"[F]or Supreme Court watchers this case will be like BC and AD. For many of my colleagues, this was like the day President Kennedy was assassinated. Many of us [had] thought that courts do not act in an openly political fashion." -- Yale law professor Akhil Reed Amar
Karl Rove, Bush's political guru since his early days in Texas, was determined to use the Bush presidency to lock down the American political landscape for Republicans to dominate for generations to come. Rove looked to the election of Republican William McKinley in 1898 as a template -- McKinley's election, with the exception of the presidency of Woodrow Wilson, saw the complete domination of Republicans for nearly forty years, until the Great Depression and Franklin Roosevelt's New Deal. McKinley's political guru, Mark Hanna, engineered a campaign designed to appeal to the nation's then-new urban ethnic workforce. In 2000, Rove told a reporter, "[McKinley, with the advice of Hanna] knew his party, the Republican Party, was ill equipped to make the shift from the Civil War generation to a newer, younger generation. And he says, 'We've got to find out how we do something different.' He reaches out to Catholics, which, after 'rum, Romanism, and rebellion,' is absolute anathema. He realizes that immigrants are a strength, they are the new rising class, part of the new economy. They are of value to the knew America he sees coming, so he reaches out to them. McKinley visits the archbishop of Minneapolis. He talks about reform with Teddy Roosevelt. He sends fourteen pieces of mail and publications to every voter who voted in the 1896 election. Croatian American literature, the first mass-produced political publication in Yiddish. It was a pretty amazing campaign under the surface."
Like McKinley, Rove will orchestrate a parade of big-money Republicans to propitiate Bush to "consider" running for election, and in the process not only give the relatively unknown and inept Bush far greater national status among the GOP (and the mainstream media), but line up the biggest campaign treasury in American history. Rove determined to duplicate and surpass the McKinley model, expanding the Bush base beyond the traditional business owners and white Protestants to include more Catholics, minorities, and other oft-ignored demographic groups. As a result, though Al Gore will beat Bush among Catholics in 2000, 49% to 47%, Rove was encouraged by noting that of practicing Catholics, Bush won 55% of their votes. Like religious advisors Ralph Reed and Deal Hudson have long said, the important divides were not between denominations but through them. For Catholics, the money issue was abortion.
Democrats have long considered Catholics a near-lock for their party; Catholics have been perceived as either largely voting Democratic or staying home. But Bush's stance on abortion resonates with Catholic leaders. During one meeting with Cardinal O'Connor of New York, Hudson paused for reflection: "Should I be doing this?" he asked. "I'm the publisher of a non-profit [Catholic] magazine." O'Connor retorted, "Deal, you should do it, and you should win. You have to."
Early in the campaign, Bush made a well-publicized visit to the Pope at the papal summer residence, Castel Gandolfo. Bush, ever intolerant of "other" religions, was dubious about the visit, but the pope won Bush over by speaking eloquently and sternly about his opposition to stem-cell research, calling it "an evil on the level of infanticide." After the meeting, Bush told Hudson, "I love your pope. You can really tell this guy is holy. What a great pope." The pope's influence on Bush's resistance to stem-cell research will echo throughout his presidency. More importantly for Rove, the issue would work to galvanize anti-abortion Catholics. Publicly Bush straddled the issue, saying he would only support federal funding for existing lines of stem cells but not for new ones, and after massaging from Rove and other GOP operatives, Catholic and Protestant leaders alike came together behind Bush's stance.
By 2004, Bush actually won among Catholic voters, garnering 52% of their votes against a Catholic opponent. And in the process, Bush gained ground among Protestant voters as well. Moore and Slater write, "The Protestants were the core. Catholics expanded the base -- each drawn into a political alliance around the larger theme of moral values. A permanent Republican machine required a lot of alliances, but the Christians were a start." (James Moore and Wayne Slater)
"My purpose...is to warn the rational majority, whose minds have not been closed by propaganda, that the activists who stole the last election also plan to steal the next one, as it is not in them to accept defeat, or to observe the law, as we have seen. They would have 'won' the White House last time even if Ralph Nader never had been born, and they will 'win' the next one, come what may, unless the people keep a watchful eye on them and on the media. Otherwise we may well have no more elections in this country -- no doubt for reasons of 'security,' the times no longer being right for so unsafe and decadent a system as democracy." The author of these words, Mark Crispin Miller, wrote them in 2003; his next book, Fooled Again, documents the outright theft of the presidential and numerous congressional races in the November 2004 election. As of yet, there has not been any declaration of martial law that suspends elections, but as long as the far right, the corporate oligarchs, and the fanatical evangelicals have such a death grip on the country's voting mechanism, no such law will ever be needed; the outcome of all such elections is pre-ordained.
