NY Daily News November 1, 2000
They're not only thinking the unthinkable, they're planning for it.
Quietly, some of George W. Bush's advisers are
preparing for the ultimate "what if" scenario:
What happens if Bush wins the popular vote for President, but loses
because Al Gore's won the majority of electoral votes?
"Then we win," says a Gore aide. "You play by the rules in force
at the time. If the nation were really outraged by the possibility,
then the system would have been changed long ago. The history is clear."
Yes it is, and it's fascinating. Twice before, Presidents have been
elected after losing the popular vote. In 1876, New York Gov.
Samuel Tilden won the popular vote (51% to 48%) but lost the
presidency to Rutherford Hayes, who won by a single electoral
vote. Twelve years later, in 1888, Grover Cleveland won the
popular vote by a single percentage point, but lost his reelection
bid to Benjamin Harrison by 65 electoral votes.
The same thing almost happened in 1976 when Jimmy Carter
topped Gerald Ford by about 1.7 million votes. Back then, a
switch of about 5,500 votes in Ohio and 6,500 votes in
Mississippi would have given those states to Ford, enough for an
Electoral College victory. But because it didn't happen, the upset
over its having almost happened faded rapidly.
Why do we even have the Electoral College? Simply put, the
Founding Fathers didn't imagine the emergence of national
candidates when they wrote the Constitution, and, in any event,
they didn't trust the people to elect the President directly.
A lot has changed since then, including the anachronistic view that
the majority should be feared. But the Electoral College remains.
So what if Gore wins such crucial battleground states as Florida,
Michigan and Pennsylvania and thus captures the magic 270
electoral votes while Bush wins the overall nationwide popular vote? "The one thing we don't do is roll over," says a Bush aide. "We fight."
How? 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,"
says 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."
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. "You think 'Democrats for Democracy' would be a
catchy term for them?" asks a Bush adviser.
The universe of people who would be targeted by this insurrection
is small — the 538 currently anonymous folks called electors,
people chosen by the campaigns and their state party organizations
as a reward for their service over the years.
If you bother to read the small print when you're in the booth,
you'll notice that when you vote for President you're really
selecting presidential electors who favor one candidate or the other.
Generally, these electors are not legally bound to support the
person they're supposedly pledged to when they gather in the
various state capitals to cast their ballots on Dec. 18. The rules
vary from state to state, but enough of the electors could
theoretically switch to Bush if they wanted to — if there was
sufficient pressure on them to ratify the popular verdict.
And what would happen if the "what if" scenario came out the
other way? "Then we'd be doing the same thing Bush is apparently
getting ready for," says a Gore campaign official. "They're just
further along in their contingency thinking than we are. But we
wouldn't lie down without a fight, either." http://www.bartcop.com/111tie.htm