The Accidental President: How 413 Lawyers, 9 Supreme Court Justices, and 5,963,110 (Give or Take a Few) Floridians Landed George W. Bush in The

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For thirty-seven days after the disputed presidential election of 2000, we watched great theater, as George W Bush and Al Gore slugged it out in the swamp. You may think you've read it all before, but now Newsweek's David A. Kaplan goes behind the scenes of the sanctimony and machinations. In his critically acclaimed bestseller, The Silicon Boys, Kaplan took us inside Silicon Valley. In The Accidental President, he does the same for this epic moment in American history — a ...
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For thirty-seven days after the disputed presidential election of 2000, we watched great theater, as George W Bush and Al Gore slugged it out in the swamp. You may think you've read it all before, but now Newsweek's David A. Kaplan goes behind the scenes of the sanctimony and machinations. In his critically acclaimed bestseller, The Silicon Boys, Kaplan took us inside Silicon Valley. In The Accidental President, he does the same for this epic moment in American history — a harmonic convergence of politics and law, media and culture.

With his mordant wit and incisive storytelling, Kaplan tells us how — contrary to popular belief — the Supreme Court's ruling for Bush was not a foregone conclusion and why the dissenting justices thought, until the last second, they could lure the one equivocating colleague they'd derisively nicknamed Flipper. We're in the room when Gore decides that, more than any great lawyer, the one person he needs in Recountland is . . . Erin Brockovich. We learn which Bush partisan covertly marionetted the strings behind Katherine Harris. And we're treated to sketches of the characters they called Secret Squirrel and the Fine-Looking Man and of the political operative who jumped from a moving train.

Through it all — butterflies and boils; concessions, recantations, and fraternal recriminations; lawyers, more lawyers, and 181 invocations of the phrase uncharted waters — Kaplan paints a picture of an extraordinary episode for the country. There are few heroes in this tale. No person or institution comes out looking very good. Rule of law simply meant trying to figure out a way around the law —realpolitik by any other name.

The outcome of Bush versus Gore was a colossal fortuity, an election gone bad, made worse by an inconceivable coincidence of accidents. A lucky tactical call here, a confusing ballot there — amid all the folly and hypocrisy, these are what landed Bush in the White House. Different turns might have cast destiny the other way. Bush is our nation's first accidental president, just as Gore would have been. Bush may thrive or stumble in office. But either way, few will forget how he got there after November 7, 2000.

This is the definitive story of those thirty-seven days and why they matter.

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781402859236
  • Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
  • Publication date: 10/1/2001
  • Edition description: 1ST
  • Pages: 336
  • Product dimensions: 6.42 (w) x 9.58 (h) x 1.09 (d)

Read an Excerpt

Chapter One

The Motorcade

It was supposed to be the end, not the beginning.

But it could just as well have been a funeral procession. The black limousines, the somber faces, the tears, the rain -- this was Al Gore at 1:45 in the morning central time, on his way from the Loews Vanderbilt Plaza Hotel to the War Memorial in Nashville, Tennessee, to formally concede the presidential election of 2000 to George W. Bush. In a motorcade of thirty or so vehicles, Gore's was second in line behind a police cruiser. Just after him was the standard decoy limo (agents like to call it the "spare," as in case the other one gets a flat tire or is hit by a rocket mortar). Despite the apparent loss, Gore was still the vice president of the United States and traveled with the trappings of power -- the bulletproof car; the platoon of Secret Service agents and armaments in the War Wagon, that ominous-looking Suburban near the VP's car; the military aide with the "football," the heavy leather briefcase containing the codes for nuclear war; and, most utilitarian of all, the best wireless communications hookups outside the Pentagon. Through a connection to the White House Signal Corps, Gore could reach anyone in the world and, if necessary, anyone could reach him. Nonetheless, one of the ironies of a vice presidential (or presidential) motorcade is that for all its communications firepower, in practice it's so insulated. Key aides are at least a car away; they can call the main limo, but they're loath to, preferring instead to route messages to the staffer riding in the decoy (along with aWhite House doctor).