"I am still waiting...for my first conservative friend or even acquaintance to show the slightest bit of anger over what those [five Supreme Court] justices did. ...Their guy, Bush, got in, and they don't give a damn how he got there. In other words, they aren't troubled in the least that the Supreme Court may have committed one of the biggest crimes in American history. Their hatred for the Democratic Party (even thought it had just delivered, or contributed to the deliverance of eight years of unprecendented prosperity and peace, and their candidate, Bush, had no national or international experience, no intellectual curiosity and seemed to be proud of it, and looked as presidential as the guy who walks on state when the magician asks for volunteers) was such that as long as they got those dreaded Democrats out of 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, it was immaterial how they did it or who their candidate was. One is reminded of Jack Ruby's remark after killing Lee Harvey Oswald: 'Someone had to kill that son of a b*tch.'" -- Vincent Bugliosi
"Imagine for a moment how Al Gore would have been treated by the likes of Rush Limbaugh, the Wall Street Journal editorial page, Fox News, and Republicans in Congress had the situation been reversed. ...Try to imagine, then, what the result would have been had this been the sequence of events. Bush wins half a million more votes than Gore nationally. The electoral vote is determined by a single state. In this state, Gore's brother happens to be governor. The chief election official, who will render the ultimate judgment on who won, happens to be the cochair of the state's Gore campaign. Before the election, she hires a private firm to purge the state's voter rolls of people with felony convictions; this company decides to take it a couple of steps farther and remove not only people whose convictions happened in other states (and are thus eligible to vote in Florida) but also 'possible' felons, most of whom are in a demographic category that in Florida will give over 90 percent of its votes to Bush, but who have the misfortune of having a similar name, age, and race as someone who committed a crime. Thousands of these men show up to vote on election day, only to find that their names have been removed from the voter rolls. In one county, thousands of Republican voters mistakenly vote for Ralph Nader because of a confusing ballot. It becomes clear that the least reliable voting machines -- those most prone to throwing out legitimate votes -- were overwhelmingly used in Republican precincts.
"The Gore cochair takes steps to cut off hand counts in heavily Republican counties and certify the state for Gore, issuing ruling after ruling that benefits the Tennessean. It is later revealed that, despite her denials, she and her staff were in constant contact with the Gore campaign during the recount process. In one majority Republican county, a mob organized by Democratic congressional staffers and spurred on by DNC phone banks and Democratic radio talk-show hosts stages a riot, intimidating election officials into halting their vote count, after a Democratic congressman issues an order over the phone to 'Shut it down!' Instead of castigating the brownshirts for their tactics and pledging his support for democratic principles, Gore pays for a party, complete with entertainment provided by Wayne Newton, to celebrate their success in shutting down the vote counting; he and his running mate make a congratulatory phone call to the revelers and joke about the riot. The Gore cochair finally certifies a victory by a margin of less than one one-hundredth of one percent. The challenge to the result reaches the Supreme Court, where the liberal majority first issues a stay halting the counting of votes, citing as its justification saving Gore from political harm should the count reveal that he actually lost. It then turns its back on the most fundamental principle which had guided its jurisprudence in order to award Gore the victory. In an unprecedented remark, the Court admits that its decision has no legitimate basis by warning future appellants that the decision may not be used as precedent. IRS documents later reveal that Gore spent four times as much money as Bush fighting for Florida. Months later, a reexamination of the ballots reveals that more people voted for Bush than for Gore.
"On reflection, this scenario seems farcical, but if you take the previous paragraph and change 'Gore' to 'Bush' and vice-versa, it is exactly what happened. Now take this scenario and add in what you know about the Republican party and its supporters in the media. How would they have treated such a President Gore? Would someone have introduced a bill in the House to impeach Gore the day after his inauguration? After all, a bill was introduced in the House to impeach Clinton long before anyone had heard the name Lewinsky. How many elected Republicans would refuse to acknowledge President Gore? How many congressional committees would launch investigations of the voting in Florida? How long would it have taken for Republicans to call for indictments of the congressman and congressional staffers who coordinated the brownshirt riot in Miami? Would articles of impeachment be introduced to remove the partisan Supreme Court justices from office? What terms would the right-wing media devise to refer to Gore to avoid using the term 'president?' How quickly would a Constitutional amendment abolishing the electoral college move through the Congress? How many books would right-wing publisher Regnery rush into print challenging the results of the election? Would the right ever, even for a single day of his presidency, cease challenging President Gore's legitimacy?" -- Paul Waldman
(My own question is, why were there no similar reactions on the left?)
