The American Republic in the Balance
Editor’s Note: On Nov. 4, the American people will decide either to continue George W. Bush’s era – with its neoconservative vision of an open-ended war with Islamic militants and its corollary requirement for an imperial presidency – or seek to end it.
After all the campaign silliness about Paris Hilton and Joe the Plumber – and an understandable emphasis on the nation’s economic troubles – one of the momentous issues before the American people is whether they will defend the Founders’ concept of a democratic Republic or decide that this new era is too dangerous for old-fashioned notions like “unalienable rights” and constitutional “checks and balances.”
On this historic question, the two major-party candidates offer markedly different approaches.
John McCain promises to sustain –and even expand – Bush’s neocon wars in the Islamic world. Plus, he has vowed to put more right-wing justices (in the mold of John Roberts and Samuel Alito) on the U.S. Supreme Court, where the shift of a single vote could clear the way for the right-wing faction to essentially rewrite the Constitution as Bush has desired.
Barack Obama, for all his hedged moderation, has laid out a contrasting strategy for combating Islamic radicalism. He says he would end the war in Iraq and explore direct negotiations with U.S. adversaries in the region – while retargeting the U.S. military to go after Osama bin Laden and al-Qaeda.
As for the Supreme Court, Obama – himself a constitutional scholar – has made it clear he would seek moderate justices with a more traditional view on the limits of presidential power.
However, an odd aspect of Campaign 2008 is that these transcendent issues have been relegated to a way-in-the-back back seat, in a way similar to the important questions at stake in the presidential campaign eight years ago.
Election 2000 was mostly about gamesmanship, with Republican operatives determined to wrest control of the White House from the Democrats by whatever means necessary.
As Americans head to the polls again, with the possibility of either endorsing a continuation of that Republican control or ending it, we are publishing an excerpt about that extraordinary election eight years ago from the book, Neck Deep:
In the days before the November 7, 2000, election, Republicans were nervous. Despite their best efforts, they feared that Democrat Al Gore might sneak into the White House by winning a majority in the Electoral College – at least 270 electoral votes – while losing the national popular vote to Texas Governor George W. Bush.
This Republican worry sprang from the possibility 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.
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,” a Bush aide told New York Daily News writer Michael Kramer 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 for overturning a hypothetical Gore majority in the Electoral College went even further, close to insurrection.
“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 one 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 casting their ballots for the candidate who got the most votes in their state.
Many of the electors are not legally bound to the specific candidate who carried their state, so theoretically some Gore electors could be peeled off to the Bush column if they came under enough pressure and persuasion.
Another article describing the Republican thinking about this contingency appeared in The Boston Herald two days later. It 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.”
This contingency planning showed how determined the Bush campaign was to prevail in Election 2000, almost at whatever cost.
After eight years of a Clinton-Gore administration, Republicans saw a danger in the Democrats demonstrating over another four or eight years that they could govern effectively and responsibly, that the Democrats could bring the country both peace and prosperity.
Even worse, the Democrats were making progress in addressing longer-range problems like the federal debt, Social Security, national health insurance and environmental threats. Another Democratic presidency also might doom conservative dreams about securing control of the U.S. Supreme Court.
Though there had not been a case of a popular-vote loser winning the Electoral College for over a century, the Republicans weren’t about to lie down and give up if Bush won the popular vote and Gore won the electoral vote.
Electoral votes, apportioned to states in line with their seats in Congress plus three for the District of Columbia, were the ones that counted in the official selection of a President.
But, citing the democratic principle of majority rule, the Republicans were gearing up to risk a constitutional crisis if necessary to stop Al Gore from claiming the White House without a popular mandate. However, the November 7 election didn’t exactly turn out that way.
Seizing the Moment
Election Night was a back-and-forth affair. It looked at first like Al Gore was doing well in the East, but George W. Bush came on strong across the South, Midwest and Rocky Mountain States.
When many Americans on the East Coast went to bed, it looked as if Bush would prevail, but Gore rallied in the Pacific states and crept close to the 270 electoral votes needed for victory.
In the early-morning hours, Florida and its 25 electoral votes took center stage. Most political observers had expected the state, with Bush’s brother Jeb as governor, to land in Bush’s column, but Gore had mounted a surprisingly determined and effective campaign.
His running mate, Connecticut Senator Joe Lieberman, the first person of the Jewish faith on a major national party ticket, had devoted large chunks of time to Florida and especially to the state’s large communities of Jewish retirees.
