Monday, September 17, 2001

Newsweek: A Bush Feeler: Sun, Surf and Skepticism

George W. Bush attempts to recruit the help of Jack Danforth in the 2000 election

In Newsweek, David A. Kaplan writes:

Who would lead the legal effort for George W. Bush? The campaign immediately thought of a man who combined political smarts and moral rectitude--Jack Danforth, the retired GOP senator and Episcopal priest.

Two days after Election night, Danforth and his wife, Sally, were on their way to the Caribbean. Enjoying Margaritas by the turquoise sea in Cancun, the Danforths expected the week to themselves, far from the electoral struggle of friends back home. But before they finished a second drink at La Maroma, a hostess told Danforth he had a call. It was Don Evans, the Bush campaign chairman. "We want you to represent us in a federal challenge to the constitutionality of the manual recount in Florida," Evans said.

Danforth had concerns about a strategy that revolved around federal court, a venue that Republicans had been sniping about for decades. But it wasn't some philosophical inconsistency that worried him--that his party would be seeking salvation from the one branch of government it had learned to despise. No, he was afraid of losing.

"Don, I have three questions," Danforth told Evans. "Is there a chance of us prevailing? If not, what will this do to the reputation of Governor Bush? And what about logistics? I don't even have a coat and tie down here." So weak did Danforth consider any federal claim that any lawyer who filed it was jeopardizing his credibility.

The next morning, Evans called back and said, "We've thought about it and we want you to do this." If there were misgivings, they belonged to Danforth. As much as he might've liked to re-enter the political game, he couldn't imagine how a recount could automatically be unconstitutional.

The Bush campaign arranged to send a private plane to take Danforth to Tallahassee. Danforth checked out of the hotel, though he remained uneasy. He decided he needed to talk to Bush himself. In his next call with Evans--this time with the leader of Bush's team, Jim Baker, on the line as well--Danforth said so.

"Well, you're the lawyer," Baker agreed.

Danforth assumed they'd put him right through. The phone rang, but it was Evans again. "Jack," he said, "it sounds like your heart's not in this. Maybe it's best for you not to do it. Have a nice vacation."