The Bush campaign's allegations against Al Gore were not merely attempt to tar the opponent, but well-considered attacks designed to draw attention away from the very same characterizations that could be used to describe Bush. The attacks on Gore's "privileged background" deflected attention from Bush's own, vastly more privileged, upbringing. Attacking Gore as a "serial liar" took the attention away from Bush's vastly more complex edifice of lies. The campaign even accused Gore of outspending Bush -- "This man has outspent me!" Bush falsely complained -- and, of course, the Bush campaign's systematic and successful attempts to steal the election were combined with relentless attacks on the Democrat's supposed attempts to steal the election themselves. Once stolen, the mantra was that Gore tried and failed to steal it, and only the Republicans' heroic efforts prevented the election from being thieved. Mark Crispin Miller writes that Bush/Cheney's stunning tapestry of lies and false accusations goes well beyond garden-variety lying and into the realm of Orwellian doublethink: "It takes us well beyond the sphere of simple lies or ideology, and out into the twilight region of pathology, where all hate propagandists partly dwell, and where many operate full-time."
Miller compares the Bush style of pathological doublethink with Hitler, an overused comparison that nevertheless sheds light on the mindset of the Bush true believers. "When Hitler wrote his second book [the unpublished follow-up to Mein Kampf], he was staring into a mirror," writes reviewer Omer Bartov: "It is truly astonishing to see how every sin that Hitler ascribed to 'the Jew' became part of his own policies as he himself outlined them in his second book and later implemented them: the destruction of entire nations by the elimination of their elites; their mass deportation; and in the case of the Jews, their outright genocide. And it is just as mind-boggling to note that the endless depravity attributed by Hitler to the Jews became the reality of German conduct under his rule, which deprived the Reich of every remnant of moral constraint, and finally drove it into an insane storm of self-destruction. What Hitler said would be done to Germany, he did unto others; and he and his people became victims of the nemesis that he prophesied for his enemies." Miller extends the comparison to Josef Stalin, where "the villain-image of the enemy came to represent...everything that Stalin rejected and condemned in himself," quoting Robert Tucker. "All that belonged to the rejected evil Stalin -- the errors, flaws, and elements of villainy that had no place in his hero-image of himself -- tended to be incorporated into his picture of the enemy, especially the picture of the internal emeny as villain of party history." Miller writes, "The 'enemy' residing in themselves, both dictators had to push the fight unto their own annihilation, in the process taking with them millions of their real and seeming enemies, and millions of their own supporters." -- Mark Crispin Miller
"There was enormous, not limited, self-interest behind the votes of the five Justices who delivered the election to Bush. And they were able to do what they did because at their core, and at the moment of truth, their characters came up seriously wanting." -- Vincent Bugliosi
Famed prosecutor Vincent Bugliosi analyzes, and shreds, the Supreme Court's rationale for their decision in Bush v. Gore, the argument that allowing the Florida recounts would violate the 14th Amendment's "equal protection" clause due to Florida counties' varying recount standards: "If the Court's five-member majority was concerned not about Bush, but the voters themselves, as they fervently claimed to be, then under what conceivable theory would they, in effect, tell these voters, 'We're so concerned that some of you undervoters may lose your vote under the different Florida county standards that we're going to solve the problem by making sure that none of you undervoters have your votes counted."
The argument itself is fatally flawed for a number of reasons. First, equal protection must in this case apply equally to both Bush and Gore, but the entire Supreme Court argument is based on protecting Bush's rights at the expense of Gore's. Secondly, in the entire judicial history of the United States, equal protection claims have always been brought by the aggrieved party, the ones being harmed and discriminated against -- in this case Florida voters who felt that their votes were unfairly counted. No Florida voter brought such a complaint. "What happened here is Bush leaped in and tried to profit from a hypothetical wrong inflicted on someone else," Bugliosi writes. In no way can the Court fairly construe that Bush would have been harmed any more, or any less, by a full recount than would Gore. Counting the disputed undervotes would have resulted in more votes for both Bush and Gore; because one candidate would presumably obtain more votes than another is in no way "harmful," but is the essence of a democratic election. As a sidebar, Bugliosi notes that the five justices have traditionally been hostile to equal-protection arguments brought by the real victims of discrimination -- minorities, women, gays, etc. -- in cases brought before the Court.
USC law professor Erwin Chermerinsky notes, "I can't think of a single instance where Scalia or Thomas had found discrimination against a racial minority, or women, or the aged, or the disabled, to be unconstitutional." He also notes that as every one of the 50 states has different vote-counting standards (for example, California refuses to count dimpled chads, while Florida does), then the ruling, if applied to all the states, would invalidate every election throughout the country. Apparently the five justices thought this through, as they noted that this case was only applicable to this one particular case and could not be used in any other instance or as a precedent for any other judicial decision -- an equally astonishing legal caveat. "Of the thousands of potential equal protection voting cases," writes Bugliosi, "the Court was only interested in, and eager to grant relief to, one person and one person only: George W. Bush."