To the shock of many pundits, the exit polling and available state returns suggested that Gore’s gamble may have paid off. By early evening on Election Night, the major TV networks, including pro-Republican Fox News, were putting Florida’s crucial 25 electoral votes in Gore’s column.
John Ellis, the head of the Fox election team and a cousin to George W. and Jeb Bush, later recalled that Jeb was soon on the phone complaining about the networks’ judgment that Florida would go for Gore.
Ellis said it was one of a half dozen or more calls he got on Election Night from his Bush cousins.
Ellis said he was looking at a computer “screenful for Gore.” But the two Bush brothers still voiced confidence that Florida would end up in George W.’s column before the election was finished.
By 2:16 a.m. on November 8, their confidence appeared vindicated when Ellis and his Fox team became the first of the networks to flip Florida from the Gore column to the Bush column.
The other members of the Voter News Service, a consortium of major TV networks and The Associated Press, followed suit, except for the AP, which treated Florida as still a toss-up.
“Anchors and show producers and analysts and commentators all hate reversals with a white-hot passion because it makes them look stupid instead of omniscient,” Ellis later observed.
But the reversals in the early hours of that Wednesday would have weighty consequences for the nation’s future. Suddenly, the TV network anchors were hailing George W. Bush as the President-elect of the United States, a stamp of legitimacy that would influence the course of events over the next month.
Persuaded by the network calls on Bush’s victory, an exhausted Al Gore called to congratulate Bush and headed off to a somber rally to concede defeat. Only last-minute protests from Democrats on the ground in Florida, who began questioning the news media’s certainty, stopped Gore from going through with his public concession.
Ellis said that in the final call that night from his cousin George W. Bush, the presumptive President-elect said Gore had just taken back his private concession to Bush. “I hope you’re taking all this down, Ellis,” Bush told his cousin. “This is good stuff for a book.”
By the morning of November 8, as Americans on the East Coast were awakening and turning on their televisions, many were stunned to find that the election remained unsettled.
Bush was clinging to a narrow lead in Florida but Gore was winning decisively in the most populous state, California, and thus was building a significant lead in the national popular vote.
It looked as if Bush might eke out a win in Florida and claim the presidency via the Electoral College, while simultaneously losing the popular vote.
Those Republican contingency plans for mounting a principled battle against letting a popular-vote loser into the White House were quickly shelved.
But it seemed possible, too, that Gore might chip away at Bush’s narrow lead of a few thousand votes in Florida and emerge as both the popular-vote and electoral-vote winner.
If Gore did so, it would vindicate the exit polls that had convinced the TV networks that Gore was headed to a close but clear victory in the Sunshine State.
In those first hours of the Florida election battle, it became obvious, too, that there had been major irregularities in the state’s voting.
Reform Party candidate Patrick Buchanan showed surprising strength in West Palm Beach precincts where Jewish retirees apparently were confused by a butterfly-shaped ballot and poked holes for Buchanan while meaning to vote for Gore.
There were also reports that a number of African-American voters, among the most loyal Democratic constituency, had been turned away from the polls or had been intimidated by police roadblocks. Thousands of other ballots were being spit out by vote-counting machines because old voting devices, especially in poorer precincts, had failed to punch holes completely through the ballots.
It appeared that the exit polls showing Gore as the choice of most Florida voters were correct – because voters thought they had voted for Gore and so informed the pollsters – but for a variety of reasons, their ballots were counted for someone else or were thrown out for not recording a clear choice for President.
A simple recalculation of the Florida ballots was not likely to correct these inaccuracies. Plus, nothing could be done about the mistaken votes for Buchanan.
But a statewide manual recount, in which canvassers would decide whether a ballot reflected the clear intent of the voters, still could recover enough Gore votes to overcome Bush’s tiny lead.
The recount battle, which would hold the nation transfixed for 36 days, would represent an effort by the Gore forces to compel a statewide recount – or at least, recounts in some of Florida’s largest cities – versus a fierce determination by the Bush campaign to prevent anything approaching a careful examination of the disputed ballots.
Controlling the Message
In the first hours and days of the Florida recount battle, the Republicans demonstrated their dexterity in getting out their desired message, both through their own media mouthpieces like Rush Limbaugh and Fox News and through leading mainstream media outlets that still nursed resentment toward Al Gore and Bill Clinton.
