Fox News and other right-wing media outlets are attempting to rewrite history again as they blow hot air behind President Trump’s desperation Hail Mary effort to overturn the results of the 2020 election in the courts.
This is nothing new. “Distract and deflect” is their de facto defensive state in nearly every debate anyway, whereby they point to something Democrats did a month or a hundred years ago that perhaps looks similar on the surface, and then use that as Exhibit A to support their latest conspiracy theory. Donald Trump, gas-lighter par excellence, has proven particularly fond of this tactic.
Their target this time? The 2000 Presidential election between George W. Bush and Al Gore. The right-wing propaganda machine is actively pushing the false narrative that the media declared Al Gore President-Elect before having to retract their call and award it to Bush, hoping people will draw a straight line to President-Elect Joe Biden’s ascendency the Saturday following election day and cloud his legitimacy. They also hope to shame Democrats and the media into backing Trump’s refusal to concede the election with the way they backed Gore’s refusal to concede in 2000.
Trump surrogates from Senator Lindsay Graham (R-SC) to Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) are out in force parroting some version of the same talking points, opening confidently with the notion that “the media doesn’t declare people President-Elect, the people do,” and following up with complaints that the media told Republicans to stand-down while Al Gore’s challenges to the election were adjudicated, but are now demanding that President Trump concede before he’s had a chance to fully make his case.
There’s just one problem: that’s not what happened in 2000. Not only are they fabricating key details of the election night drama in 2000, but they’re also conflating the details of two cases, which bear no resemblance to each other — neither in the law nor in the facts underpinning each election.
First, some history.
During election night 2000, the media never once prematurely declared Vice President Al Gore the winner of the 2000 election — not CNN, not MSNBC, not the New York Times. Gore was declared the winner of Florida prematurely, a stain on every media outlet that did so, but that erroneous call only brought him to 180-some electoral votes at the time those calls were made — far below the 270 he needed to be declared the winner.
When it became clear about an hour later that there were enough votes still unreported in the heavily Republican Florida panhandle – where polls close an hour later than the rest of the state because it’s in the Central Time Zone – the networks had to wipe the egg off their faces and ‘un-call’ Florida for Gore, returning it to the “too close to call” column. Later that night, the media — all of the media — called Florida George W. Bush, which by all of their projections propelled him over the 270 electoral vote threshold and allowed them to declare the Governor of Texas the 43rd President-Elect of the United States.
Gore subsequently called Bush to concede, but when it became clear that Florida’s final results would come down to a few hundred votes — and that there was evidence of serious irregularities with hanging chads and butterfly ballots and the whole bit — Gore called Bush back to un-concede because Florida’s electoral votes proved decisive to the presidency.
From the outset, it was plain to everyone that Al Gore had legitimate grounds to challenge the results and force a recount. Floridian law called for it, and – crucially – the margin was slim enough (literally hundreds of votes) whereby a recount could conceivably change the result simply by correcting something as simple as a machine error. At that point, some of the networks pulled back from declaring Bush the winner to let Florida election law play out.
But only Bush, not Gore, was ever declared President-Elect that night. Gore was only prematurely and erroneously declared the winner of Florida, which everyone assumed meant he was on track to cross 270 and be declared President-Elect at some point, but no network ever made that declaration.
The particulars of each election and how they were, and are being, contested, make the gaslighting even more obvious.
First, Al Gore’s challenges were centered on one state, not multiple states. Second, Gore never declared ‘massive fraud’ or malice by state and local election officials like Trump and his lawyers are doing now, both in the courts and in the media.
Gore’s contention then was two-fold: First, because the final official margin was so close, Florida law called for an automatic recount, and because the margin was so tiny (again, hundreds of votes, 537 at final tally) it was reasonable to conclude that a recount could alter the final state vote totals in his favor. This, in turn, would alter the awarding of Florida’s electors, which would then alter the results of the whole election. Therefore, they argued, the recount should be allowed to be completed before Florida certified their results and awarded their electors.
