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November 1, 2000 and After: Bush Campaign Preparing to Defy Electoral College if Gore Wins Electoral Tally, Loses Popular Vote

The Bush/Cheney campaign logo.The Bush/Cheney campaign logo. [Source: P. Freah]The presidential campaign of George W. Bush (R-TX), fearing that Vice President Al Gore (D-TN) might win the election in the US Electoral College while Bush ekes out a lead in the collective popular vote, devises a strategy to challenge Gore’s legitimacy as the elected president. Bush campaign advisors believe that Green Party candidate Ralph Nader might take millions of votes from Gore nationwide, but not enough in key states to cost Gore a state’s electoral votes. Gore could, theoretically, win 270 or more electoral votes without amassing a majority in the popular vote. In such a case, both the Constitution and historical precedent is clear: Gore wins without argument. “You play by the rules in force at the time,” a Gore aide tells a reporter. “If the nation were really outraged by the possibility, then the system would have been changed long ago. The history is clear.” In 1876, New York Governor Samuel Tilden won the popular vote but lost the presidency to Rutherford B. Hayes, who won a majority of Electoral College votes. In 1888, Grover Cleveland won the popular vote, but lost the presidency to Benjamin Harrison in the Electoral College tally. In 1976, slight differences in the vote tallies in Ohio and Mississippi would have given President Gerald Ford enough electoral votes to beat challenger Jimmy Carter. A Bush aide tells his fellows, “The one thing we don’t do is roll over—we fight.” The New York Daily News will later report: “[T]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.” The Bush strategy is to launch a massive, orchestrated assault via conservative talk radio, Fox News, and other conservative media outlets to portray the Electoral College as unfair and non-binding. A Bush aide tells a reporter: “We’d have ads, too, 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 Daily News writes that the strategy goes further than a media blitz: “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.” A Bush advisor speculates on the creation of a “grassroots” organization, perhaps to be called “Democrats for Democracy,” that would advocate for the ignoring of the Electoral College in favor of calling for installation of Bush via the popular vote—a process that is entirely outside the Constitution. The Bush strategy would also pressure some of the 538 individual electors. Although it is customary for each elector to vote for the candidate that his or her state selected, legally they are not bound to do so, and can change their votes, although this has happened only rarely in US history and never impacted an election. According to a Boston Globe report, the Bush strategy would “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.… One informal Bush advisor, 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 advisor tells the Globe reporter: “That’s what America is all about, isn’t it. I’m sure we would make a strong case.” The Daily News calls the Bush strategy a preparation for electoral “insurrection.” [New York Daily News, 11/1/2000; Consortium News, 11/10/2000]

Entity Tags: George W. Bush presidential campaign 2000, George W. Bush, Albert Arnold (“Al”) Gore, Jr.

Timeline Tags: 2000 Elections, Civil Liberties

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