The Republicans, who only days earlier were preparing to man the barricades if Gore had won the electoral vote but lost the popular vote, smoothly shifted to a new rationale to justify Bush’s claim to the presidency, even if he was a popular-vote loser.
The new Republican theme was that Republicans had politely stepped aside during other close elections to maintain national unity and now the Democrats should return the favor.
On November 10, The New York Times highlighted on its op-ed page the supposed example of Richard Nixon’s gracious acceptance of defeat in 1960, despite questions of voting irregularities by John F. Kennedy’s campaign in Illinois and Texas.
“Whatever else he was, Nixon was a patriot,” wrote author Richard Reeves. “He understood what recounts and lawsuits and depositions carried out over months – even years – would do to the nation.”
On November 11, The Washington Post gave prominent play to a similar op-ed column by former Senator Bob Dole with the title, “Do the Right Thing, Mr. Gore.”
The point of the article was that Gore was acting in a selfish manner when he demanded that the Florida votes be recounted.
“It was a close election, but it’s over,” wrote Dole, the Republican presidential nominee in 1996. “I urge Al Gore to put his country’s agenda ahead of his agenda; to put the people’s interests before his personal interests.”
Dole then cited the examples of Nixon conceding defeat in 1960 and Gerald Ford conceding in 1976. Dole, who was Ford’s vice presidential running-mate, described Ford as rebuffing calls from aides who felt “a few changed votes in a couple of key states” would have elected him.
But neither the Ford example nor the Nixon case was parallel to Election 2000. What was left out of those op-eds was that Jimmy Carter defeated Ford by 1.7 million votes nationwide in 1976. Even if Ford could have reversed enough votes in a few states to claim the Electoral College, he would have won by defying the popular will.
The same was true of Nixon in 1960, although the popular vote was much closer. John F. Kennedy won by about 119,450 ballots.
Though the stories of Nixon’s graceful exit have taken on the color of history from constant retelling, they also don’t match with the historical record.
Contrary to the image of Republicans meekly accepting the 1960 results, the GOP sought recounts in 11 states and mounted aggressive legal challenges in some. The outgoing Eisenhower administration, in which Nixon was Vice President, even launched criminal investigations of voting irregularities, though without much result.
While the cherished tales of political statesmanship may seem innocent enough, they fed a growing resentment by Republicans who – with increasing bitterness – demanded that Gore step aside and accept Bush as the rightful winner.
The thinking went that it was the Democrats’ turn to do “what’s right for the country.”
What’s at Stake
In the weeks after the November 7 election, a lot was written about the Florida recount battle, but very little of it explained to the American people how extraordinary the struggle was.
In a representative democracy, nothing is perhaps more important than an accurate counting of the votes. It is not just the way in which the governed bestow their consent upon their elected representatives; it’s how a free society settles its differences in a peaceful fashion.
But the Florida recount battle – which would decide who would sit in the most powerful office on earth – was treated by most of the U.S. news media simply as a spectacle, grist for talk-show mills, another chance to elevate personality over substance.
While there was smirking commentary on the sexual implications of the various types of chads – “pregnant, hanging and dimpled” – there was little in the way of serious or timely examination of Florida’s gross voting irregularities, including the use of faulty computerized data to disqualify thousands of black voters who were improperly knocked off the rolls after being misidentified as felons.
Bubbling beneath the surface also was the U.S. news media’s residual hostility toward a continuation of Clinton-era policies.
So, from the first days of the recount struggle, the focus was not on how historically remarkable the story was. Instead, the news media seemed perpetually annoyed that the election hadn’t been quickly settled.
In part, that was because some of the exhausted political reporters had no choice but to postpone previously scheduled vacations. In part, there was a general fondness for the idea of a Reagan-Bush restoration.
Wouldn’t it be reassuring to have back all those seasoned hands of the Reagan-Bush years, the likes of Colin Powell, Brent Scowcroft and Dick Cheney, not to mention the senior George Bush who presumably would be waiting in the wings whenever his inexperienced son needed some sage advice?
Wouldn’t it be great to usher those unctuous Clintons and their know-it-all No. 2 off the stage and as far away from Washington as possible?
For decades, political scientists had wrung their hands about the prospect of a popular-vote loser slipping into the White House through the creaky back door of the Electoral College.
That anti-democratic result had not occurred in the United States since 1888 – 112 years earlier – when Grover Cleveland beat Benjamin Harrison in the popular vote but lost in the Electoral College.
