President Donald Trump gave a press conference today, in which he uttered more than one blatant falsehood. The fact-checkers are, once again, going to have to pull an all-nighter just to keep up with them all. But while they're busy disproving the weightier of these lies, I thought I'd concentrate on just the easiest to debunk. Call me lazy if you will, but this one is just so laughably wrong that it would be downright hilarious if it weren't so obvious that Trump has such a deep-seated need to believe in it.
Donald Trump's victory in the Electoral College was one of the closest wins in American history. It was not "the biggest since Ronald Reagan" at all. It was one of the smallest, in fact, of all time. It was definitely not (as Trump has insisted many times) a "landslide" in any way, shape, or form. He squeaked by, and nothing he says (or believes) is going to change that fact.
America has held 58 presidential elections. This counts every election (including re-elections), which is why this number is higher than the 45 presidents we've had. Since the Electoral College has grown over time (from the 69 who voted in George Washington's first election up to the 538 who voted last year), the only way to adequately compare victories is by percentage.
Donald Trump got 56.5 percent of the Electoral College, for a total of 306 votes out of 538. This means his margin of victory was 6.5 percent. This puts him thirteenth from the bottom on the all-time list. Here are the closest races in American presidential history, in descending order:
32.2% --  -- John Quincy Adams
50.1% --  -- Rutherford B. Hayes
50.4% --  -- George W. Bush
51.4% --  -- John Adams
52.2% --  -- Woodrow Wilson
52.9% --  -- Thomas Jefferson
53.2% --  -- George W. Bush
54.6% --  -- Grover Cleveland
55.2% --  -- Jimmy Carter
55.9% --  -- Richard Nixon
56.2% --  -- Zachary Taylor
56.4% --  -- John F. Kennedy
56.5% --  -- Donald Trump
There are some notable names on that list, which we'll get to in a moment, but the one thing that sticks out is perhaps the core of Trump's wildly inaccurate claims about his Electoral College victory -- he beat both of George W. Bush's victories. Well, bully for him! But before we get into analyzing relative presidential victories, let's take a look at the other end of that list -- the biggest Electoral College victories of all time. Here are the top ten:
100.0% --  -- George Washington
100.0% --  -- George Washington
99.6% --  -- James Monroe
98.5% --  -- Franklin D. Roosevelt
97.6% --  -- Ronald Reagan
96.7% --  -- Richard Nixon
92.0% --  -- Thomas Jefferson
91.0% --  -- Abraham Lincoln
90.9% --  -- Ronald Reagan
90.3% --  -- Lyndon B. Johnson
Those are some pretty spectacular landslides. George Washington got every single Electoral College vote -- twice! Nobody's ever going to beat that record, one assumes. James Monroe also would have swept the board if it hadn't been for one "unfaithful elector" from New Hampshire; but then again, he ran unopposed, so this victory isn't as impressive as it first might seem. F.D.R. was only eight votes shy of a blowout in 1936. Reagan came within 13 votes in his second election, and 49 votes in his first -- also a pretty spectacular two-time record. One footnote for the Lincoln win: 1864 was in the midst of the Civil War, so none of the Southern states even had electors, which is really why Lincoln's re-election was so lopsided. And L.B.J. was elected a year after J.F.K. had been assassinated, so he was still riding a pretty big wave of sympathy.
Two names are of particular note, because they appear on both lists. This is a measure of how a president can get elected in very divided times and then bring the country together behind him. Thomas Jefferson and Richard Nixon both started off with razor-thin margins, but then got re-elected in landslides. In Jefferson's case, you can see how closely divided the country was because the 1796 and the 1800 elections were both so close. The 1800 election was the first to get thrown into the House of Representatives, because the Electoral College result was in dispute (both candidates got 73 Electoral Votes, despite the fact that the Electoral College was only supposed to have 138 people in it). But then in 1804, the Federalist Party was beaten decisively in Jefferson's re-election.
