Coup DeLay

Gov. George W. Bush claimed his birthright Sunday night after his Florida campaign co-chair and ambassador-in-waiting Katherine Harris, the Florida secretary of state, brushed aside requests for a few more hours to continue counting votes.

W immediately began naming retreads from his father’s failed administration to his transition team, even though both campaigns were continuing their legal maneuvers — Democrats to make sure every possible vote is counted and Republicans to stop the tally while they’re ahead.

Just in case Vice President Al “the Usurper” Gore gets the full count he’s seeking, the Bush family and retainers have a fall back. Unabashed by appearances of conflict-of-interest in a state where little brother Jeb is governor and chief vote counter Harris is a campaign leader, they’ve got a legislature full of loyalists ready to name its own slate of compliant Bush electors.

And if that doesn’t work, Forbes magazine reports Rep. Tom DeLay (R-Texas), the real power in the House GOP, “just might be planning a coup.”

In a two-page memo sent recently to House Republican colleagues, DeLay explained how Congress can reject a state’s electoral votes if it considers them tainted. By simple majorities in both houses, Congress could invalidate some or all of Florida’s electoral votes, the DeLay strategy paper says.

DeLay has accused Democrats of trying to steal the election and charged that the Florida Supreme Court “endangers representative democracy” by extending time for a hand count, which he termed “robbery in progress.”

Clyde Spillenger, a UCLA constitutional law professor, told Forbes that DeLay’s scenario is “blatantly subversive to the process laid out in the 12th Amendment.”

The danger for Bush is that if either the Florida legislature or the DeLay formula is pursued, his presidency could be permanently tainted as illegitimate for having lost the popular vote and won the electoral vote by chicanery.

Should Bush lose his appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court this week to block further counting, and in the increasingly remote likelihood that Gore becomes president, DeLay may already have aides drawing up articles of impeachment.

Congressional sources say the visceral hatred he and his clique, as well as Senate majority leader Trent Lott (R-Miss.), have for President Clinton pales by comparison to their feelings towards Gore. They reportedly see him as a partisan ideologue who consistently failed to reach out to them as vice president.

Some Republicans, such as former Sen. Bob Dole, have threatened to boycott a Gore inauguration.
Many Democrats don’t feel much warmth towards Gore, either. Privately, some concede they wouldn’t be disappointed to see a Bush presidency because they are convinced it will provide their best chance for taking over both houses of Congress in 2002, since the party winning the White House generally loses seats in the next by-election.

While moderate Democrats have said they’re willing to work with a Bush administration, conservative Republicans are spreading the word on the Hill to their party’s moderates that cooperation with a Gore administration will be viewed as betrayal.

In a Gore Administration. the DeLay-Lott strategy will be “delay a lot” as both parties maneuver for 2002. Gridlock may also be the case in a Bush government, since the Senate looks like it will be split 50-50 and Republicans probably will have a tiny five-vote majority in the House.

Bush, whom The New York Times called “a master of bipartisanship with no taste for details,” may face his greatest challenge from within his own party. Lott and DeLay are masters of partisan warfare and are expected to try to dominate the agenda, even in a Bush Administration.

Will the post-election GOP bitterness and partisanship extend toward Gore’s most loyal supporters? Nationally, Jews gave Gore 80 percent of their votes, second only to African Americans, who voted 90 percent for the Democratic nominee.

Jews vividly remember the words of former Secretary of State James A. Baker III (“F*** the Jews, they don’t vote for us”), who is leading Bush’s anti-recount effort in heavily Jewish areas of South Florida. Virtually invisible during the campaign, he didn’t emerge until W ran into trouble with Florida vote counters and brother Jeb couldn’t handle it.

Baker is expected to be influential in Bush Administration II, even if he doesn’t hold formal office.
Most Jewish organizations will be on the defensive in a Bush administration, as they skirmish with the White House and Congress over such core issues as church-state separation, abortion rights, environmental protection, civil liberties, prescription drug benefits, Social Security and Medicare reform, education, and social welfare programs.

In light of those differences, deadlock may be something for Jewish groups to wish for.

The Bush policy towards Israel will depend largely on whom he picks for his foreign policy/national security team. Early indications are that Dick Cheney, Bush Junior’s running mate and Bush Senior’s defense secretary, will play a prominent role. His record towards Israel is a mixed bag.

Also of major interest will be whether Bush will give issues of Holocaust restitution the same high priority and personal attention that Clinton did. The first sign will be whether Bush names a replacement for Stuart Eizenstat, Clinton’s point man on the issue, and if it is someone of comparable stature.