Bugliosi is harshly critical of Gore's lead attorney in the case, David Boies. Boies knew from the Court's own questioning that the thrust of their decision would be based on the "equal protection" clause, yet Boies spends less than two minutes arguing that issue, and that time was granted to him by Chief Justice Rehnquist. Of course, as Bugliosi and others have already noted, the five justices have already made up their minds, and no argument, however well reasoned, would have swayed their judgment.
Bugliosi is particularly incensed at the Court's pretense, after throwing out over 60,000 undervotes that under Florida law should have been counted, that their ruling is intended to preserve "the fundamental right" to vote. "The court created a new right out of whole cloth," he quotes law professor David Cole as observing, "and made sure it ultimately protected only one person -- George Bush."
The majority opinion, written primarily by Kennedy with guidance from Scalia (a fact not known to Bugliosi when he wrote his book The Betrayal of America in 2001), cites four obscure cases as precedents for their unprecedented decision. Unfortunately for their argument, none of the cases apply to Bush v. Gore whatsoever. One, a Georgia case, deals with a county in which each vote was "diluted" due to increasing numbers of voters. The second, an Illinois case, addressed the legality of smaller counties forming new political parties, a right denied to larger counties. The third was an apportionment case, and the fourth involved poll taxes. "If a first-year law student ever cited completely inapplicable arguments like this, any thoughtful law professor would encourage him not to waste two more years trying to become a lawyer." Bugliosi quotes Yale law professor Akhil Reed Amar in saying that the five justices "failed to cite a single case that, on its facts, comes close to supporting its analysis and result." -- Vincent Bugliosi
Bugliosi says that the true importance of the decision goes far beyond a mere "loss of respect" for the Supreme Court, as so many have reacted: "[Since] the Court made an unquestionably political ruling...this means that these five Justices deliberately and knowingly decided to nullify the votes of the 50 million Americans who voted for Al Gore and to steal the election for Bush. ...The stark reality, and I say this with every fiber of my being, is that the institution Americans trust the most to protect its freedoms and principles committed one of the biggest and most serious crimes this nation has ever seen -- pure and simple, the theft of the presidency. And by definition, the perpetrators of this crime have to be denominated criminals." -- Vincent Bugliosi
"So well established was the Clinton-as-Satanic-liar line that it was easy to extend it to Al Gore throughout the presidential contest in 2000. Building both on Clinton's legendary dishonesty and on Gore's apparent history of little fibs, Bush's propaganda team cast Gore as a compulsive fabulist as well as stiff and haughty. 'This is a man who has difficulty telling the truth,' said Karl Rove on NBC's Meet the Press on October 8, 2000. 'He constantly exaggerates and embellishes.' 'The vice president has consistently and repeatedly made up things, exaggerated, embellished facts. And that's a warning sign,' said Karen Hughes on Fox News Sunday that same day. ('Now, unlike Al Gore, Gov. Bush doesn't just make up facts,' she added.) The anti-Clinton brigadiers all went for it: 'The guy can't tell the truth!' yelled David Bossie, coauthor of Slick Willie: Why America Cannot Trust Bill Clinton, on Fox the following day. 'He doesn't exaggerate, he lies!' (Bossie was discredited two years before, for the extensive doctoring of transcripts that he then tendered as evidence to the House Government and Reform Committee, chaired by Dan Burton.) 'More than anything,' claimed Robert Murdoch's New York Post, 'Al Gore's campaign has been about lies. He's the serial exaggerator, the political Pinocchio, the frequent fibber, the king of the whoppers.'"
The media spread the meme of Gore the congenital liar by "reporting" on the controversy without subjecting the allegations to any scrutiny. "There are a lot of people with significant doubts that Gore is a trustworthy figure," reported CNN's William Schneider, while Newsweek made Gore's "fib factor" a cover story. Schneider never bothered to tell his audience that those "people with significant doubts" were, by and large, Republican operatives with a vested interest in seeing Gore lose, and therefore anything but reliable sources. But there is, ultimately, little difference between such "neutral" reporting and outright propaganda. "Why does Al Gore do it?" asked Cokie and Steven Roberts asked on October 12. "Why does he exaggerate and embellish his stories -- and his resume -- wheh he really doesn't have to? Gore is not in Clinton's class when it comes to prevarication. No finger-wagging denials of sex with interns. But his fibs are magnified because they remind folks of Clinton at his worst. As Ronald Reagan might say, 'There they go again."
