The vote margin in Florida may still favor Bush slightly, but the advantage there now has to be given to Al Gore.
The hand recounts are ongoing, and sooner or later they will flip the result Gore’s way. To avoid this, the Bush people filed their federal suit, which — now that we know of its weakness on the merits — has to be rated a desperation tactic. It may well be that the Bushies will experience the worst of both worlds: They lose the moral high ground on litigation, while not actually getting the injunction to keep the hand recounts from continuing.
In light of this, it may have been a fatal mistake for the Bushies not immediately to counter the Democratic maneuvering with requests for hand recounts in GOP counties. And, as John Podhoretz points out today in the New York Post, the Bushies are now effectively foreclosing the option of asking for their own hand counts (even if the deadlines allowed them). Why? Because the Bush campaign has over the last few days been arguing against the very idea of hand counts, instead of attacking the notion of having them in predominantly Democratic areas.
But in the immediate aftermath of the election, of course, the Bush interest was in locking up the result and making it final as soon as possible. What will likely happen this week is that the Gore campaign will take the lead in votes, then take the Bushies — and all the responsible voices in the Democratic party — at their word and demand an end to the process as quickly as possible. All’s well that ends with Gore as president-elect.
How W. can possibly wiggle out of this is very difficult to see (although the secretary of state refusing to certify the hand counts is one idea being floated). There is nothing illegal about hand recounts, and the Bushies had their chance to request them. So, the Gore campaign will soon have both strict legality, and the winning vote margin, on its side. All the Bushies will have is the charge of unfairness, which is potentially of great power: It is patently unfair to use one method of recounting in heavily Democratic counties and another for the rest of the state.
But this isn’t a legal argument. It isn’t something the people will figure out for themselves. It’s a political argument that must be won with all the spinning and hardball tactics that have been displayed by the other side. Who knows if the Bushies have it in them?