Gore’s team also argued successfully that in some counties with razor-thin margins, there was clear evidence of irregularities (hanging chads, butterfly ballots, etc.) which necessitated a manual recount in those counties per Florida law. This is where problems began to arise and an off-ramp appeared for Bush and his lawyers.
Those manual recounts Gore secured were time-consuming, as you can imagine, and it soon became clear that they wouldn’t be able to complete them in time for Florida to meet federal deadlines to appoint their electors for the Electoral College.
Democrats filed in State courts to have the deadline extended so the recounts could be completed – and they won. Republicans filed in Federal courts to have the recounts stopped so Florida could name their electors per Federal law – and they won, which set up the Supreme Court battle which, as we all know, went Bush’s way.
The point of all this is clear: nothing Trump is alleging in 2020 at all resembles Gore’s contentions in 2000 in any way, other than perhaps some arcane inconsistencies between state and federal law that govern elections that Trump hopes to exploit the way Bush did, and the general appearance of being a sore loser for challenging the results of an election.
As Trump and his dream team – led by legal juggernauts Rudy Giuliani and his son Eric – continue to pursue this quixotic attack on our democracy, they will continue to gaslight their way through this one last con job by falsely comparing it to Al Gore’s challenge in 2000. But here are the critical fact-based rebuttals to keep handy as you see their lies spread across social media.
1) 2000 came down to one state, and because one state would change the results of the whole election the lawsuits were greeted more liberally by courts. This year, Trump is suing in as many as 10 states per Rudy Giuliani, but they really only have anything even resembling a case in two states: Nevada and Pennsylvania – and that’s interpreting the law as loosely as possible.
2) Georgia and Arizona will also be contested because those margins are thin and will probably trigger automatic recounts (Georgia has already confirmed a recount is coming). But, both are also Red states with Republican officials in all key offices that oversee elections, and Trump can’t blame ‘corrupt officials’ or the ‘Democratic machine’ in those states like they are in the others.
3) The closest margin in any of the states that are still ‘in play’ (to use that term very loosely) looks like it will be Georgia at about 10K. Arizona will probably be just north of that, and Pennsylvania will likely finish with Biden up 50K or more. That’s a far cry from the 537 votes that ultimately decided Florida. This is important because if Trump can’t prove that the number of votes he’s legitimately contesting (with real evidence) are enough to flip the results in those states to him, then no court is likely to even consider the suit.
4) Again, Trump has to prove this math in multiple states because Biden is ahead in the four states he’s looking to flip – Georgia and Pennsylvania, both of which he MUST win, and Nevada and Arizona, of which he only needs one. No one state can flip the whole election for him, even if he were able to move these suits through courts with favorable judges – up to and including the Supreme Court which he believes would rule for him the way they ruled for Bush in 2000 if his lawyers can find an opening to bring their suits there.
5) Unlike Gore, Trump isn’t asking states to keep counting votes. Quite the opposite. First, he was demanding states stop counting votes. Now he’s asking courts to invalidate votes that were legally cast and have already been counted. This effort isn’t just targeting a county here or a county there or leaning on irregularities or oddities of ballots or procedures. He’s asking judges to invalidate hundreds of thousands of votes state-wide by advancing novel legal theories regarding who gets to set those procedures. These theories are designed to exploit the inconsistencies in state and federal law in their favor. Even with evidence (which they have yet to manufacture produce) it would be unprecedented in our country’s history for a court to do this and would be tantamount to a coup.
So don’t buy the bullshit that Trump is just doing what Gore did then and that the media supported Gore then and is trying to undermine Trump’s case now. It’s not the same. It almost never is when the Right plays the moral equivalence card. But this is all Trump has left. It’s his final defense, his ego’s Alamo, and in the court of public opinion at least, he appears to take as many people down with him as he can.
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Peter Mellado is a writer, producer, and a branding and messaging specialist with over 15 years experience. He studied history at San Jose State University, and resides in Los Angeles.