It is hard to conceive of a better, more densely layered, and more complexly constructed propaganda piece for Republican purposes than this "straight" news commentary. Of course, the debunking of the myth of Gore as serial liar was already underway, but limited by the relative obscurity and limited impact of the debunkers -- most notably Bob Somersby and his Web site The Daily Howler. Meanwhile, Bush danced through the media circus untouched by questions about the lies concealing his "military service," his unadmitted drug use, his lies about his Harken Oil insider trading, and his lies about his record as governor of Texas. "And yet it was Gore, always Gore, whom the reporters kept on charging with mendacity, their take identical to the Republicans', and therefore finally serving no one but the most fanatical and bigoted Bush partisans, like the author of this fervent posting on freerepublic.com: 'I am so stunned that people would vote for this chronic liar. How can anyone want to be associated with the Democrats and be represented by the likes of, not just Algore [sic] and the Lying Clintons, but Al Sharpton, Jesse Jerkson (sic), Maxine Waters, Henry Waxman, Major Owens, etc. Such obvious liars and hippocrits (sic).'" -- Mark Crispin Miller
The reaction among most in the Bush camp to the "victory" was, of course, gleeful and unrestrained, but for Karl Rove and his senior operatives, the reaction was more one of guarded relief. While conservatives around the country, and the mainstream media, were hailing Rove and his crew as political geniuses, Rove is troubled by the figures from the polls. In Arizona, Rove thought Bush would win by a generous ten points, but Bush only won by six. Rove thought Florida would be tight, but would come through by two points; instead, Rove muses, "We won by a chad." Ohio was worse: Rove predicted an eleven-point margin of victory, but instead Bush squeaked through by merely two points. In one state after another, Rove's predicted margins of victory did not come through. "Why," he asks, "did we come so close to losing?"
A year later, Rove offered a partial explanation to a friendly crowd at the neoconservative American Enterprise Institute. "We failed to marshal support among the base as well as we should have," Rove told the crowd. "The big discrepancy is among self-identified, white, evangelical Protestants, Pentecostals, and fundamentalists." Rove expected 19 million "politically involved religious conservatives" to vote for Bush in November. Instead, "only" 15 million voted; the remaining 4 million stayed home. "I hope it's temporary," Rove said.
Rove isn't one to sit on the sidelines and count on hope. Rove began planning for the 2004 re-election even before Bush takes the oath of office. Rove met with, among others, White House political director Ken Mehlman (whom Rove soon emplaced as the chairman of the Republican National Committee), chief pollster Matthew Dowd, and campaign media chief Mark McKinnon, to begin planning strategy. One of the biggest items on his agenda was improved targeting voters. McKinnon went off to study the history of second terms and re-election strategies, and combed through reams of election poll data, vote totals, focus group results, demographic shifts, census data, and other information.
Dowd soon predicted Bush's poll numbers would begin dropping; not a welcome prediction in the post-election celebrations of the incoming administration officials, but, in the words of James Moore and Wayne Slater, "a cold splash of realism at moments of ill-founded exuberance." Dowd later recalls, "It was, like, two years before the election that we started doing all this -- getting ready, designing the media, designing the buy, deciding what we were going to do and how we were going to do it. There was a lot of thought and effort and resources going into this, all based on certain premises that turned out to be right."
Rove and Dowd's strategy for 2004 was predicated on the realization that the American electorate is so polarized, only a sliver -- 7-8% -- of the voters were up for grabs. While conventional political wisdom would counsel Bush and Rove to drive the first term towards the "mushy middle," playing on the theme of "compassionate conservatism" that Bush used in 2000, Rove went a different direction. Instead, he played on the polarization of American voters, determining to abandon any pretense of a centrist thrust and moving to energize and mobilize the conservative political base. Ohio GOP consultant Bob Klaffky recalls, "We were talking to people who we know if we got them to vote, they're going to vote for us. And I think the weakness of the other guy's plan [2004 Democratic presidential nominee John Kerry] was they were going to people to get them to vote, period. But they weren't certain they were going to vote for them." Dowd says, "In 2000, we spent 75% of our resources on persuasion. In 2004, we spent 75% of all resources on motivation."
Rove had a bigger goal in mind besides getting Bush elected and then re-elected for a second term. If he could build the machine he envisioned, he could ensure the perpetual political of the Republican Party for generations to come.
The biggest job Rove had was to align the religious conservatives and the economic conservatives, with their disparate concerns and agendas. These two wings of the party often found themselves at odds with one another, with the social conservatives actively opposing gay marriage and abortion, and fighting for mandatory school prayer and the installation of Judeo-Christian monuments on public property. The business conservatives, however, were far more concerned with shrinking government, cutting personal and corporate taxes, rolling back regulations, and passing business-friendly legislation. (One example of the two groups' colliding ideals was the idea of domestic-partner benefits, which businesses often used to attract employees, but which the religious right opposed as part of their antagonism towards gay marriage and civil unions.) Rove promised both sides pretty much everything they wanted for the next four years of Bush's presidency, and kept pressing home the idea that the two wings must set aside their differences and present a unified front to keep Republicans in control of the White House and of Congress. Rove successfully brought together, in an unwieldly but effective alliance, the National Rifle Association, the US Chamber of Commerce, small-business tax-cutters, anti-gay activists, and megachurch congregations, forging a sprawling and effective political base for Bush and the Republicans. "Karl Rove is the guy who kept all these factions together," said former Christian Coalition lobbyist Marshall Wittman.
