November 10, 2000
The GOP's Popular-Vote Hypocrisy
In the days before the Nov. 7 election, Republicans feared that Vice President Al Gore might win the Electoral College while Texas Gov. George W. Bush could win the national popular vote.
The expectation then was that Green Party candidate Ralph Nader might siphon off millions of votes from Gore nationwide, but not enough in key states to keep them out of Gore's column.
That could allow Gore to amass the 270 electoral votes needed for winning the presidency while blocking a Gore plurality in the popular vote.
To stop Gore under those circumstances, advisers to the Bush campaign weighed the possibility of challenging the legitimacy of a popular-vote loser gaining the White House.
"The one thing we don't do is roll over -- we fight," said a Bush aide, according to an article by Michael Kramer in the New York Daily News on Nov. 1, a week before the election.
The article reported that "the core of the emerging Bush strategy assumes a popular uprising, stoked by the Bushies themselves, of course. In league with the campaign -- which is preparing talking points about the Electoral College's essential unfairness -- a massive talk-radio operation would be encouraged."
"We'd have ads, too," said a Bush aide, "and I think you can count on the media to fuel the thing big-time. Even papers that supported Gore might turn against him because the will of the people will have been thwarted."
The Bush strategy to challenge the Electoral College went even further. "Local business leaders will be urged to lobby their customers, the clergy will be asked to speak up for the popular will and Team Bush will enlist as many Democrats as possible to scream as loud as they can," the article said.
"You think 'Democrats for Democracy' would be a catchy term for them?" asked a Bush adviser.
The Bush strategy also would target the members of the Electoral College, the 538 electors who are picked by the campaigns and state party organizations to go to Washington for what is normally a ceremonial function. Many of the electors are not legally bound to a specific candidate.
Another article describing the Republican thinking appeared in The Boston Herald on Nov. 3. It also quoted Republican sources outlining plans to rally public sentiment against Gore’s election if he won the Electoral College but lost the popular vote.
“The Bush camp, sources said, would likely challenge the legitimacy of a Gore win, casting it as an affront to the people’s will and branding the Electoral College as an antiquated relic,” said the article by Andrew Miga.
“One informal Bush adviser, who declined to be named, predicted Republicans would likely benefit from a storm of public outrage if Bush won the popular vote but was denied the presidency,” the article said.
The article quoted the Bush adviser as saying: “That’s what America is all about, isn’t it. I’m sure we would make a strong case.”
The Nov. 7 election turned out differently, however.
Gore appears to be the popular-vote winner by a margin now standing at about 200,000 votes nationwide, while Bush contends that he is the Electoral College winner because he holds a tiny lead in Florida, which would put him over the top in electoral votes.
Gone is the Republican talk of challenging the Electoral College as an anti-democratic relic. Gone is the principled stand in defense of the expressed will of the American people. Gone is the outrage over a popular-vote winner – now apparently Al Gore – being “denied the presidency.”
Instead, the Bush campaign is denouncing the Gore campaign even for questioning voting irregularities in Florida, though these acknowledged errors likely cost Gore a clear majority in Florida, too.
Though that Florida vote count still is not complete, with several thousand overseas ballots to be tabulated, Bush -- apparently untroubled by his defeat in the popular vote -- is moving forward with his transition to the presidency.