Bush got busy running the country by crafting a business plan for the transition and his initial months in the White House even while the outcome of the election was still in doubt. During the interminable vote-counting in Florida, Gore often seemed the senior partner in the team of lawyers fighting the case. Bush, on the other hand, left the legal battle to longtime family adviser and former secretary of state James A. Baker III. Bush publicly went about the business of being governor while more quietly working on the transition to the presidency. It was a two-pronged strategy, in part to signal to the country that he fully expected to win the recount and in part to make sure he got a fast start on the job.
In less than three weeks he completed the task of naming his cabinet. He then made a ten-year tax cut his top policy priority. The projected budget surplus was huge, and he wanted to lock up the money before Congress could spend it. Some analysts though it was unwise to make the revenue evaporate before anyone knew how much new programs and a fix for social security might cost. But Bush was determined to follow the Reagan model: shrink revenue to drive down spending—don’t use available revenue to fuel it.
That put the Democrats in a terrible box. They could oppose Bush’s plans, look like fans of higher taxes or of big government—or both. Or they could support Bush, share the political benefits of a tax cut, and give the president a quick victory. By a surprisingly large and quick margin, he won his tax cut.
Following the tax vote, Bush focused on his education agenda. As governor, he had championed better schools. In the campaign, he argued that local schools ought to meet tough standards or lose their federal aid. He was promoting this phase of his strategy, in fact, when he visited a Florida classroom on the morning of September 11.
Finally, Bush envisioned a foreign policy initiative, especially to deal with Iraq and his belief that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction. He and his advisers saw Saddam Hussein as a substantial threat, and he wanted to deal with Hussein before the Iraqi leader had a chance to cause mischief.
In the meantime, of course, the September 11 terrorist attacks intervened. Bush had no choice but to push his education and domestic policy agenda to the back burner and focus on foreign policy. In addition, his attention overseas was focused, out of necessity, on al Qaeda and Osama bin Laden, not Saddam Hussein. Bush and his advisers quickly had to retool their business plan to make security within the United States their first job. It was to their advantage that they already had experience at retooling, experience that had already led to Bush’s big tax cut success.