In 2001, Rove already knew that Ohio, more so than Florida, would be the key to getting Bush re-elected. Ohio's 20 electoral votes were key to Bush's chances of retaking the White House, and keeping Bush in Washington was the linchpin to Rove's plans for Republican dominance. Rove saw Ohio as, in many ways, a microcosm of the entire country, and what political strategies worked in Ohio would work around the country. But Ohio would be tough. Its Republican Party was battered by a myriad of corruption investigations, and its economy was in a decline under GOP state leadership. "Just looking at this, Ohio should just throw Republicans out of office en masse," Ohio State political scientist Herb Asher said in 2005. "They've controlled everything. Things have gone downhill. We are worse off than the rest of the nation. There's no Democrats to blame for anything."
But historically, no Republican has ever won the White House without Ohio, a fact Rove knows well. The state is divided into sections that in many ways reflect the social and economic divisions of the nation -- the heavily urbanized, unionized, and stauchly Democratic northern belt; the middle of the state, centered around Cincinnati, is largely suburban and politically balanced; the northwest is largely farm country; and the southeast is an extension of Appalachia, poor, conservative, and rebellious against incumbents of either party. To win Ohio in 2004, Rove would have to do more than understand the geographical and social/economic divisions of the state. Many conservative Republicans in the state were quickly becoming disenchanted with Bush's economic policies. One influential state Republican, Rocky Saxbe, said in 2005, "Here we are a party that has been traditionally for less government and less interfering with personal choices -- a party with no deficits and with responsible economic policies. And now we're still saying those things but doing the opposite, and that's what's hard for me as a lifelong Republican. And it certainly seems to me that we are just scaring people. And clearly this administration has used it masterfully with terrorism and keeping people scared and reinforcing this need for vigilance and this kind of xenophobic approach to anyone who disagrees with us. And at the same time, they're cutting funding for safety and emergency forces. It's all smoke and mirrors. Whatever it takes to get elected."
Former Ohio Democratic candidate for Congress Tom Erney, a professor at Columbus State College, thinks that by some measures, voters are ignorant and therefore easily fooled by Rove's tactics: "Especially those rural voters who don't have a nickel in their pocket or a pot to piss in and can't go to college but they are embracing the Republicans because they are talking to them about God, guns, and being antigay. God, guns, and antigay is a great thing to be, especially in Appalachian Ohio." Rove knew how to play these voters: entice them into the GOP tent with the lure of social issues, and keep them there by playing on their fears of terrorism.
While Bush's economic policies had won him few supporters outside of his "core constituency" of the fabulously wealthy, Rove knew that in Ohio, and in key states throughout the country, social issues could mobilize the base. The proposed state constitutional amendment banning gay marriage would inflame religious conservatives to go to the polls in droves, but Rove had to be careful while promoting that amendment in Ohio (and eleven other states) not to alienate the country-club and business Republicans, not to mention the Republican moderates who were already uneasy about Bush. Rove's solution was, as worked before, microtargeting voters and forging an unwieldly alliance between disparate groups.
Rove developed a two-track strategy to sell Bush's re-election to Republicans. Rove would promote Bush as the nation's commander-in-chief, keeping the country safe from terrorism, and as a protector of Christian religious values. If successful, Rove believed that strategy could be continually used to marginalize Democrats and forge alliances among Republicans enough to ensure the dominance of the GOP for decades to come.
The microtargeting strategies were intense and unprecedented. Phone lists and direct mail were just the start. The 2004 campaign spent large amounts of money on studying the viewing habits of the targeted Republican voter, and using that data to decide on what TV stations and during what shows to air campaign ads. In Cleveland and Cincinnati, their target voters watch a lot of CSI and Law and Order, and spend more time than average watching CNN, Fox News, Speedvision, the Golf Channel, the History Channel, and the Learning Channel. (Democrats, according to the data, favored Court TV and the Game Show Network.) Those channels and those shows were inundated with GOP ad buys. In 2000, the Bush campaign didn't spend a dime on cable advertising. In 2004, the campaign spent $25 million on cable buys, reaching specifically targeted audiences. One interesting quirk was that Republican voters liked the TV comedy Will and Grace, which was driven by two openly gay characters. The vaunted "security moms" watching that show could be swayed by appeals to their fears of terrorism. Moore and Slater note, "While the president was reaching out to social conservatives by supporting a constitutional amendment to ban same-sex marriage, his ad team was buying commercials on a sitcom celebrating gay life."
