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GOP Opens Battle for W.'s Legitimacy

February 26, 2001

The Republican leadership has grasped what could be the defining political issue of the next four years – establishing George W. Bush’s legitimacy – even as many leading Democrats have gone silent about his election, apparently in their elusive search for bipartisan peace.

As Bush continues to staff his administration with hard-line conservatives and presses his conservative political agenda, the national GOP has begun a behind-the-scenes political battle aimed at discrediting the few remaining Democratic voices daring to question the legitimacy of Bush’s election.

In a telling fundraising e-mail, the National Republican Senatorial Committee cast Bush as the victim of an unjust smear campaign carried out by Democrats who still think that Bush should have gained his legitimacy the old-fashioned way – through the counting of votes.

Specifically, the NRSC e-mail targeted Democratic National Chairman Terence McAuliffe for continuing to challenge the outcome of the Florida election. The e-mail accused McAuliffe of “openly undermining the legitimacy of George W. Bush’s presidency” and sought contributions to assure that Republicans will retain control of Congress. [Washington Post, Feb. 25, 2001]

McAuliffe has been one of the few leading Democrats to continue voicing outrage at how Bush stopped the counting of votes in Florida through the intervention of five conservatives on the U.S. Supreme Court. McAuliffe has argued that Vice President Gore would have been the likely winner if all the votes had been counted.

But McAuliffe and the few other Democratic dissenters have been made more isolated and open to attack by the silence of congressional Democrats on the Florida election dispute. That silence has been underscored by the Democratic failure to demand any hearings into how Bush engineered his victory – one of the most controversial political events in the history of American democracy.

Sensing this Democratic softness, Republican leaders have taken the offensive. Their new goal seems to be to revise the public perception of the history by stigmatizing those who insist on reminding Americans of the unpleasant facts: how Bush became the first popular-vote loser in more than a century to claim the White House and the only president ever to seize control of the government by having allies on the U.S. Supreme Court stop the counting of votes.

The NRSC’s fundraising e-mail marks an opening shot in this new battle, a political conflict that could be decisive in setting the course of the nation for the next four years and beyond. By transforming criticism of Bush’s seizure of power into a case of spoiled-sport partisan rhetoric, the GOP leaders will have gone a long way toward solidifying their hold on all three branches of the U.S. government.

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