump that he is more popular than he already is.
His choice of White House decor is just the latest evidence that Trump is deeply insecure about the idea that his election may not have been totally legitimate. Weeks after the election, he baselessly claimed that “millions of people” voted illegally:
Trump’s refusal to admit that he didn’t win in a landslide will have disastrous consequences for American elections.
On Thursday, the Trump administration announced Trump would sign an executive order to create a “Presidential Commission on Election Integrity,” which will be led by Vice President Mike Pence and Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach. The stated goal of the commission is to study “improper voting, fraudulent voter registrations and fraudulent voting.”
The Republican Party has a long and cherished history of using government resources to try to root out evidence of massive voter fraud where there is none. They look at that big red map and convince themselves that fraud is the only reason they lose elections. In 2006, President George W. Bush directed his Department of Justice to aggressively investigate voter fraud claims. When U.S. Attorneys failed to turn up evidence of widespread voter fraud, the DOJ fired them, and Attorney General Alberto Gonzales was eventually forced to resign as a result of the scandal.
In reality, the biggest threat to the integrity of U.S. elections is not voter fraud, but voter suppression at the state and local level. One recent report found that in Wisconsin—a state which Trump won by fewer than 23,000 votes—voter ID laws could have suppressed 200,000 (mainly black and Democratic) votes in 2016. This commission will find, as usual, no evidence of intentional voter fraud of a magnitude sufficient to swing any important election, but it will surely recommend many more laws like those enacted in Wisconsin regardless. This is how it generally goes: Conservatives look at that map, and they decide the people in the little blue pockets don’t really count, and then they decide not to count them.
But the president’s big dumb map, framed proof that he’s most popular where people are fewest and farthest between, still ought to be a bit heartening to the rest of us. It shows us that Trump and his cronies continue to be highly sensitive to any suggestion that Trump is not a legitimate president, which gives his opponents all the more reason to remind them.