In the sable darkness, early on Wednesday, November 8, Gore sat in the back of his car with his wife, Tipper. Secret Service agents rode in front and were struck by the silence of their passengers -- so much so that they were still talking about it months later. Less than half an hour before, Gore had given up his race for the presidency after the TV networks proclaimed Bush, the governor of Texas, the winner in Florida and thereby the president-elect. Gore had called Bush in Austin to concede and then headed for the War Memorial stage, seven minutes away.

It had already been a long, strange Election Day.

Gore concluded his campaign with thirty-six straight hours of state-hopping, sound-bite-filling appearances. He hadn't slept much in four days, but managed to remain functional. Lying on a massage table for his back spasms at one point, he managed not only to stay awake, but to make calls to Democrats in New Mexico. Aware of the decisive role Florida could play in the election, Gore had made thirteen trips there during the campaign, and it was paying off, as Bush's lead in the polls had once been twenty points. Gore's last visit was in the early morning of Tuesday, November 7, hours before the polls opened -- first a 1 A.M. rally in Miami's South Beach with the likes of Robert De Niro and Stevie Wonder (whose "Signed, Sealed, Delivered" would later be used at Bush's victory celebration); a 4 A.M. meeting in Tampa with nurses at a cancer center; and finally Cuban coffee with his running mate, Senator Joseph Lieberman, at the nearby Columbus Spanish Plaza. "Well, it's almost five-thirty Texas time," Gore goaded the crowd, "and George W. Bush is still asleep -- and I'm still speaking to people here." (It was a nice bit, but who heard it at that hour? It would be too late as well for the morning papers, leading one Gore strategist to wonder if anybody was awake enough to be thinking clearly at this point.)

Gore was then off to Tennessee, to vote in Carthage, have a fried-chicken-and-mashed-potatoes lunch with his mother, do live satellite interviews with TV and radio stations in battleground states, and hunker down into his seventh- and ninth-floor suites at the hotel in Nashville.

Seven hundred and fifty miles away, at the governor's mansion in Austin, Bush was in fact still asleep before the first blush of dawn. He spent Monday in Arkansas and Tennessee, brazenly trolling for votes in the backyards of the incumbent president and vice president. Choosing to look calm and confident -- a very different image from the itinerant Gore's -- Bush opted to be in his own bed on Election Eve. Upon waking, he read from the Bible, fed the cats and dog, and served coffee to his wife, Laura, upstairs. He voted in a windbreaker at the Travis County Courthouse, made a few calls to encourage turnout, and went for his customary workout at the University of Texas.

Each side had its worries. Bush faced a prosperous economy in a time of peace. Gore, for eight years, had stood at the side of an ethically challenged president. Polling, both within the campaigns and by news organizations, showed a tight race since summer; "too close to call" and "within the margin of error" became stock lines in every piece of daily reportage in the country. States traditionally thought to be safe for either side were competitive this time and would be the electoral fulcrum for the presidency: Iowa, Michigan, New Mexico, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Washington, Wisconsin. The biggest jewel of all: Florida. Gore had invested much time and treasure there in the last month. At the Democratic National Convention in August, he took the unusual gesture of letting Florida, not his home state of Tennessee, put him over the top.

Bush's brother Jeb was Florida's governor and the state had gone Republican in the presidential election all but three times since 1948. Yet a rapidly growing population and changing demographics were realigning political assumptions; while the Elián spectacle had reminded Democrats that they were vulnerable to Cuban-American passions, they were convinced...

The Accidental President. Copyright © by David Kaplan. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.
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Table of Contents

Prologue 37 Days 1
1 The Motorcade 7
2 The Gathering Storm 35
3 "Pennies Behind the Sofa Cushion" 58
4 All About Katherine 98
5 "The Gang of Seven" 126
6 Numbers 156
7 Realpolitik 182
8 Groundhog Days 201
9 "Nine Scorpions in a Bottle" 231
10 The Justice Who Picked the President 256
Epilogue Deus ex Machina 290
Acknowledgments 303
Sources and bibliography 305
Index 311
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