“Your little brother is not the ultimate authority”: How Jeb Bush cheated America & helped deliver the presidency to W

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tags: election 2016, Jeb Bush, George W Bush, Al Gore



Heather Digby Parton, also known as "Digby," is a contributing writer to Salon. She was the winner of the 2014 Hillman Prize for Opinion and Analysis Journalism.

When some of us hear Jeb Bush’s new slogan, “Jeb can fix it,” we don’t think of a mechanic getting under the hood and fixing the nation’s problems. We don’t even think of Jimmy Savile, the notorious British pedophile, whose show was called “Jim’ll fix it,” although some people sure will. No, we think about Election 2000 and the Florida recount, where Jeb proved that his slogan isn’t all hot air. Whatever else he did as Governor of Florida, when it came to that election, Jeb fixed it.

Anyone old enough to remember that election night, which was 15 years ago today, will remember that the outcome of the electoral college depended on that one state. And what came next is exactly what anyone would have predicted would happen when an election is so close it triggers a recount in a state in which the levers of power and the electoral machinery are run by one of the candidates’ brothers. That candidate was the one who became president.

The road George W. and Jeb Bush took to get there was complicated and difficult, and in the end had to be decided by a couple of Supreme Court justices who happened to have been appointed by the Bush brothers’ dad when he was president. (Who says that dynasties have no clout in American politics?) But Jeb proved himself to be particularly adept at getting the job done without getting his hands dirty.

The media played an interesting part as well.  The networks first called the election for Gore based on exit polls which later turned out to correctly predict for whom the people actually voted that day. Fox News, with one of it’s earliest political coups, was the first to call it for Bush. A consultant by the name of John Ellis, who later admitted to being on the phone with Jeb and George W. Bush throughout the evening, is the fellow who made that initial call for Fox. If his name sounds familiar it’s because John Ellis, is also Jeb Bush’s name; “Jeb” stands for John Ellis Bush. Ellis is George W. and Jeb’s first cousin.

The Bush campaign knew that once they had established their “lead” they needed to keep it. The key was to be able to declare victory and then portray the Gore campaign as being sore losers who refused to accept defeat. On election night, they almost succeeded in getting Gore to capitulate without a fight. He was on the way to make his concession speech when his team told him to hold up, that the margin was ridiculously tight and that a recount would be mandated by state law. The phone call that happened next was a very telling exchange:

“Circumstances have changed dramatically since I first called you,” Gore told Bush. “The state of Florida is too close to call.”


“Are you saying what I think you’re saying?” Bush asked. “Let me make sure I understand. You’re calling back to retract your concession?”


“You don’t have to be snippy about it,” said Gore.


Bush responded that the networks had already called the result and that the numbers were correct—his brother Jeb had told him.


“Your little brother,” Gore replied, “is not the ultimate authority on this.”

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