One of the most pernicious factoids floating around since Election Day has been the assertion that Donald Trump won the presidency with fewer votes than Mitt Romney received in 2012, or John McCain received in 2008.
This is not true. The “Trump under-performed Romney” meme was launched by grabbing an incomplete total from 2016 and comparing it to final official counts from 2012 and 2008, which were logged days after those elections were held, and the last votes had been counted.
According to the Federal Election Commission, John McCain received 59,948,323 votes in 2008.
Mitt Romney collected 60,933,504 votes in 2012.
As of Wednesday afternoon, the Cook Political Report posted 61,300,582 votes for Donald Trump, and votes are still being counted.
Those totals are most likely lagging behind the Cook Report’s real-time tally, but even if the lower Associated Press number somehow held up as the final Trump total, he’d have more votes than McCain, and would trail Romney by less than 100,000 votes. That would technically keep the “Romney won more votes than Trump” talking point alive, but it would hardly seem useful for arguing that Trump seriously under-performed the 2012 candidate.
At any rate, what good would come from a strategy that delivered more popular votes, without scoring the electoral votes needed for victory? Trump himself was on very solid ground when he noted that if the popular vote was the key to the election, he would have campaigned differently. He was confident he could still have beaten Hillary Clinton with such a strategy. Is there any doubt he would have pulled in a far higher vote total than Romney? Then again, what would Mitt Romney’s strategy in 2012 have been, if he had been seeking to maximize his popular vote, instead of winning the Electoral College?