Joe Scarborough asks in his latest comment on the politics of the fiscal cliff: “Mandate? What mandate?”
The former Republican congressman turned able MSNBC host poses the question in order to examine whether rational Republicans might feel “bound by the same mandate Barack Obama presumes he owns” on tax issues.
Did Barack Obama win the minimal mandate that would be required to raise marginal tax rates on the very rich to 39.6 percent? That’s a minor initiative, as the 39.6 percent rate would simply return the United States to the level of taxation for the wealthy that was in place when the economy was a good deal more vibrant than it has been since George W. Bush and Dick Cheney made the political—not economic—decision to slash the rate.
The answer to the question is clear if we put the 2012 results into any sort of perspective.
As the November 6 election approached, there was a general sense that the race was very close, and that either Barack Obama or Mitt Romney could win. Even as the results came in, there was a tendency on the part of commentators to suggest that the numbers showed, in the words of former Republican National Committee chairman Haley Barbour, “pretty close to a tie.” Even a week after the voting was done, the failed Republican nominee for vice president was claiming that the finish was “very close.”
But it was not close.
America counts ballots slowly. Our inefficient electoral systems—starved of resources, deliberately disorganized and little noted once a winner is declared based on exit polls and early returns—keep plodding along through November. Millions of ballots have been counted since Karl Rove was melting down on Fox’s election evening fiasco.
Those votes have expanded Obama’s total, and his margin over Romney is now dramatically broader than it was on election night or the following morning—when most of the “analysis” of Obama’s win was done.
Today, with many votes still to be counted, Obama has roughly 64,500,000 votes, and his total continues to rise. He has already received more votes than were ever cast for an incumbent president seeking re-election and the second-highest total ever cast for a presidential candidate (behind only his 2008 total).
Mitt Romney has won roughly 60,300,000.
That means that Obama has a 4.2 million popular vote lead over Romney, for a 50.79 percent to 47.48 percent margin. The margin is likely to grow over the next several weeks. But, already, Romney had fallen below the 47.5 level, meaning that there is now every likelihood that his total will forever be rounded to 47 percent.
Yes, Mitt Romney, the candidate of the 47 percent.
Obama’s popular vote margin is dramatically larger than John Kennedy’s in 1960, Richard Nixon’s in 1968, Jimmy Carter’s in 1976 or George W. Bush’s in 2000 (when he actually lost the popular vote) and 2004 (when he claimed a mandate).
Obama has won the 2012 election with a higher percentage of the vote than twenty-two presidents secured in their elections or re-elections.
Using figures from the University of California at Santa Barbara’s American Presidency Project, Obama’s percentage of the popular vote is higher than that accorded George W. Bush in either of his elections, higher than Bill Clinton’s in 1992 or 1996 and higher than Ronald Reagan’s in 1980.
Yes, let’s repeat that last fact: Barack Obama did not just receive a higher raw vote total than Reagan—as is to be expected with an expanding electorate. Barack Obama has earned a higher percentage of the vote than Reagan—50.79 for Obama this year to 50.75 for Reagan in 1980.
Add on the fact that Obama will win the Electoral College by 332-206, an overwhelming margin, and that he carried all but one of the swing states identified by both parties, and that his party picked up two seats in the Senate and that it continues to displace Tea Party Republicans (such as Florida’s Allen West) in the House, and the question of whether Obama won the minimal mandate to tinker with tax rates for the very wealthy should be settled.
Yes, if George Bush had any kind of mandate in 2004, if Bill Clinton had any kind of mandate in 1996, if Ronald Reagan had any kind of mandate in 1980, then Barack Obama has some kind of mandate in 2012. And anyone who paid attention to the messages of the 2012 campaign—from Obama’s explicit declarations that he would ask the rich to “pay a little bit more” to Romney and Ryan’s “makers versus takers” meme—knows that a referendum was held on whether to hike taxes for millionaires and billionaires. And a lot more voters said “yes” than said “no.”