“They can say what they want about me, but at least I know who I am and who my friends are.”
—George W. Bush, speaking to NBC’s Alexandra Pelosi, 2002
“ … people should do what they say they are going do to, particularly in politics. … I think that is probably the single most important tenet of his philosophy.”
Americans have long prided themselves on setting the standards by which the world’s elections ought to be run. They were certainly unprepared for the aftermath of the 2000 presidential election, with a weekslong court battle that never seemed to end. Each press conference by the warring Gore and Bush featured an escalation of American flags in the backdrop, with each side struggling to appear more presidential. The two campaigns battled over the keys to Washington’s official presidential campaign headquarters—and the $5 million pot of transition funds. The nation got a painful, extended lesson in the Electoral College, perhaps the most arthritic section of America’s living constitution.
Throughout it all, Team Bush had a clear and straightforward strategy. By acting as winners, they strengthened their case that they were the winners. They pointed to Gore’s initial phone call to concede the election and quietly suggested Gore was working behind the scenes to undermine Florida law. But throughout it all, Bush stayed above the fray, focusing on key issues and assembling his cabinet. It was simple: Playing the part would make the reality.