Yet, when this eventuality finally presented itself again in 2000, it prompted little commentary from either political scientists or advocates of democracy. Presumably that was because the outcome – a Bush victory – was what most of the political insiders wanted to see happen.
Still, the facts were these: Al Gore was the clear choice of the American people, albeit by a narrow margin of slightly over a half million votes out of 105 million cast.
Also, without any real doubt, he was the favorite of the voters of Florida, except that a variety of irregularities had conspired to cost him tens of thousands of votes and leave Bush with a lead of 930 votes after the initial tallies.
Helping Bush even more, the Florida electoral process was overseen by Bush partisans, including Secretary of State Katherine Harris, a co-chairman of Bush’s Florida campaign and a close political ally of Bush’s younger brother, Governor Jeb Bush.
Under international standards for judging elections, voting is supposed to be overseen by non-partisan experts, but this serious flaw in America’s electoral system had never been seriously addressed.
In Florida, the pro-Bush institutional bias would prove crucial as Harris ruled in Bush’s favor on every key issue.
Some of Gore’s lost votes could never be reclaimed no matter who was in charge of the vote counting. The most famous of those lost votes were the mis-punched “butterfly ballots” in Palm Beach County, which may have slashed about 13,000 votes from Gore’s tally.
Many elderly Palm Beach voters had trouble reading the complex ballot, which listed presidential choices in two side-by-side columns rather than in one vertical column as required by Florida law.
Many of these voters said they feared they accidentally cast their votes for Reform Party nominee Patrick Buchanan. After the election, Buchanan acknowledged that his surprising blip of 3,704 votes in the staunchly Democratic county, with a large Jewish population, almost certainly resulted from confusion.
Buchanan, who has found himself in controversies over alleged anti-Semitic comments, said he believed those votes were meant for Gore.
But it appeared that Gore lost even more votes when voters tried to correct their error. After mistakenly punching a hole for Buchanan, these Palm Beach voters punched a second hole for Gore.
In Palm Beach County, there were 19,120 ballots disqualified because of double-voting. The Palm Beach County canvassing board analyzed a sample of these disqualified ballots. From that sample of 144 ballots, 80 ballots – or 56 percent – showed punches for both Buchanan and Gore.
If that sample percentage were applied to the entire batch, Gore potentially lost 10,622 votes. If one counts 2,700 of the Buchanan votes as likely confused voters for Gore, that would put Gore’s lost vote in Palm Beach County alone at more than 13,000.
In other counties, allegations of outright misconduct had been raised. The NAACP complained that Florida authorities intimidated African-Americans who were trying to vote.
Across the state, hundreds – if not thousands – of likely Gore voters were told their names had been purged from the voting lists, though they were fully qualified to vote.
This phenomenon apparently resulted from Jeb Bush’s administration falsely identifying them as felons who are barred from voting under Florida law even after completing prison terms.
In Seminole County, election officials gave Republicans special access to absentee-ballot applications so corrections could be made and the votes counted for Bush. Democrats and individual voters with similar deficiencies in their applications were not given an opportunity to make corrections. Their votes were tossed out.
Bush outpolled Gore among Seminole County’s absentee ballots by nearly 5,000 votes, far more than Bush’s statewide lead.
Yet, while these irregularities boosted Bush’s totals or held Gore’s down, there was little or nothing that could be done to fix most of those problems.
So, the question became whether the state at least should examine the ballots that had been rejected by counting machine to see if the clear intent of the voter could be discerned.
Gore first sought an agreement with Bush for a statewide review of the uncounted ballots, a proposal that Bush rebuffed. Gore and his advisers then tried to make a case for a review of ballots in three of Florida’s major metropolitan areas.
As the recount battle took shape, the two sides also adopted different tactics among their partisans.
Gore tamped down the anger of his supporters, called on them to trust in the rule of law and sought relief in the state courts. By contrast, Bush revved up his backers, played hardball politics at every turn and deployed smart lawyers to stop a recount.
Bush flew into a rage when the Florida Supreme Court ruled that Florida law permitted hand recounts, which would seem to have been a rather obvious point and well within the normal authority of a state court.
But Bush accused the Democratic-majority court of overstepping its bounds. Bush said the ruling sought “to change Florida’s election laws and usurp the authority of Florida’s election officials.”
Bush added that “writing laws is the duty of the legislature; administering laws is the duty of the executive branch.”