The greatest mystery of the nation’s closest, most expensive and most protracted election is not who will become president but whether he will be able to heal the wounds of the past several weeks and govern this country — and whether the loser and his partisans can overcome their disappointment and help the winner unite the country.

The first order of business should be for all sides to unite behind an effort to clean up the electoral system. After this debacle, which proves that every vote counts, we need a better system of counting every vote. Surely a nation with the technology to invent the Hostess Twinkie can find a way to move beyond the butterfly and chad.

Does the Jewish Vote Matter to Gore and Bush?

As fast as it began, it ended: the political fireworks ignited by the New Hampshire presidential primary and the meteoric rise of insurgent Republican contender John McCain ended with a fizzle after last week’s “Super Tuesday” contests.

There was a parallel story on the Democratic side, where former Sen. Bill Bradley flared, then quickly faded. His withdrawal last week punctuated a campaign that was mostly anti-climax.

That leaves voters with a slogging endurance contest between the establishment candidates: Texas Gov. George W. Bush and Vice President Al Gore.

The all-but-certain nominees are now turning their sights on each other. The campaign for the general election will be bloody, but hardly inspiring; all indications suggest it will be another low-turnout, high-spending exercise.

The Jewish vote could be critical, or it could be just a minor footnote, depending on the gap between the candidates in November.

The bottom line is this, according to Kean University political scientist Gilbert Kahn: neither candidate can afford to ignore the Jews. At the same time, they can’t afford to invest too heavily in a small segment of the electorate whose preferences in the election are already known.

Both contenders need to pay attention to the Jews — but the political demographics suggest not too much attention.

On the Republican side, Bush will pursue a limited, highly focused Jewish strategy

Even leading GOP strategists like Frank Luntz concede the Texas governor is unlikely to do better than his father, who won less than 20 percent of the Jewish vote in his unsuccessful 1992 reelection bid.

The governor’s turn to the right in South Carolina and his earlier refusal to join other Republicans in spurning columnist Pat Buchanan added to his Jewish problem.

His surrogates will seek to reinforce support from politically conservative Jews who oppose the current Mideast peace process by arguing that President Bill Clinton has been too willing to squeeze Israel.

They will try to distance the candidate from the foreign policy of his father, George Senior; instead, they will suggest a return to the policies and attitudes of the Reagan administration.

That was the motivation behind a recent telephone press conference featuring George Shultz, Ronald Reagan’s secretary of state, still a favorite among pro-Israel activists.

But the candidate himself will avoid detailed pronouncements on the Middle East.

At the same time, Bush backers will appeal to solid conservatives by emphasizing the candidate’s support for parochial school vouchers and other forms of government assistance for religious education.

George W. has used up much of his record cache of campaign money fending off John McCain. With fundraising again a priority in the campaign, he will have to turn to the GOP money establishment, which includes a number of prominent Jews.

Bush will do even worse among African Americans, but political analysts say he has a chance to get a substantial vote from segments of the growing Hispanic community. That is where the campaign is likely to focus its minority efforts — not in synagogues and African American churches.

Gore, too, will play a limited Jewish game. His primary goals: avoid controversy and increase turnout, especially in a handful of swing states where the Jewish vote could make a significant difference.

“The Jewish vote will be especially important in Florida, Ohio, Michigan and Illinois,” said Ira Forman, executive director of the National Jewish Democratic Council. “Turnout is going to be pretty darned important.”

Gore’s surrogates — no observers expect him to spend much time directly appealing to Jewish voters — will argue that a Republican White House would trigger a tidal wave of school prayer, voucher and other legislation that liberal Jews see as violations of the church-state line.

In Florida, the Gore campaign will talk up Social Security and Medicare; in the North, it will emphasize the candidate’s support for abortion rights and Bush’s ties to the Christian right.

Gore will try to walk a difficult line on Mideast matters — not repudiating the policies of President Bill Clinton, but not foreclosing the possibility he might shift in an even more pro-Israel direction.

And he has to hope there is no new friction along the U.S.-Israel axis before November.

Turnout among Jewish and African-American voters is critical for Gore, since a big majority of the former and an overwhelming majority of the latter will vote for him.

“Gore won’t lose Jewish votes to Bush, but he could be hurt by lower turnout,” said political scientist Gilbert Kahn.

Keeping the Jews interested enough to turn out on election day while he devotes most of his resources to other, less committed constituencies will be one of the big challenges of the campaign, he said.

Jewish turnout could be affected dramatically in some states by congressional races that have grabbed the community’s interest — including the Hillary Clinton-Rudolph Giuliani Senate contest in New York and Sen. Dianne Feinstein’s reelection bid against Republican Rep. Tom Campbell, a lawmaker who has frequently piqued Jewish groups.