A firm called TargetPoint created a database for the Bush campaign that overlaid three dozen characteristics to identify millions of potential voters around the country, including what magazines they read, what TV shows they watched, where they lived, what activities they preferred, what they bought, and how they voted. Voter "anger points" such as trial-lawyers fees, estate taxes, and same-sex marriage were elicited and used. Dowd said that the information allowed the campaign to quadruple the number of GOP voters that could be reached with specific messages through phone calls, direct mail, and door-to-door appeals.
Rove also made heavy use of so-called "527" groups; in Ohio, the two most heavily used were the egregrious "Swift Boat Veterans for Truth" and the hardly less odious "Progress for America Voter Fund." Under election law, such "independent" groups cannot coordinate with a political campaign. While both Republicans and Democrats went under the table to coordinate with 527s that supported their goals, Rove went well beyond the law in creating and orchestrating the campaigns of such groups. One of the first such orchestrations came in September 2004, when Ohio voters were treated to a Bush campaign ad featuring Kerry windsurfing, and hammering home the message that Kerry was a "flip-flopper," tacking back and forth with whatever political winds blew him. The ad concluded, "John Kerry: Whichever way the wind blows." Within hours, PAVF aired a similar ad entitled "Surfer Dude," showing a cartoon Kerry negotiating the waves on a brightly-colored surfboard and proclaiming, "Whichever way the wind blows, Kerry rides the wave. And Kerry surfs every direction on Iraq." The financial backers for PAFV and the official Bush campaign are often the same people, including California fundraiser Alex Spanos, Texas oilman T. Boone Pickens, and Texas multi-millionaire Bob Perry. Lawyer Ben Ginsburg worked for PAVF, SBVFT, and the Bush campaign. PAVF was founded by Tony Feather, a pharmaceutical lobbyist and longtime Rove associate who was political director for the 2000 Bush-Cheney campaign. The groups shared personnel, concocted plans, and echoed the same messages throughout the campaign.
While portraying Kerry as an irresolute flip-flopper, the Bush campaign and its "independent" associates worked to depict Bush as steadfast and resolute. "I'm telling you," says Dowd, "the number one thing motivating folks broadly was [that] they thought, 'I know this guy [Bush]. I know where he stands. He's true to himself. He's going to protect me. I believe this guy wakes up every day and thinks, We will kill terrorists.'" It was a clever, if misleading, campaign theme that lied both about Bush's own "steadfast" resolve and lied about Kerry's own "flip-flopping," aided by Kerry's own floundering about his 2002 vote to authorize the use of military force against Iraq and his subsequent reversal. 2004 had to be about national security. And by extension, it could not be, as so many second-term elections are, a referendum on Bush himself. Instead, voters had to be given a choice between a candidate they could depend on and one they could not. "If it were just a referendum on the president, we knew we would lose," recalls McKinnon. "But if we made it a choice between Kerry and Bush, we could win that proposition."
The move to frame the candidates began before Kerry won the nomination, and initially focused on the early Democratic frontrunner, Howard Dean. The Rove strategy would focus on Dean's perceived volatility, and portray him as shrill, vociferous, irresolute, and, by implication, emotionally unstable. But when the Dean campaign began losing steam, and Kerry won the New Hampshire primary, Rove refocused on Kerry, and within 48 hours, Republican talking heads and radio talk show hosts were echoing Rove's theme that Kerry was a flip-flopper. Sean Hannity, who has both a radio show and a Fox News TV show, is emblematic of precision delivery of Rovian talking points. On his broadcast of January 29, 2004, Hannity and guest Rich Lowry of the National Review stepped up. "We see John Kerry, who understood that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction, supported [the war]; now he's against it. Who understood the need for the Patriot Act, and now is against it. John Kerry, who once supported No Child Left Behind, now is against it," Hannity intones. Lowry doesn't miss his cue. "He's got the flip-flopping down," he says, and Hannity parrots: "He's got the flip-flopping down. That's good." Lowry hammers it home: "Flip-flop, flip-flopping down." Fox pundits and news anchors pile on. Fred Barnes: "You can't trust this guy." Brit Hume: "He flip-flops like crazy." Radio show host Hugh Hewitt jumps in: "Kerry's indecision combines with his well-documented flip-flops to make him the Hamlet of the Senate." Rush Limbaugh, Ann Coulter, and Laura Ingraham follow suit. Even Bush himself clambers aboard, telling an audience of financial contributors in March, "In fact, Senator Kerry has been in Washington long enough to take both sides on just about every issue."