Bush left out the third component of the U.S. system of checks and balances, a fact taught to every American child in grade-school civics class – that it is the duty of the judiciary to interpret the laws.
It’s also the responsibility of the courts to resolve differences between parties under the law.
Besides suggesting a troubling ignorance of the U.S. political system, Bush’s harsh language sent a strong message to Republican demonstrators who were already assembling to contest the examination of disputed ballots.
While some of the pro-Bush demonstrators were local, including the notoriously aggressive right-wing Cuban exiles, scores of others were being recruited from Republican congressional offices in Washington and flown down to Florida.
These two groups merged together on November 22, the day before Thanksgiving to present a shocking scene on U.S. television.
After learning that the Dade County canvassing board was starting an examination of 10,750 disputed ballots that had not been previously counted, a mob – egged on by Republican phone banks and heated rhetoric over Cuban-American radio – descended on the board’s Miami offices.
They shouted slogans and carried anti-Gore signs, such as one that read “Rotten to the Gore.”
As the count was about to begin, Representative John Sweeney, a New York Republican, called on the protesters to “shut it down.” Other Republicans used megaphones to shout inflammatory rhetoric to incite the already angry crowd.
“A lawyer for the Republican Party helped stir ethnic passions by contending that the recount was biased against Hispanic voters,” The New York Times reported.
“Emotional and angry, they immediately make their way outside the larger room in which the tabulating room is contained,” wrote Jake Tapper in his book on Election 2000, Down and Dirty. “The mass of ‘angry voters’ on the 19th floor swells to maybe 80 people.”
News cameras captured the chaotic scene. The mob charged the offices of the supervisor of elections, shouting slogans and pounding on the doors and walls. Security officials feared the confrontation was spinning out of control.
The unruly protest prevented official observers and members of the press from reaching the room. Miami-Dade county spokesman Mayco Villafana was pushed and shoved. The canvassing board suddenly reversed its decision and canceled the recount.
“Until the demonstration stops, nobody can do anything,” said David Leahy, Miami’s supervisor of elections, although the canvassing board members would later insist that they were not intimidated into stopping the recount.
While the siege of the canvassing board office was underway, county Democratic chairman Joe Geller stopped at another office seeking a sample ballot. He wanted to demonstrate his theory that some voters had intended to vote for Gore but instead marked an adjoining number that represented no candidate.
As Geller took the ballot marked “sample,” one of the Republican activists began shouting, “This guy’s got a ballot!”
In Down and Dirty, Tapper wrote: “The masses swarm around him, yelling, getting in his face, pushing him, grabbing him. ‘Arrest him!’ they cry. ‘Arrest him!’ With the help of a diminutive DNC aide, Luis Rosero, and the political director of the Miami Gore campaign, Joe Fraga, Geller manages to wrench himself into the elevator. Rosero, who stays back to talk to the press, gets kicked, punched. A woman pushes him into a much larger guy, seemingly trying to instigate a fight. In the lobby of the building, a group of 50 or so Republicans are crushed around Geller, surrounding him. …
“The cops escort Geller back to the 19th floor, so the elections officials can see what’s going on, investigate the charges. Of course, it turns out that all Geller had was a sample ballot. The crowd is pulling at the cops, pulling at Geller. It’s insanity! Some even get in the face of 73-year-old Representative Carrie Meek. Democratic operatives decide to pull out of the area altogether.”
When the canvassing board halted the recount, the Bush supporters cheered.
Only later would examination of photos of the protest reveal that many of the well-dressed demonstrators actually were Republican staffers from Capitol Hill. Because of their preppie clothing, the noisy demonstration became known as the “Brooks Brothers Riot.”
Bush and his top aides refused to criticize these disruptive tactics, which they insisted were simply spontaneous expressions by “angry voters.” But GOP operatives spotted among the demonstrators included Tom Pyle, an aide to House Majority Whip Tom DeLay of Texas, and Doug Heye, a spokesman for Representative Richard W. Pombo of California.
The Wall Street Journal reported that the assault on the canvassing board was led by national Republican operatives “on all expense-paid trips, courtesy of the Bush campaign.”
After their success in Dade, the rioters moved on to Broward County, where the protests remained unruly but failed to stop that count.
The Journal noted that “behind the rowdy rallies in South Florida this past weekend was a well-organized effort by Republican operatives to entice supporters to South Florida,” with DeLay’s Capitol Hill office taking charge of the recruitment.