Looking at the rest of the list of the closest victories, there are a few historical comments worth making. The election of 1824 was a complete fiasco from beginning to end. No candidate won an Electoral College majority, and four candidates got some Electoral College votes. The candidate who got the most Electoral College votes was Andrew Jackson, but John Quincy Adams met with the Speaker of the House before the House voted, and during the meeting may have struck what was later called a "Corrupt Bargain" to throw the votes his way. Jackson raged about this corrupt deal for four years, and rode the issue right into the White House in 1828. But because the presidential election was thrown to the House, Adams won with only 32.2 percent of the total Electoral College vote, making him the only president in history with a negative margin of victory. The election of 1876 was probably the most contentious in all of American history, with another rather corrupt bargain struck to hand Rutherford B. Hayes the victory, even though Samuel Tilden won the popular vote. This bargain also ended Reconstruction in the South, adding to its contentiousness. And then, of course, we all remember the Bush v. Gore election, which was the most contentious in modern times.
The point, though, is that there are some very prominent presidents with closer victories than Trump. There's fodder for bragging there, even if you stick to the facts. Although Trump's victory was only the 46th biggest (out of 58), he can still accurately say he beat both of Dubya's records. He can boast his victory was bigger than Thomas Jefferson's first election, and he'd be right. That's a pretty powerful name right there. Trump could brag he'd beaten both Adamses, father and son. Jimmy Carter's always a favorite for Republicans to demean, so Trump could favorably compare his victory to Carter's and still be on solid factual ground. His election was slightly bigger than J.F.K.'s, another impressively memorable president. J.F.K.'s election was a cliffhanger, which was only decided when the final state counted its votes.
What Trump cannot get away with, however, is any suggestion that he's even in the same league as Ronald Reagan. Or anyone else other than George W. Bush, counting back to Reagan. Trump got 306 Electoral College votes. Barack Obama got 332 in 2012 and an impressive 365 in 2008. You can quibble about his second win, but the first one was a definite landslide -- almost 100 votes more than Obama needed to win. Obama's victory percentages were 61.7 and 67.8 percent of the total Electoral College vote, putting him in 32nd and 37th place on the all-time list, or near the middle of the pack.
To suggest that Trump did better than George H. W. Bush is ludicrous, because the first Bush got a whopping 426 Electoral College votes, a victory of 79.2 percent, and the 22nd-best of all time. Now that's what a landslide looks like, to state the obvious. Ronald Reagan topped 90 percent both times, and won 49 states in his second election. Stacked up against any of these three victories, Trump's looks pretty small indeed.
So Trump didn't (as he claimed again today) win a bigger victory in the Electoral College than "anyone since Reagan." Obama beat him twice, after all. Trump didn't even meet the standards for the claim when it was first made, as "a bigger victory than any Republican since Reagan," since the first Bush's victory was such a landslide. Trump's victory looks very small indeed stacked up to any of the three elections Trump so conveniently forgets, in fact.
Donald Trump won the Electoral College vote. But he didn't win a "landslide" by any stretch of the imagination. He won more votes than George W. Bush ever managed -- that is the one bragging point Trump can honestly make. He beat Dubya, it is a fact. But in the past century, the only other presidents Trump beat on this score were Jimmy Carter, Richard Nixon's first election, and John F. Kennedy. That's it. Those are the facts. Someone really needs to sit Donald Trump down and explain this to him, so he won't fall so flat on his face when asked about it again. I mean, some political lies are hard to debunk or interpret, but this one is the easiest one of all to disprove. Every time Trump lies about it just brings attention to the fact that Trump's victory margin was so small, in fact.
[Correction: This article has been corrected. When I originally wrote it I actually took Trump at his word that he got 306 Electoral College votes. This was a foolish thing to do (for obvious reasons), because the truth is he only got 304 votes. This gives him only 56.5 percent of the total, although I had initially reported it as 56.9 percent. The change does not move Trump's victory margin in the overall list, though, he is still 13th from the bottom out of 58. I apologize for the error, and promise I'll never take Trump's word for anything again before rigorously fact-checking it.]
-- Chris Weigant
Follow Chris on Twitter: @ChrisWeigant