Interestingly, one TV ad by the Bush campaign that never aired showed an extended shot of the president's chair in the Oval Office; as the camera slowly closed in, the voiceover asked whether Americans would feel comfortable having Howard Dean sit in that chair during such dangerous times. "It was a powerful spot, and it worked great when we thought Dean was going to be the nominee," recalls McKinnon. "But when it appeared Kerry was the nominee, we tested it that way and people said, no, we can see him as president."
Instead, TV ads playing up Bush's strength against terrorism were quickly prepared for Ohio. Bush initially objected to some of the earlier ads, saying they were too pessimistic; other campaign officials worried that Bush would be seen as exploiting the 9/11 attacks. Fine, said McKinnon, we want the controversy. We want the discussion to center on 9/11 and terrorism. "Let's go," Bush finally says. "This is the strategy we're going with." The media, along with Democrats and others, were indeed harshly critical of the themed ads, but Rove was pleased. In March, Ohio voters were discussing Bush and 9/11, not Bush and the economy, or GOP corruption in Ohio. The focus of the campaign was just where Rove wanted it. For Rove, 9/11, Iraq, the war on terror, none are policy; all are politics.
This theme of attack on Kerry dovetailed with the "independent" 527 group "Swift Boat Veterans for Truth," which fired a barrage of lies and slanders at Kerry centering on his Vietnam service (and extensively documented in, among other pages, the November 2004 page of this site). "The whole thing of the Bush campaign and its shell group, Swift Boat Veterans for Truth," says Kerry campaign advisor Chad Clanton, "was that this is somebody you can't count on, who is squishy, who we can't afford to have sitting in that chair in the Oval Office." SBVT was bankrolled by three Texas millionaires with long ties to Bush, Cheney, and Rove: Perry, Pickens, and Dallas corporate raider Harold Simmons, who between them channeled over $10.5 million into the group, over 70% of its combined contributions. Rove had been working with all three since the late 1980s to finance the GOP takeover of Texas politics. SBVT's lawyer was the abovementioned Ginsberg, who also worked for PAVF and the Bush campaign. The group's campaign strategist was Chris LaCivita, a veteran Republican operative who once directed PAVF. Moore and Slater call both groups "part of an incestuous network of GOP operatives who switched back and forth between the Bush/Rove camp and allied groups." Kerry campaign officials and others continuously cried foul, but little was done to curb the illegalities and excesses of either group.
Moreover, neither group went away after the 2004 election. In blatant violation of every election law on the books, Rove envisioned them and other 527s as permanent additions to the GOP campaign arsenal, continuing to orchestrate with Rove and the RNC to promote the Republican agenda and undercut Democrats even after the 2004 elections. Moore and Slater write, "The organizations were crucial to to self-perpetuating machine, a perfect blending of politics and policy, which was at the heart of the success of a permanent majority. Instead of dissolving after a campaign, the groups or their principals lived on as adjuncts of the GOP."
PAVF, or Progress for America, was key to orchestrating support among conservatives for Bush's second-term Supreme Court nominees, notably John Roberts and Samuel Alito (the group couldn't do much to promote the ridiculous nomination of Harriet Miers). It also led the cheering section for Bush's tax cuts, his proposals to gut Social Security, and the never-ending war against terror. PAVF had a slick, extensive pro-Alito Web site up just 39 minutes after Alito was named as a nominee for the Court, and spent a half million dollars on nine days' worth of TV ad buys promoting Alito. PAVF reached out to the religious right on behalf of Alito and Roberts, forming what was called the "Judicial Confirmation Network" under the aegis of former Bush-Cheney campaign aide Gary Marx. LaCivita "left" SBVT to found USA Next, which primarly targeted critics of Bush's second-term call to revamp Social Security. Both played their part -- less successfully -- in the November 2006 midterm elections.
"Ultimately, in Rove's mind, there was no difference between politics and governance," Moore and Slater write. "One flowed efficiently into the other. Election allies became policy advocates. Political operatives took over the levers of statecraft. Everything was a campaign, the permanent campaign building the ultimate machine for Republican political domination."
No "permanent campaign" was more important that building and maintaining support for Bush's occupation of Iraq. Rove was a leader of the White House Iraq Group (WHIG) formed to drum up support among voters and media figures in the 2004 election. Rove had always seen Iraq and the war on terror as little more than political fodder, telling Republicans in the run-up to the 2002 midterms that they could "go to the country on this issue" by reinforcing voter perceptions that the GOP was strong on defense. WHIG, which included Cheney's then-chief of staff Lewis Libby, pushed successfully to build Congressional support for the September 2002 resolution authorizing military force against Iraq. And, in part because of WHIG's machinations inside the White House, the 2002 midterms were a resounding success for Bush, Rove, and the GOP, the first time since Theodore Roosevelt that a Republican president saw midterm gains in both chambers. (James Moore and Wayne Slater)