About 200 Republican congressional staffers signed on and were put up at hotels, given $30 a day for food and invited to an exclusive Thanksgiving Day party in Fort Lauderdale.
The Journal reported that there was no evidence of a similar Democratic strategy to fly in national party operatives. “This has allowed the Republicans to quickly gain the upper hand, protest-wise,” the Journal said.
The Bush campaign also worked to conceal its hand.
“Staffers who joined the effort say there has been an air of mystery to the operation. ‘To tell you the truth, nobody knows who is calling the shots,’ says one aide. Many nights, often very late, a memo is slipped underneath the hotel-room doors outlining coming events,” the Journal reported.
The reinforcements from Capitol Hill added an angrier tone to the dueling street protests already underway between supporters of Bush and Gore.
The new wave of Republican activists injected “venom and volatility into an already edgy situation,” wrote reporter Jake Tapper in Down and Dirty.
“This is the new Republican Party, sir!” Brad Blakeman, Bush’s campaign director of advance travel logistics, bellowed into a bullhorn to disrupt a CNN correspondent interviewing a Democratic congressman. “We’re not going to take it anymore!”
Around the country, the conservative media apparatus, led by talk show host Rush Limbaugh and other pro-Bush pundits, rallied the faithful with charges that a hand recount was fraudulent and amounted to “inventing” votes for Gore.
At a Bush campaign-sponsored celebration on the night of Thanksgiving Day, one day after the melee, George W. Bush offered personal words of gratitude.
“The night’s highlight was a conference call from Mr. Bush and running mate Dick Cheney, which included joking reference by both running mates to the incident in Miami, two [Republican] staffers in attendance say,” according to the Wall Street Journal.
Another high point of the celebration at the party at the Hyatt on Pier 66 in Fort Lauderdale was a performance by crooner Wayne Newton who sang “Danke Schoen,” the German words for thank you very much.
On November 25, two days after the celebration, the Bush campaign issued “talking points” to justify the Miami protest, calling it “fitting, proper” and blaming the canvassing board for the disruptions.
Nineteen months later, the Bush campaign grudgingly spelled out how it had spent $13.8 million to frustrate the Florida recount.
In a filing with the Internal Revenue Service, the Bush campaign reported it had put about 250 staffers on the payroll, spent about $1.2 million to fly operatives to Florida and elsewhere, and paid for hotel bills adding up to about $1 million.
Bush’s total of $13.8 million was about four times the $3.2 million spent by the Gore recount committee. Bush, who on the stump was a fierce critic of lawyers, spent more just on lawyers – $4.4 million – than Gore did on his entire effort.
To add flexibility to the travel arrangements, a fleet of corporate jets also was assembled, including planes owned by Enron Corp., then run by Bush backer Kenneth Lay, and Halliburton Co., where Dick Cheney had served as chairman and chief executive.
Only a handful of the Brooks Brothers rioters were publicly identified, some through photographs published in The Washington Post. Jake Tapper’s book, Down and Dirty, listed 12 Republican operatives who took part in the Miami riot.
Half of those individuals received payments from the Bush recount committee, according to the IRS records.
The Miami protesters who were paid by Bush recount committee were: Matt Schlapp, a Bush staffer who was based in Austin and received $4,276.09; Thomas Pyle, a staff aide to House Majority Whip Tom DeLay, $456; Michael Murphy, a DeLay fund-raiser, $935.12; Garry Malphrus, House majority chief counsel to the House Judiciary subcommittee on criminal justice, $330; Charles Royal, a legislative aide to Representative Jim DeMint of South Carolina, $391.80; and Kevin Smith, a former GOP House staffer, $373.23.
At least three of the Miami protesters became members of Bush’s White House staff, the Miami Herald reported in 2002. They included Schlapp, a special assistant to the President; Malphrus, deputy director of the President’s Domestic Policy Council; and Joel Kaplan, another special assistant to the President.
Bush’s recount committee also paid $35,501.52 to the Hyatt Regency Pier 66 in Fort Lauderdale, where the Republican protesters celebrated on Thanksgiving Day.
A number of miscellaneous expenses also appear to have gone for party items, such as lighting, sound systems and even costumes.
Garrett Sound and Lighting in Fort Lauderdale was paid $5,902; Beach Sound Inc. in North Miami was paid $3,500; and the House of Masquerades, a costume shop in Miami, had three payments totaling $640.92, according to the Bush records.
