BY MICHAEL STEELE, OPINION CONTRIBUTOR, THE HILL — 04/14/20 10:30 AM EDT
Are your health, home, and job likely to be safer if you live in a presidential battleground state? Might your life actually depend on it?
And by making everyone’s vote count equally, would a National Popular Vote remove at least some of the politics and political posturing from presidential decision making?
These are fair questions given the federal coronavirus response that has forced states into a bidding free-for-all for medical tools from the rapidly depleting Strategic National Stockpile.
At this point, the clear winner appears to be the deeply purple battleground state of Florida, with 29 electoral votes at stake on election day.
As the Washington Post and others have reported, Florida received 100 percent of its March 11 request for federally controlled medical supplies within three days: 430,000 surgical masks, 180,000 N95 respirators, 82,000 face shields, and 238,000 gloves. Two more identical shipments were reported to be on the way.
Did the state’s key battleground status play a role in the instant turnaround? As the Washington Post anonymously quoted a White House official: “The president knows Florida is so important for his reelection, so when (Governor) DeSantis says that, it means a lot . . . “He pays close attention to what Florida wants.”
For that matter, close and favorable presidential attention also benefits the Sunshine State during hurricane season. According to Politico, Florida is still attempting to catch up and spend some $900 million in aid received after hurricanes Hermine, Matthew, and Irma caused massive damage in 2016 and 2017.
The point here is not to criticize Florida. As long as presidential elections are dominated by a handful of electoral vote-rich battleground states politics will weigh heavily in presidential decision making. Witness President Trump’s decisions to exit the Trans-Pacific Partnership and the Paris Climate Agreement, understanding that his Electoral College majority came via a few thousand votes in Wisconsin, Pennsylvania, and Michigan.
Presidential decisions regarding foreign steel imports afford another good case in point. In 2002, President George W. Bush imposed tariffs on a wide variety of Brazilian steel products. He explained that the industry needed time to reorganize and become more competitive globally. Under the headline, “U.S. Admits That Politics Was Behind Steel Tariffs,” the New York Times quoted U.S. Trade Representative Robert Zoellick as telling Brazilian business leaders, “We are committed to moving forward with free trade, but, like Brazil, we have to manage political support for free trade at home. We have to create coalitions.”
Once again, in 2015, America’s iron ore and steel industries were reeling from illegal steel dumping into the U.S. market, principally by China. With the price of iron ore plummeting to $40.50 per ton in December 2015, thousands of Iron Range miners in the swing state of Minnesota were out of work. Tens of thousands of steel and manufacturing jobs were being lost or put at risk in the key electoral states of Michigan, Wisconsin, Ohio, North Carolina and Texas.
The Obama administration acted swiftly to impose crippling tariffs and countervailing duties of up to 522 percent on steel products from China, Brazil, India, Korea, Russia, the UK, and Italy. By December of 2016, the price of iron ore had risen to $80.02, illegal dumping had been drastically curbed, and thousands of workers in key electoral states were back on the job.
Shortly after taking office, President Trump added another 25 percent tariff on foreign steel imports for good measure. The price of iron ore has remained in the $80 range for much of the past three years. And both Democrats and Republicans have targeted Minnesota as a battleground state for the Fall.
Of course, presidents coordinate their actions with electoral politics in equally important but less public ways. In his 2014 book “Presidential Pork,” Vanderbilt University political science professor John Hudak reports that battleground states receive seven percent more presidentially controlled grants, twice as many disaster declarations, and disproportionately more presidential waivers and exemptions.
The National Popular Vote Interstate Compact, which would award 270 electoral votes and the presidency to the candidate who wins the popular vote across all 50 states and the District, now includes 16 jurisdictions comprising 196 electoral votes. If we can succeed in reforming the way we elect our presidents, and make every voter politically relevant, Florida will still be important. But so will everyone else.
THE VIEWS EXPRESSED BY CONTRIBUTORS ARE THEIR OWN AND NOT THE VIEW OF THE HILL