Bush and Company Turn Up the Heat

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(left to right) Lott, Bush, Hastert,and Cheney at Bush's ranch in Texas

Defendant and plaintiff have rarely been farther away from their own courtroom as they have been this weekend, but these two have the court of public opinion to worry about. And so, by the time the biggest mini-trial in electoral history slouched to a close Sunday night in Tallahassee (boiling down anew into a 14,000-vote legal tug-of-war between David Boies and Barry Richard), George W. Bush had sent his main man out of the bunker to turn up the heat. Al Gore, over in his bunker, acted like it tickled.

"I do think that it's time for him to concede," Cheney told "Meet the Press" after sympathizing with the current veep's plight. "So far he's chosen not to do that, to pursue other avenues, and clearly that's his prerogative. But clearly, long-term, history would regard him in a better light if he were to bring this to a close in the near future."

By way of response, Gore gave a relentlessly sanguine "60 Minutes" interview in which he professed to have no human frustration whatsoever at his current plight. "At the end of the day, when all processes have taken place, if George Bush is sworn in as president he'll be my president," the veep declared for broadcast Sunday night. "He'll be America's president." Gore thinks it'll be over by mid-December, but isn't willing to micromanage it. And if he's beaten, Gore said his family and his faith will set him free.

(In the bad omen department, even a late-running football game couldn't save Gore's segment from running, at 7:30, opposite his own lawyer's closing arguments. It was that kind of day in Leon County, as Gore v. clock took a few pounds of flesh out of Bush's witnesses but took forever getting them.)

With Friends Like These

And so it is the Gore camp trying to hold the line now. "A wise man does not try to hurry history," was what Warren Christopher had to say to the Cheney clip on an abbreviated "Late Edition." Christopher, like Gore used to, is talking up the next-year "itch" as something Bush doesn't want either — "wouldn't it be tragic if at some later time, these votes were counted and..." The new Gore bogeyman is a post-inaugural hand count by the media, via the Sunshine Law. (For good reason — the Miami Herald, in Sunday's paper, modeled a 23,000-vote victory for Gore under "perfect" conditions.)

But Christopher might want to stop using "when" (on CBS) when hypothesizing about a Gore concession.

A wise man also keeps his allies from embarrassing him. Florida Republicans are still revving up for that special session, set for Wednesday by the House, but Sunday night the state's Senate leader cried whoa. Is this merely a show of sagacious dissent, to derail charges of railroading, or is there real dissension in the ranks? Cheney has perfected the shrug on this issue, but he might consider a loud plea for the local folks to wait a week — the last thing Bush needs right now is another reason to look illegitimate. (Next-to-last: the emerging GOP fight for a hand recount in New Mexico.)

Home on the Ranch

Bush isn't wavering from his version of passive resistance, intent on present his jelling administration as far preferable to a perfectly elected one, and without all the moaning. Trial? What trial? There is still no cable TV on Bush's ranch. There were on Saturday, however, lots of politicians in barn jackets.

And one pool camera. Bush's photo-op on the ranch Saturday was of a Republican ruling council, looking and sounding sincere but still very capable of scaring the other half of the country to death. Bush and Cheney pulled up tastefully patterned armchairs for House Speaker Denny Hastert, with a wrestling-coach glisten on his face, and Senate boss Trent Lott, looking odd in denim. (Tom DeLay had to wait in the shed until the TV crew left.) Bush was an affable host, sharing the soundbites near-equally, and when it was his turn, he talked at some length about legislation (especially about the tax cut as economic stimulus), mused about healing, and named John Breaux as his Cupid for winning centrist Democratic hearts.

Whether Bush looked accommodating or overshadowed — that's for the eye of the beholder. But the would-be Great Delegator is getting a little excited. "I'm soon to be the insider," Bush declared from his Crawford fireside. "I'm soon to be the president."

Only a couple more court cases (and maybe a hand count, and possibly a few constitutional confrontations) to go.