Though the Bush records received little attention when they were publicly released in July 2002, they represented hard evidence that the Bush campaign had financed an operation to bring rioters across state lines to rough up political adversaries and interfere with the counting of votes.
Thirty-two years earlier, when anti-Vietnam War protests disrupted the Democratic National Convention in Chicago, federal prosecutors brought criminal charges against alleged ringleaders, known as the Chicago Seven, for “conspiring to cross state lines with the intent to incite a riot.”
In the Chicago Seven case, the jury eventually acquitted all defendants of conspiracy charges, though finding five defendants – David Dellinger, Tom Hayden, Rennie Davis, Abbie Hoffman and Jerry Rubin – individually guilty of inciting a riot, charges that later were reversed on appeal.
Ironically, the kind of documentary evidence that might have proved valuable in tying up the loose ends of the Chicago Seven conspiracy was present in the filings that the Bush recount committee made to the IRS.
Obviously, no case was ever brought against George W. Bush or other Republican leaders who helped finance and organize the Brooks Brothers Riot.
But the disruption of the Dade County vote count on November 22, 2000, made clear how far Bush’s supporters were prepared to go to put their man in the White House.
Protecting Bush’s Lead
By stopping the Dade County recount, the Republicans effectively guaranteed that Bush’s 930-vote lead would survive any Gore gains in Broward and Palm Beach counties.
That, in turn, meant that four days later, on November 26, Republican Secretary of State Katherine Harris would declare Bush the winner of Florida’s 25 electoral votes and thus the presidency.
That prospect was welcomed by many Washington insiders, whose views were expressed by Washington Post columnist Richard Cohen on November 24.
“Given the present bitterness, given the angry irresponsible charges being hurled by both camps, the nation will be in dire need of a conciliator, a likable guy who will make things better and not worse,” Cohen wrote. “That man is not Al Gore. That man is George W. Bush.”
But the recount drama pressed on. By the evening of the November 26 deadline, the Broward County vote had whittled down Bush’s lead. Gore was gaining slowly in Palm Beach’s recount, too, despite constant challenges from Republican observers.
To boost Bush’s margin back up by 52 votes, Secretary of State Harris allowed Nassau County to throw out its recounted figures that had helped Gore. The county reverted back to the original Election Night count that had been more favorable to Bush.
As a 5 p.m. deadline approached, the Palm Beach canvassing board asked for a short extension to finish the contentious recount. Harris refused, rejecting even the partial recount figures that Palm Beach sent in the interim.
With Palm Beach excluded and Dade County shut down, Harris certified Bush the winner by 537 votes, a victory margin of 0.009 percent of the 5.9 million ballots cast.
The certification ceremony was conducted with all the fanfare of an international treaty being signed. Bush partisans cheered their victory and began demanding that Bush be called the president-elect.
Soon afterwards, Bush appeared on national television to pronounce himself the winner and to call on Gore to concede defeat.
“Now,” Bush said, “we must live up to our principles. We must show our commitment to the common good, which is bigger than any person or any party. … The end of an election is the beginning of a new day. Together we can make this a positive day of hope and opportunity for all of us who are blessed to be Americans.”
But the Gore campaign still announced it would fight on in the courts to try to make sure that every legal vote was counted.
Yet, Republicans were leaving little doubt that whatever the actual vote tally was, they would block Gore from ever getting Florida’s 25 electoral votes, either by having the Republican-controlled state legislature intervene or by turning to the U.S. House of Representatives, which also had a GOP majority.
The voters’ will on Election Day – both nationally and in Florida – may have been to elect Al Gore and Joe Lieberman. But Bush and the Republicans had demonstrated through their hardball political strategies – and their readiness to use mob tactics – that they had the will to win.
Indeed, it was remarkable, though little noted, that the Republicans had dropped any pretense of suggesting that Bush’s election actually reflected the desires of the American voters.
Nationally, Republicans termed Gore’s popular-vote victory irrelevant. In Florida, they called the confusion and irregularities simply the way the system works, tough luck.
To the Bush camp, winning became everything, while Gore was excoriated as a “sore loser man,” a play on words of Gore-Lieberman.
Before all the world, “President-Elect” George W. Bush had demonstrated his triumph of the will.
The battle over Election 2000 would soon move to the U.S. Supreme Court. For that decision – and its consequences for the United States – see Neck Deep: The Disastrous Presidency of George W. Bush.
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